Read the Bihar mandate again! The verdict is not so much against a weakening Centre, as it is in favour of a powerful state and a strong state leadership. The results are also redolent of the Gujarat model, a model that chief minister Narendra Modi, not Prime Minister Modi mastered. The Bihar verdict suggests the BJP unsuccessfully tried to turn the course of the wheel that has zoomed towards a divergent mandate at the levels of the Centre and states. By doing so, Modi has not only undermined his own stature as the prime minister, but also steamrolled the aspirations of state leaders.
India has comfortably adjusted to divergent election mandates at the Centre and states for over two decades now. Leave aside the educated electorate; even educationally humble India understands the role national and state leaders play or should play in their lives. They had already adjusted their expectations at various levels of governance much before Modi started to experiment with a pan India model of high command politics, as championed by the Congress in the 1980s.
The BJP has been the biggest political beneficiary of this divergence seen in electoral choices. Strong emergence of the BJP in different states despite Congress’ victory in two consecutive general elections reflected India’s changing aspirations at the Centre and states. Modi himself was a product of the same aspirations in Gujarat, along with a new generation of non-Congress chief ministers.
The rise of state-level parties may have been dubbed as a demise of national parties, but it spoke of federalism in the truest sense. The changing course of economic liberalisation, generational shift among leaders and eroding strength of national parties in states have transformed the structure of federalism in India and re-written the equations between states and the Centre, with states getting more fiscal freedom and state-oriented private investment to implement their own course of development.
The biggest paradox of Prime Minister Modi is that he portrayed himself as a prime minister who emerged from the state, rendering more powers to states at the governance level, but went against the same concept at the political or party level. Modi should not have created a diabolical model of politics and governance in the light of rising aspirations inside the party. The fact is, Modi implicitly centralised all powers at the governance level and let his ministers become good-for-nothings, while on the political front, he did it explicitly and did not pay heed to local aspirations in state elections.
The one-man show of the BJP may have yielded victories in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand but governments there are beginning to appear underwhelmed and disconnected from aspirations of the local BJP leadership.
With back-to-back routs in Delhi and Bihar, Modi must now consider three realties to reset his style of politics. These are:
1. The federal polity has gained an edge, where bigger states are now ruled by the NDA and non-NDA parties in parallel. State governments will become strong, pushy and demanding. Modi will have to become a prime minister in the truest sense and win their consent to move on the reform agenda in collaboration with them.
2. Modi tried to overtly indulge in electoral politics after coming to the power. National leadership cannot be a magnet to attract voters in local polls. It is time for him to switch off from the campaign mode and honour the 2014 mandate that India conferred upon him.
3. The duo of Modi-Amit Shah cannot carry on with their model of politics that crushes state leadership. If the BJP wants to win state elections, the party will have to nurse state leaderships and let them grow independently as the BJP allowed Modi to grow in Gujarat.
The people in Bihar have given an extraordinary pro-incumbency mandate. This is in no way a mandate against the Modi government, rather an obvious rejection of Modi's style of political governance. Therefore, it is high time for the BJP to make necessary amendments before entering into another electoral fracas to keep itself relevant to changing aspirations.