On February 1, finance minister Arun Jaitley presented his fifth consecutive Union Budget. This, was also the last full Budget of the Narendra Modi government before the Lok Sabha elections next year. It was interesting to note how the finance minister repeatedly lapsed into Hindi in his Budget speech. That itself revealed the political nature of his Budget. The appeal was primarily to the masses, that is, the poor, farmers, lower middle class, young job seekers and senior citizens.
But even as the finance minister was reading his Budget speech, there were two signs coming from two different places, suggesting that the "Modi wave" is waning - and how!
The first message, which attracted the attention of media and people alike, came from the BJP-ruled Rajasthan. The party lost the by-elections for both the Lok Sabha seats in Alwar and Ajmer, and the Mandalgarh Assembly seat, to a resurgent Congress. The defeat was quite a blow for a party which had won all 25 Lok Sabha seats in the state in the 2014 General Elections.
The two parliamentary seats and the lone Assembly constituency comprise a total of 17 Assembly segments. Together, they represent 8.5 per cent seats out of a total 200 Assembly seats.
In 2014, the BJP has taken the lead in 15 out of these 17 seats, but now lost in each one of these segments. And the Congress, which had just one seat then, got all of them this time around.
And this wasn’t a reflection of just one pocket, but an indication of people’s mood across the state.
Alwar is adjacent to Haryana, Ajmer in central Rajasthan, while Mandalgarh is near the Madhya Pradesh border.
The biggest worry for the BJP, which is considered very strong in the urban areas, would be that it suffered heavy losses in Ajmer, one of the biggest towns of the state. It trailed also in rural areas of both Ajmer and Alwar.
The defeat of the BJP by a margin of 12,974 votes in the Mandalgarh Assembly seat doesn’t look as damning as it is in reality.
This seat had a triangular contest since a Congress rebel was in the fray as an independent candidate.
Congress rebel Gopal Malviya received 40,470 votes. Imagine if it would have been a straight fight between the Congress and the BJP.
The second message which has gone unnoticed, came from TV viewership statistics. Current figures from BARC India indicate dwindling brand value of Prime Minister Modi, at least for television viewers.
At the pinnacle of the Modi wave, it was a must for television channels to cut live to his rallies. Everyone wanted to watch and listen to him. Not going live would be a recipe for disaster for any news channel. Similarly, getting an interview with Modi was a sure shot way to get a spike in the channel’s ratings. Latest viewership figures show this is no longer the case.
In the past fortnight, PM Narendra Modi has given two interviews to two different channels. On January 19, his first interview was with Zee News. It was first shown on that day and repeated several times over the week. And on January 21, the PM spoke to Times Now.
It hasn’t given any boost in viewership to either channels. During the week of January 13-19, Zee News had a market share of 14.6 per cent. (HSM 15+/channels considered were Aaj Tak, India TV, ABP news, Zee News, News Nation, Tez, News18 India, NDTV India.)
It was the number two Hindi news channel that week and was just .9 per cent behind the leader, that is, Aaj Tak. During the next week, when it ran Modi’s interview on several occasions, its market share went down to 14.2 per cent in the same market/TG. It wasn’t just a .4 per cent decline, but the gap between Zee News and Aaj Tak widened to 3.5 per cent.
In the case of Times Now, as per viewership data from six Metros and Males 22+, its market share was 18.5 per cent when it aired the PM's interview. (Channels considered are NDTV, CNNIBN, India Today, Times Now, News X, Republic, Wion.) Although it was a gain of 2.2 per cent from the previous week, it has been pushed back to third position in the ranking of English news channels.
The second position was taken by India Today with 19.8 per cent market share, and it has improved its market share by 5.5 per cent. Last week it was 14.3 per cent.
This clearly shows, that Modi didn’t help either of these channels in improving their ratings dramatically.
From Rajasthan as well as the BARC ratings, the message is same for the BJP. These are wake up calls for the party. Either it will have to take corrective measures to turn the tide in its favour, or the 2019 General Elections could very well begin the "bure din (bad days)" of the saffron party.