2014 General Elections were a landslide for the BJP. It was 30 years ago when a party got the majority on its own. The role and charisma of Narendra Modi played a significant role. BJP had fought elections in the past under leadership of Atal Behari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani, but their appeal was limited to the upper caste Hindus in the Hindi heartland. With Modi it was different. The messaging of the Gujarat development model attracted the voters. After a long time, the youth voted in large numbers. Yes, people still voted based on caste and religion, but Modi was able to create his own ModiLiberals (aka Trumpocrats). The whole subsection of people who were not interested in BJP and RSS ideology, but were attracted to the Modi’s track record of development and his promise of ‘vikaas.’
In the aftermath of BJP’s mammoth win in 2014 and string of subsequent successes, a key question we have not given too much thought is, “How would BJP have fared without Modi”? Would they have still managed 282? Would they still have created the history of 325 in Uttar Pradesh? Would Maharashtra, Haryana, Assam, Tripura still have been possible? Would they have seen a spike in vote percentage in West Bengal? Let’s dig in.
Let’s look at 2014 first. If not for Modi, BJP would have fought elections under the leadership of Lal Krishna Advani. He was a strong leader, but age had caught up with him. There was a limitation on the number of rallies he could have done. Also, people were looking for change at the national level, and Advani was tried and tested. BJP lost in 2004 and 2009 with Advani at the helm. The anti-incumbency of Congress would have helped BJP a bit, but in my opinion, they would not have crossed 210 seats. It would have been a coalition Govt. like UPA with different partners – more of the same. Amit Shah would not have worked as hard to orchestrate 73 seats in UP. Young voters would not have come out in such numbers. Jump in votes would have been 2-3% for BJP at most.
Coming to Maharashtra. If at all Congress-NCP would have lost, there would have been a Shiv Sena CM and not Devendra Fadnavis. The dream of Vajpayee of Lotus blooming in the ocean would never have been realized. BJP could never have swept mayoral polls across the state and the BMC polls in Mumbai. They would still have been second to Shiv Sena. BJP-Shiv Sena and Congress-NCP coalitions would have fought the elections together rather than solo, with Sena-BJP getting wafer thin majority if at all. The appeal of Sena is limited, and it would have hurt if they were the senior partner.
Uttar Pradesh would never have seen a Yogi Govt. It would have been a hung assembly at best. BJP would have got 160-180 seats (against 325 which they got). They would have tied up with Mayawati in all possibility which was a mess waiting to happen.
Assam, Tripura would never have been breached under Lal Krishna Advani as PM and a weak NDA coalition at the center. People in Left bastions voted more for Modi and less for Lotus. Modi not only won over in 2014 but kept winning people over with Mann Ki Baat connect and his vision of Swachh Bharat. 8cr toilets meant 40cr people saw the change happening directly in their homes. Ujjwala etc. schemes were the result of a majority Govt at the center which reflected in successive wins for BJP.
In short, BJP without Modi would have been more of the same. Not so strong a party as they are today. Not in as many states as today. Moreover, they would have been all set to lose in 2019 (125-140 seats) as against the expectation of 230-245.