How Modi undoes the political math

His mere presence has sent parties scrambling away from the middle ground, rushing to occupy the 'secular' space. Could the BJP turn this to its advantage?

The power of perception is central to any political space. And, it's not just about constructing an image, but a sustained effort to ensure that the story you build around yourself is the story others believe. Over a period of time, though, these perceptions become assumed facts, prompting important political decisions, some of which can upset settled understandings of the political field.

The advent of Narendra Modi has had exactly this kind of disruptive effect. This has nothing to do with what Modi says, but everything to do with what he has come to represent. If anything, the BJP's face for 2014 has sought to project himself on a platform of decisive governance. But with the impact it might have on the electorate still a distance away, the question is what his mere presence is doing to the political space now.

Until a few months ago, when the DMK pulled out of the UPA, the stage was set for another dramatic interplay of contesting narratives, expectedly shriller, full of guile and vigorous competitiveness. The Congress's shrinking list of allies and partners had an underlying message that the 2014 elections was not going to be about preset alliances. Each party was out there with the basic motive to maximise numbers on its own, regardless of what benefit this or that alliance might bring.

On the surface, one can argue that not much has changed. But when seen through the prism of perception, a lot seems to have changed and could, in fact, redefine the contours along which the elections will be fought. In many ways, the race to predict 2014 and its combinations thereafter has overshadowed the build-up to the elections.

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