By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Ever since the colorful and flamboyant Narendra Modi first came to power as India’s prime minister in May 2014, his main focus has been self-promotion.
From extravagant suits with his name literally plastered from head to toe in embroidered pinstripes to a constant barrage of selfies with everyone from heads of states to Bollywood film stars, Modi has been – from Day One of his administration – the Kim Kardashian of global politics.
And for the first three years of his bombastic term as head of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), his swashbuckling stagecraft seemed to serve him well.
Despite adversaries on all sides (and a colossal helping of allegations of corruption and influence-peddling), the glitzy Modi and the right-leaning BJP managed to effectively streamline bureaucracy, curb government intervention in private sector activities and jumpstart both foreign and national investment with a series of business-friendly schemes.
But now it looks like Modi’s star-studded popularity run may be coming to an end.
His home state of Gujarat went to the polls on Saturday, Dec. 6, in what constitutes a key electoral test of his popularity after a series of controversial economic reforms, including a new national tax and a shock currency ban to combat graft that have left the once-gung-ho Indian economy sputtering on fumes.
And while the BJP has held power in that western Indian state for the last 22 years, the winds of political change, emboldened by mounting voter discontent, may now be favoring the opposition Congress Party.
That party’s campaign is being spearheaded by Rahul Gandhi, who is predicted to run against Modi for the premiership during the next general election in 2019.
Gandhi, son of Sonia Gandhi, who led the party since 1998, has been rapidly gaining popularity nationwide as a man of the people with a solid understanding of the country’s political needs and reality.
There are also two other local caste groups that now oppose the BJP in Gujarat, claiming that the party has abandoned them as Modi has moved onto the national stage.
All these factors point to a strong indication that the BJP may have already lost its majority hold in Gujarat.
Elections in India – the world’s largest democracy – are a complicated endeavor, and while nearly 67 percent of Gujarat’s electorates cast their vote over the weekend, the statewide polling process is not yet over.
In fact, this was just the first phase of the Gujarat elections, for 89 seats out of 182.
The second and final phase of the Gujarat elections, for the remaining 93 seats, will be held on Thursday, Dec. 14.
The final results won’t be in until Monday, Dec. 18.
In the end, if his party does well, Modi can continue with his ostentatious parade of me-isms and hope that the recent plunge in the Indian economy is just a temporary quirk, a hiccup in the nation’s GDP.
But if the Gujarat elections turn out to favor the opposition, it might just be time for the vainglorious Mr. Modi to stop concentrating on his self-servicing, auto-aggrandizement and start serving the people who voted him into office.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at email@example.com.