One term, evidently, is a long time in politics. So much so that even ‘Brand Modi’ — that invincible political juggernaut — seems to have lost some of its shine. Unfortunately, the Bharatiya Janata Party cannot dismiss this as fake news. The confession has come from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. While addressing the BJP’s final national convention before the general elections, an unusually conciliatory prime minister admitted that collective leadership, rather than the political magic wand that he is said to be blessed with, could spell the difference for his party in the battle ahead. Mr Modi’s invocation of the mantle of collective leadership is particularly touching. His ascendancy in the BJP’s hierarchy — augmented by the outcome of a phenomenal mandate in 2014 — coincided with a significant shrinking of democratic space within the party. Veteran leaders, including L.K. Advani, whose contribution Mr Modi acknowledged at the event — a bit too late in the day perhaps? — had found themselves in redundant roles as key decisions rest in the hands of the prime minister and the party president. However, Mr Modi’s belated realisation of the importance of shared leadership may not be that innocent. There are whispers that the prime minister is making preparations to insulate himself in case of an adverse electoral outcome. In the BJP helmed by Mr Modi, the collective leadership is summoned to take the blame for failure. The credit for success is for Mr Modi and his trusted lieutenant alone. Perhaps this unique arrangement makes the BJP the party with a difference.
The measure of success of a brand in public life is in the delivering of pledges. Sadly, Mr Modi’s performance has been far from magical in this respect. The economy — no amount of tweaking of data has helped — is not growing in an equitable manner. India’s social fabric has been brought under enormous strain under Mr Modi’s watch. Foreign policy — the state of India’s relations with its western neighbour is just one example — remains tied up in several knots. Mr Modi’s magic, his critics are thus convinced, is a lot of hot air. What is particularly ironic is that while populist leaders bank on their appeal to build larger-than-life images, the first signs of trouble force them to seek shelter behind the party that has been dwarfed by them. But do such turnabouts befit men of iron?