If one leg of a table is broken, it will totter a bit, balance precariously, and may eventually collapse. The much-touted INDIA alliance would seem to have collapsed as a strongly united opposition front that could take on Narendra Modi’s BJP government. What remains, however, are outposts of resistance where regional forces hope to hold sway.
Overall, though, the last two Lok Sabha elections that resulted in single-party majority were won through narratives around a strong leader combined with the ground strength of the RSS/BJP cadres to convert sentiment into votes. In that sense, therefore, the opposition narrative has been punctured by the extraordinary somersault of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in walking across, once again, to the NDA. Add to that the spectacle of the arrest of Hemant Soren soon after he resigned as Jharkhand Chief Minister, the Enforcement Directorate interrogations of Rashtriya Janata Dal leaders Lalu Prasad Yadav and Tejashwi Yadav, and the frequent summons issued to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, and one sees that the psychological warfare is intense.
The messaging of the BJP is clear: we will lure your members and split your party, harass or even arrest your party colleagues while we paint you as corrupt. Meanwhile, the wealthiest political party in Indian history will stake the claim to be pure as the driven snow. Add to this psychological positioning the psephologists swarming TV news channels predicting that after the Ram temple ceremony at Ayodhya, the only point of interest in the forthcoming Lok Sabha election is how many more seats the BJP can get.
If the “Ram wave” is so spectacular and if victory is indeed a certainty, then why did the BJP take back Nitish Kumar who has embarrassed it before and whom it swore not to touch again?
What is more, sources reveal that a key troubleshooting BJP Minister has even sent feelers to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu that should they dump the Congress, some problems confronting the State government could go away. Why make such offers if the Modi regime is confidently coasting to victory?
Cult of Modi
Such questions are the reason why one should take care not to believe the buzz that the opposition should just lie down and roll over and submit to the mighty force. The ongoing psych-op that builds the cult of Modi as undefeatable and India as a shining light in the world continues to hold sway. There can be little doubt that just as the 2019 election was the most expensive in India’s history and, according to some estimates, among the costliest in the world, beating even the US election of Donald Trump in 2016, the Modi campaign for 2024 could be even bigger.
Many questions are up in the air these days in the national capital as the election comes closer: Can the BJP get a three-fourth majority in Parliament? If that actually happens, will it try to amend the Constitution by 2025, the year that marks the 100th anniversary of the RSS? Will we then see a constitutional Hindu Rashtra as opposed to a de facto one? Is Modi likely to create a permanent chair for himself like Russia’s Vladimir Putin?
That will be followed by 2026, when delimitation of seats is allowed, which means an increase in the numbers of parliamentary seats on the basis of population. That is likely to increase the numbers from States in the north as opposed to those in the south that have managed to bring population growth down. Will that then bring the BJP and Modi closer to their stated goal of “One Nation One Election”?
- The messaging of the BJP is clear: we will lure your members and split your party, harass or even arrest your party colleagues while we paint you as corrupt.
- If the “Ram wave” is so spectacular and if victory is indeed a certainty, then why did the BJP take back Nitish Kumar who has embarrassed it before?
- There can be little doubt that just as the 2019 election was the most expensive in India’s history, the Modi campaign for 2024 could be even bigger.
Constant bickering in INDIA bloc
In the face of this organised electioneering machine, the INDIA bloc has faltered. There has been constant bickering among allies, with no party, including the Congress, ready to take the high ground. There has also been an unwarranted delay in seat negotiations.
There have also been certain inexplicable twists. For instance, when two Opposition Chief Ministers, Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal, mooted the name of Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge as a prime ministerial face, why did the Congress respond with suspicion? Kejriwal even shared data about how presenting Kharge as the Prime Minister would help the alliance because of the Congress president’s social origins and the potential to create a churn and attract Dalit votes across India.
“Sources reveal that a key troubleshooting BJP Minister has even sent feelers to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu that should they dump the Congress, some problems confronting the State government could go away.”
One can understand Nitish Kumar seeing it as a tactic to scuttle his own ambitions; and given the Bihar Chief Minister’s eventual deceit, the instinctive suspicions of Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal were well founded. But the Congress could have treated the suggestion as a seminal moment when parties that have historically contested against it were actually ready to agree on a prime ministerial candidate from the Congress. In addition, for a party that has been foregrounding social justice issues, there was a clear advantage in positioning a Dalit candidate for the top job.
Instead, the Congress responded with no response, as if allies suggesting a Prime Minister candidate was an interference in inner party affairs. The real neurosis was, of course, over the position of Rahul Gandhi who runs the party although it is known that the allies do not wish to project him as the Prime Minister face.
If the first family of the Congress and Rahul Gandhi himself wish that he should be the Prime Minister face, they could have explicitly said so and tested it with the allies. Instead the Congress acts coy, saying that Rahul Gandhi is not interested in power and is made for higher philosophical journeys that probably fit with his own self-image.
‘Might is right’
Meanwhile, the Congress is hoping that with some regional players now out of the picture (such as Nitish Kumar), they will get a larger chunk of seats to contest and, in a Lok Sabha election, might do better than expected. The real test for the Congress does not lie in States like Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu where it is still part of a front. Nor does it lie in seeking to get more seats than the Left in Kerala. In 2019, when the Congress fought against non-BJP parties in 71 seats, it won 37. But in the 190 direct contests with the BJP, it won just 15.
Counterintuitively, it is in the Modi-led BJP’s “might is right” approach that the opposition can still find some themes: there is a clear threat to federalism and the looming implications of delimitation for all of south India; there is inside the BJP a quiet brigade of sidelined leaders watching the leadership cult escalate; there are no new jobs, although rations are being given to the poor; there is the spectre of imminent incarceration of various leaders and party workers across the country. All these should be the opposition’s ammo.
Saba Naqvi is a Delhi based journalist and author of four books who writes on politics and identity issues.