File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking at the inauguration of Basava Jayanthi 2017 and Golden Jubilee Celebration of Basava Samithi, in New Delhi, April 29, 2017. (Manvender Vashist/PTI)
With the for the first phase of General elections well on its way for the 17th Lok Sabha, the country’s electoral atmospheric is all charged up and matching the soaring climb in weather temperatures.
The incumbent Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi, heading the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and leading the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) will be fighting to stay in power while a variety of opposition parties such as Indian National Congress (INC), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), All India Anna Dravida MunnetraKazhagam (AIADMK), and Samajwadi Party (SP) will be amongst other significant political players and independent candidates in making individual and allied attempts, in terms of a coalition or ‘Mahagathbandhan,’ at challenging the saffron behemoth.
In the 2014 poll tally, BJP was at 282 seats, joined by allies to make up the NDA that stands at 336 out of total of 543 seats, and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) on the other hand had just about 60 seats, headed by INC at 44 seats, and NCP at 6, RJD at 4, JMM at 2, and others making up the composition.
Coming to 2019 stint, Modi has embarked on his formal campaign with a big bang, the announcement of India’s anti-satellite (A-SAT) missile test on March 28,though many critics prefer to describe him as an incumbent who has been in perpetual state of campaign all through his tenure as PM.
Immediately after the televised address to the nation, he embarked on vigorous campaigning for a second term starting in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir, then a tour of Odisha, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, from where he moved on to a whistle–stop tour of the north–eastern states and then to the western state of Maharashtra.
An analysis of BJP’s election strategies reveals both strands of continuation and introduction of new themes structured around the focal narrative of “a decisive government versus an indecisive past,” something that has been reiterated by Modi himself.
In his recent speeches he has not been shy of a frontal attack at the Congress accusing it of presiding over the center for decades since 1947 without ensuring all round development of states thereby giving rise to migration of villagers to cities in search of jobs and amenities.
Amidst resounding applause he turned the taunt of chowkidar (watchman) on its head and called himself “the nation’s ‘chowkidar’” whose paramount duty is to protect and secure the nation with his strong administration that evinces courageand capability to strike at the enemy in all four spheres of land, water, sky and space.
In a clear deviation from his 2014 campaign that was themed on development (‘vikas’) plank and also due to the successful outcomes of the sudden counterstrikes at Balakot, Pakistan, in the aftermath of Pulwama terror attack, that shook the Pakistani government, this time hence, BJP’s poll narrative is based on threefeatures.
Foremost amongst these is national security, as per which India requires to be protected from its enemy neighbor, Pakistan.
Interestingly, the choice of the enemy state is Pakistan over which New Delhi has a clear moral, military and economic upper–hand, and Modi has accused the Opposition parties of “suspecting the capabilities of the Indian army in an attempt to emerge heroes in Pakistan.”
The second theme is along the lines of Hindutva, to emotionally appeal to the majority community by accusing the Congress for coining the term “Hindu Terror” when none such phenomenon exists and to prove this claim he drew attention to the fear of Hindu anger translating into an electoral loss, as harbored by Rahul Gandhi, the Congress president, for his decision to fight for a second Lok Sabha seat from Wayanad in Kerala based on religious demographics of the constituency.
The third theme is its anti-corruption crusade – bankruptcy law, and filing of cases against defaulters of loans and the absence of big ticket scams that had decimated the image of previous governments.
If Modi tried his hand at structural reforms that would pay in the long run yet his demonetization move and his government’s calculation of core economic indices based on which India can be termed as amongst the top three performing economies of the world in 2018 has generated sufficient controversy.
However, on the implementation of Good and Services Tax (GST) that started off on a sour note now there is the cheerful news of record collections Rs.1.06 trillionfor March 2019, taking up total GST collections to Rs.11.77 trillion, and alongwith the direct tax collection of Rs.11.5 trillion, it indicates picking up of revenue growth.
Though there were structural reforms that yield results in the long term were undertaken, enabled by dipping of inflation, world oil prices and improved governance practices, it is would be appropriate to say that the journey in the country’s growth trajectory has just begun.
And Modi has affirmed just this.
Though several opinion polls have predicted a victory for Modi, there are hurdles in the way of a favorable electoral arithmetic as the saffron party’s ally, AIADMK,in Tamil Nadu, a state that sends 9 MPs to the Lok Sabha, is facing dissidence and anti-incumbency due to the demise of its extremely popular leader, late Jayalalithaa.
Additionally, the northern Hindi cow–belt is no more a BJP bastion where in UP and Bihar, both of which make for 120 seats, are witnessing the coalescing of SP and BSP under Ajit Singh’s RLD and giving a tough fight to the BJP, and the INC expected to cut into the share of BJP.
In the 2018-end assembly elections of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarhthere were predictable gains for the INC on account of anti-incumbency due to high unemployment and farmers’ distress, something that may keep the BJP on tenterhooks once again when nation-wide counting of votes begins.
It is therefore crucial to see how the opposition or those in the ‘Mahagathbandhan’stand against in their pitch against Modi.
Besides, the fact that not a single opposition leader has till date claimed of taking on the PM single handedly that reiterates of their lack of confidence, there is an obvious lack of chemistry amongst the allies.
There is also the factor of paucity of credibility as most of Modi-challengers face corruption charges, if they already not on bail.
Speaking individually of the INC, it does not even come to the level of any regional party in inspiring any hope and has lost invaluable time by committing mistakes, beginning with a rather too drawn out criticism of the government for itsBalkot counter-strikes that were in keeping with the prevailing national mood to give the enemy terrorist-sending a befitting reply.
Also, with each regional satrap wanting to cut the other to size in the Ashok Ghelotversus Sachin Pilot, and Digvijay Singh versus Kamal Nath duels it is not possible that party would remain unscathed from developing deep fissures in its cadrrmorale and organizational strength.
Riddled with these issues it is therefore not a surprise to see the INC depending on a rather shaky platform of anti-incumbency and a highly populist manifesto which has encapsulated unviable but benevolent sounding targets such as NYAY,minimum income guarantee, betraying political desperation.
Moreover, Gandhi’s borderline Hinduism and recent call to the Muslims to vote enbloc against Modi have contributed to an image of flipflop behavior that raisesheckles amongst religious–minded voters.
In this backdrop and armed with this political ammunition there is a high probability that Modi may make it to the finishing line first.