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2024 LS polls: Who is BJP’s main challenger?

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While BJP led NDA’s return to power in 2024 appears to be more or less certain, the opposition is basically pinning its hope on the ruling party delivering a self-goal. This happened once in 2004 while Vajpayee, a certain winner, lost most unexpectedly to a beleaguered opposition.

Though BJP is on a much stronger wicket this time under PM Modis leadership, such a threat does exist and it can arise due to two cardinal factors. These are: (1) Over-reach, and, (2) Over-confidence.

BJP’s essential strength comes from sizeable chunk of voters who love India and want preservation of Indic civilisational values and ethos. As a matter of fact, if it can ensure continuation of support from these voters alone, its return to power would be a certainty. BJP however does not seem to be sufficiently aware of the concerns of these voters which make them to vote for it. Nor is the party able to value their support. That probably fills it with a queer impatience and go for bringing in leaders from its opposition parties especially before polls.

More often than not, as examples of West Bengal and UP showed, barring few exceptions, most of these new comers proved its liabilities. While BJP was harmed by their inductions, its rival parties gained by shedding baggage of anti-incumbency. West Bengal was perhaps the most glaring case where BJP snatched ‘defeat’ from the ‘jaws of victory’ in 2021 polls, because of large scale induction of rejects of the ruling party who, as reflects from various social media reports, resorted to sabotage of various kinds.

Another important example of ‘over reach’ is BJP’s attempt to try to secure votes of religious minorities at any cost, including appeasement in various names and forms. It tends to ignore the support of a comfortable constituency of religious majority, which can easily return it to power and enable it to resume its work for the holistic development of all Indians – religious minority and majority- without discrimination. But by going for appeasement of religious minorities it has been causing deep disquiet in those voters.

These twin issues suggest the party has an obsession for adding to numbers of voters rather than their quality in terms of the latter’s attitude and loyalty. This approach betrays doubtful wisdom. The party needs to realize that its oft-repeated claims of being ‘the world’s largest party’ may cheer up own workers but cannot motivate its voters unless it zealously protects their core concerns.  Mindlessly going for quickly and inorganically adding to its support base ignoring party’s long-held principles may frustrate its core voters creating in them a ‘Nota’ kind of mindset.

The second key factor that poses threat to BJP is ‘over confidence’. It is a psychological condition that can take heavy toll of a party, as history has repeatedly proved. As a matter of fact, this trait contributed to the party indulging in ‘over-reach’ discussed above.

The kinds of hazards ‘over confidence’ exposes the party to, will be discussed in relation to two issues viz., (a) the party’s differential approach to religious demographics of voters; and (2) its decision to go in a big way to hold G 20 meetings (200 mega events in 50 cities) across the country, including the opposition ruled states.  

It was earlier mentioned that the party has set out on a quest to conquer votes of religious minorities i.e., essentially Muslims. It seems to have found out its ‘eureka’ doctrine of winning over ‘majority of minorities’ or Pasmanda Muslim through ‘triptkaran‘ towards that end. But such over confidence can hurt it both ways rather than conferring electoral benefits. This needs little elaboration.

As history since 1952 showed the religious consideration has been the prime factor for Indian Muslim voters. They tend to consider politics in the light of religion and often cast votes tactically and en bloc keeping in view the religious-political objective in view. Their voting pattern, in state after state and nationally, has shown their deep distrust and aversion towards BJP.

Hopes for a change in this pattern may be misplaced unless there are paradigm changes in the mindset of the community as a whole. Bringing about a transition in this regard is a complex and challenging task. At the least it may take long period. The fact that in few cases Muslims have cast votes in its favour in recent months do not reflect any change in their mindset. Here is why?

BJP received some Muslim votes in some constituencies in recent Gujarat polls as well as in a couple of LS by-elections in UP but it will be misleading to imagine the phenomenon  as an offshoot of its ‘triptikaran’ doctrine and ‘majority of minority’ strategy. It is eminently possible the party got these votes because its rivals had no chance of victory and in that circumstances the minority Muslim voters wanted to be with the winners for obvious reasons. Considering the series of polls including assembly polls of West Bengal (2021), Uttar Pradesh (2022), the minority votes are most likely to be cast in every single constituency in favour of strongest opposition candidate against BJP in LS 2024 polls.

The second risk resulting from over-confidence is taking its core voters for granted. This is fraught with graver risk. Its unpredictable shift from ‘appeasement to none’ to ‘triptikaran‘ is an example.

While it is true that large chunk of religious majority in the country has shifted its support from INC to BJP over last decade, they did so essentially out of their concern for protecting India’s civilizational legacy. This was mentioned earlier. It is also true that during Modi era there has been phenomenal rise in in their consciousness and pride in their civilizational ethos and values. Today, these voters are more aware of the danger of appeasement politics than ever before. They are keeping watch over the governments, whether state or centre, on this parameter and unlikely to condone any misadventure on this issue, even if it be on the part of BJP.

On this point, a mention of the experience of UPA government may be instructive. It had pioneered the RTI mechanism and it also ironically fell to corruption charges revealed by the stream of information that were unearthed through this mechanism. Similarly BJP has done a laudable thing by generating civilizational consciousness in religious majority, but it should remember that it has also lent itself to close watch by this raised consciousness in its voters. They may not be in a mood to condone transgressions.

Over-confidence seems to have driven Modi government a third risk on the eve of the 2024 polls. It relates to its decision to hold 200 mega events related to G20 meetings in 50 cities spread across the country including in the opposition ruled states. The intention is of course noble which is to use India’s presidency of the current term as a geopolitical opportunity to demonstrate and showcase her leading role in global affairs- whether in terms of economy, technology, politics, and more.

However considering the mean nature of politics practised by its rivals and their readiness to stoop to any level to score brownie points over BJP and vitiate public opinion against it, the political sagacity of this decision is suspect. BJP may assume the glamour and halo associated with holding these meets in spectacular ways and a round the year focus on these evets will help it in smooth sailing of 2024 polls. But it needs to understand that its opposition too are aware of this and may like to play spoilsport.

To get an insight into the issue we need to take a helicopter view of the centre and opposition ruled states relations. These have taken particularly worse turn since 2019 and aggravated in direct proportion of Modi government’s performance and popularity both of which have been on steady rise. Some examples of the hostility of the states towards the centre follow.

One after another, the opposition ruled states passed resolutions in the assemblies against Acts like CAA and Farm Laws passed by Parliament, which have been unprecedented in India’s history. Withdrawing general consent for CBI (latest by Telangana) to conduct investigation and harassing central agencies  have been two other interesting examples. In West Bengal, the state government even went to the extent of filing FIRs against these agencies in some cases and the latter had to approach judiciary to get relief. The ruling party even went to the extent of passing in the assembly a resolution against the excesses by central agencies in the state, which probably was unprecedented.

 There have also been non-cooperation by the state governments with the centre on various issues at various levels and even humiliation of the post of prime minister on occasions. The most prominent case was when both chief minister and chief secretary of an opposition ruled state did not attend a review meeting on cyclone (Yaas) held in that very state and in which the prime minister himself was present in person with his team. In another instance the state government intriguingly failed to protect PM’s route from airport to Kolkata city, a stretch of 16 kms, due to ongoing anti-CAA protests by left parties, arguably a cause which the ruling party also shared with the protestors. That made PM Modi to use helicopter to enter the city. During his visit to Punjab on the eve of Punjab elections, PM Modi’s security was endangered due to serious lapses by the machineries of the state government. This was unprecedented in the post-independence history.

In recent times there have also been attempts to display anti-centre attitude using planks like insider-outsider or bahiragoto slogan and campaign, Hindi-non-Hindi conflict, South vs. North divide and so on. Quarrels of the governments of opposition ruled states like Kerala, Tamilnadu and Telangana with their respective governors are out in the open. West Bengal assembly passed a resolution amending University Laws to replace Governors as chancellors in all state Universities with the Chief Minister. Kerala also followed suit. In no other times since independence India probably saw this kind of anti-centrist climate. Ironically this is happening despite best intention and policy of co-operation on the part of the centre and this may be traced to the opposition parties frustration as they do not see any chance of capturing power at the centre in foreseeable future.

At the party level too, the BJP ladders and workers have been facing intolerance and violence in several opposition ruled states. This has been in stark contrast to BJP’s conduct marked by dignity, tolerance and democratic spirit. There have been reports of violence against BJP and RSS workers in opposition ruled states including Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and others. In West Bengal, the violence has been widespread. NHRC observed over a thousand cases of crimes and violence including several cases of murders, murderous assaults and rapes in the post-poll phase spread across the state which made Calcutta High Court order CBI enquiries and also set up SITs to investigate into such extensive violation of human rights. Murderous attack was carried out even against party’s national president.

In addition to inter-party issues , there are also some fifth columns in the country bent upon breaking national unity scheming and fuelling protests and agitations from time to time. The country saw their hands in anti-CAA agitation, anti-Farm Laws protests, in despicable incidents at Hathras, Lakhimpur Kheri, and so on.

Incidentally, PM Modi had referred to Shaheen Bagh agitation as ‘political design‘ or ‘Prayog’ by vested interests.  To the agony of country men, this agitation had culminated into the infamous Delhi riots against the religious majority  What was more troublesome was the media report that the conspirators had hatched up a plan to synchronize Delhi riots with the visit of US prez Donald Trump at that time to malign India’s image globally. These evil forces are always looking for opportunities to create trouble and they have to be kept under constant leash round the year 2023.

To end the discussion on ‘over-confidence’, if Modi government’s decision to disperse the G 20 meetings across the country has been out of a fine spirit of cooperative federalism, the opposition parties ruling some states may miss this big picture and overwhelmed by petty domestic politics. If so, it becomes a matter of grave concern.

The presence of ‘breaking India’ forces pose additional challenges. The situation would have been different had the centre invited proposals from states for holding these meets supported by their credentials. In the present scheme of things, Modi will be under continuous pressure till the last meeting is held successfully. It is a botheration that it could have avoided in the year leading to general elections.

To conclude, BJP ordinarily foresees no obstacles to its victory in 2024. It stands on the top of stellar performance in multiple areas of governance and can easily sail through if only it keeps its existing support base intact. Restraint and discretion rather than overdoing things can help achieving that. On the other hand its strongest challenger lies within its own psyche – its tendency to ‘over-reach’ and bear ‘over-confidence’, can harm its electoral prospects more than all the opposition parties put together. It need to cognise that with no PM candidate from the opposition space who can even remotely match Modi’s stature, the whole opposition are  waiting and hoping BJP falls into these twin traps.

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