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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 2 January 13, 2024

The upcoming Lok Sabha Elections: Some Thoughts | P S Jayaramu

Friday 12 January 2024

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8th January 2024

The upcoming elections to the Lok Sabha, consisting of the Bharatiya Janata Party’ ( BJPs) and the INDIA alliance is the flavour of the season.

Let me first deal with the BJP’s hegemonic hold over Indian Politics in recent years.While I do not want to get into the numbers and statistical part of the electoral exercise, it is as clear as sun light that with the results of the assembly elections in Chattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madya Pradesh going in its favour, the BJP is seen as the dominant star on the Indian electoral map. It’s tight grip over the Hindi belt is almost undisputed, (though it does not rule Delhi and Punjab) which has added to its morale leading to Prime Minister Narendra Modi already talking about his third term as PM. Many media pundits are talking and writing about 2024 being a done deal, forgetting the eternal fact that the voters can spring surprises, as they have at times done in the past.

Strengths of the BJP :

First, let me deal with the strengths of the BJP, which is characterised by five Ms. : Modi, Machine, Money, Mandir, and Media in that order. The five Ms deserve some analysis. Whether one likes it or not, Modi is BJP’s biggest vote catcher and has overshadowed the Party, leading to some unexpressed unhappiness by many senior leaders within the Party and its parent organisation the RSS about his dominance. Modi’s strength is so much that things like manifesto, state and national leaders and ideologues do not matter. Many discerning observers are saying in hushed tones that even Yogi Adityanath in U.P. is eclipsed and that would be seen more glaringly when the consecration of the Ram temple happens later this month. With the spread of the Modi cult the Party is seen to be weak, with it’s President J. P. Nadda playing a minor role. Modi dominates the electoral campaigns all over the country, irrespective of whether the electoral outcomes are in favour of the Party or not. It was not in Karnataka and Telangana recently, despite his high-octane campaign. Irrespective of what analysts would say and some feel within the Party, Modi is going to define the contours of the Party’s electoral strategies in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.

As regards the second M, the Party machinery, it needs to be underscored that the BJP is a cadre-based Party and it’s well-oiled machine would come to the fore during the elections, with booth-level committees managing things in a synchronised manner, whether it is bringing voters to the booths or “handling other thing”. The Party is systematically taking care to enrol new members in a sustained manner, some thing which it’s adversaries have to learn.

About the role of money, ( the third M) it is well-known that the BJP candidates spend disproportionately huge sums of money than their adversaries from the other Parties do. Records show that more than 75 per cent of the electoral bonds issued are in favour of the BJP.

The upcoming inauguration of the Ram Mandir ( the fourth M) in Ayodhya, which is projected to be celebrated as a national festival, thanks to many national channels focussing on the issue on a daily basis during prime time, is going to give a boost to the BJP’s campaign in the Hindi heartland, though the temple inauguration may not resonate in the same way in the eastern, southern and western parts of the country.

And finally, the Media, as the fifth M, and it’s role in projecting the Mandir and other aspects of the BJP works to the advantage of the Party vastly. Media’s projection of the BJP, speciallyy the role being played by large sections of the vernacular and English media - the godi media as it is described- is going to help BJP electorally in the Lok Sabha polls.

Challenges before the Opposition :

It is against the above advantages that the BJP enjoys, that we need to understand the challenges faced by the Opposition Parties, especially the I.N.D.I. A. alliance. It is a truism in contemporary Indian Politics, that the Opposition Parties, governed as they are by their own ideologies, however thin their commitment to it is, the selfish ambitions of leaders to occupy positions of power and their own specific geographical and socio-cultural identities present a picture of disunity in taking on the BJP. The INDIA alliance is unable to put their differences aside and realise the urgent need for seat-sharing arrangements to face the BJP electrocally.

It is of utmost importance that despite being the only pan-India Party other then the BJP, the Congress leadership should realise the need for allowing their allies like the TMC in West Bengal and the Samajwadi Party ( SP) in U. P. to contest in constituencies where they are sure of winning. Ego-based bargaining for more seats may not help the Party. Similar factors need to be kept in mind in States like Tamilnadu, Maharashtra and elsewhere. Winning against the BJP should be the overriding goal in deciding candidates by all the Parties. Will they do so is both the issue and the challenge. If only the INDIA alliance can succeed in containing the BJP below a significant number in terms of majority, (say, around 225-240), the alliance, half the battle can be won. Such a task is not impossible as the INDIA alliance and even Parties which are outside it, will have to skillfully and pragmatically utilise the opportunity BJP provides them in Eastern, Western and Southern India.

Secondly and most crucially, the INDIA alliance should lose no time to come up with a common minimum agenda, anchored in the framework of promoting Constitutional values, keeping the needs and aspirations of the voters cutting across age, gender and the rural and urban sectors. In particular, the Congress Party needs to announce it’s vision for the country for the next ten years and beyond, seek wide publicity for it through the media and stick to a narrative around them during the electoral campaign across the country. The manifesto and the campaign narrative should keep the focus on how they propose to deal with the burning issues of unemployment, inflation/ price rise, the growing urban and rural inequalities and fight for the benefits of the under-privileged, like the Scheduled tribals, the Scheduled Castes and the minorities, while at the same time being in sync with the dreams/ aspirations of the educated youth in urban and semi-urban areas. Welfare programmes for them needs to be spelt out. During his Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra and elsewhere, Rahul Gandhi, would do well to stress on these issues, rather than targeting Modi per se, as it may turn out to be counter-productive.

Parties like the Congress, the SP and the TMC should rise above being minority-centric to capture votes without compromising on the much-needed inclusive India project. The challenge for these Parties is to bring about a balance between their traditional electoral agendas and constituencies and being in tune with the rising aspirations of the young voters, including men and women. It is highly imperative that they are on the winning side in the perception battle too, in so far as the ideologically-neutral voters segment are concerned.

Last, but by no means least, it is disappointing that the media, specially the electronic media, has become an agent of the Government to show case it’s achievements and more so the personality of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In not giving adequate coverage to the Opposition and their legitimate criticisms and issues, the media is failing in it’s duty to play it’s role as the fourth pillar of Democracy.

The nation waits with baited breath as the electoral battle gets sharper and shriller in the months to come.

(Author: P. S. Jayaramu is former Professor of Political Science and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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