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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 21, May 25, 2024

Will 2024 Results Spell A Change or Not? | Nilofar Suhrawardy

Saturday 25 May 2024, by Nilofar Suhrawardy

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Political suspense on whether these elections will spell a major change rests on several questions being discussed at several levels, of which the key one is about whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi will return to power for the third term or not. Even those optimistic about his assuming office again are guardedly saying that Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may not win as many seats as it did in 2019 and 2014. Some are also observing possibilities of the coming results spelling a shock for Modi and his party. Paradoxically, while possibilities of change are being discussed, hardly anything is being said about the nature of change. Simply speaking, while some analysts are strongly confident of Modi returning to power, some believe that BJP will not secure the needed majority, hardly anything is being said about the nature of the next government if the present is pushed out of power. The primary focus is on whether results will spell a change or not.

Paradoxically, even Prime Minister Modi seems caught in a dilemma about BJP’s electoral fate. Not surprisingly, Modi- a master strategist in the art of electoral manoeuvring to stay ahead in political drama seems at a loss about which strategies will spell his electoral success at a grand scale. True, he has always been an expert at convincing crowds of the “credibility” of his words. At present, he doesn’t seem too sure of success on this front. Now, if he doesn’t seem satisfied by his own communication strategy, how and why should the people he is trying to reach out to be expected to be satisfied by the same? Modi’s command at this skill played a crucial role in not just winning parliamentary elections in 2014 and 2019 but also in ensuring his command within and outside his camp. Besides, internationally, he succeeded in promoting the “belief” of there being no other leader of his calibre/class in India. International media’s coverage accorded to Modi suggests that they still seem quite convinced about this belief. In contrast, national media has of late started displaying a tacit withdrawal from giving extensive and exclusive coverage only to Modi.

Nothing can yet be said about linking these with possible electoral results. One can only speculate. Certain ground realities cannot, however, be ignored. Ironically, notwithstanding his “success” on the Ayodhya front, people at large don’t appear to be giving it much importance. Chants of Modi-wave, hailing him for his accomplishments, don’t seem to be echoing around as loudly and frequently as they earlier did. Well, the heat wave could be partly responsible for this. Or would it be fair to assume that people are not as convinced by Modi’s claims, rhetoric and his anti-Congress addresses as they earlier seemed to be? This is possible. He has been in command for ten years, which for young voters as well as economically weak sections and others was sufficient time for him to accomplish his promises, which certainly were not confined to the display and use of his “religious” card, including the Ayodhya-issue.

It is possible, that Modi’s ten-year stay in power is now being judged more strongly by voters than it has probably been before. Besides, earlier, voters struck by the Modi wave hardly exercised any deliberation while choosing to go by whatever he said. BJP’s electoral fate was decided by a considerable number of voters being andhbhakts (blind devotees) of Modi. Realistically, that these did not help BJP win even fifty percent of the votes cannot be ignored. But the party won. Now, the hard reality that a considerable number of even andhbhakts don’t seem to be as moved by Modi wave as they earlier were cannot be sidelined. This is certainly contributing to quite a notable decline in Modi wave’s impact. The hype earlier raised about Modi wave was manipulated/manufactured. But in contrast to Modi-bhakts caring little for this earlier, now, they also seem to exercise reservations as well as restraint regarding these. Perhaps, the Modi-wave matters little or has lesser appeal in context of grievances faced by common Indians. The electoral significance of manipulated image has probably declined because of people being faced with tough grass-root realities.

Yes, the notable change in people’s attitude towards Modi cannot be ignored. Statistically, the chances of Modi and his party being supported by as many votes as earlier are hardly strong. This may also be stated as the vote-bank favouring BJP appears to be weaker in comparison to 2014 and 2019. However, prospects of BJP not faring as well as it did earlier and/or the number of seats it wins/loses cannot be delinked from a few other factors. It needs to be considered, in whose favour do votes choosing not to support BJP turn to? Division in anti-BJP votes may still help the BJP win. If voters’ decision is primarily decided by their anti-BJP attitude, then a lot is likely to be dependent on who they vote for, whether there is unity/division in this decision of theirs or not. This trend may strongly be dependent on the nature of unity and electoral strength displayed by BJP’s rivals. The electoral strength of BJP’s rivals would be primarily decided by voters’ move for/against them and as suggested by unity/division within these vote-banks.

Prospects of opposition parties gaining more seats because of campaigning of Congress and other rivals of BJP as well as the seat-sharing deal of I.N.D.I.A. - bloc cannot be ignored. The results are not going to be simply decided by the positive/negative impact of those campaigning for/against Modi (BJP). A lot is dependent on how serious as well as united their electoral power - to defeat Modi proves to be. The key role in deciding the results is dependent on how voters exercise their power. The final decision rests on not simply whether they are more strongly moved by Modi’s rivals or not. But on whether they want Modi to return for the third term or not. If they want, the question of their voting for none else but BJP’s election symbol- the lotus needs no deliberation. But if they are strongly against his returning to power, chances of their taking a determined and decisive stand on this front matters a lot.

Division within BJP over Modi’s return may also turn the tables against him. However, not much noise is being made about this. The same may be said about strong sections of voters having chosen silently to oppose his return by voting against the BJP. It is not simply the question of their voting against BJP but that for the candidate as one bloc to ensure his/her victory against the former (BJP). Though statistically, these elections are a game of numbers this gamble is proving challenging for master strategist(s) too, apparently because of strategies being exercised silently by voters at the very grassroots. From this angle, the 2024 elections may be viewed as a display of democratic strategy being exercised strongly and silently by voters to ensure the command of their electoral prowess in ensuring success/defeat of the party in power. The key question rests on how many votes are specifically cast for Modi or against him, in other words, on whether voters act decisively regarding a change at the centre or not?

(Author: Nilofar Suhrawardy is a senior journalist and writer with specialization in communication studies and nuclear diplomacy. She has come out with several books. These include:— Modi’s Victory, A Lesson for the Congress…? (2019); Arab Spring, Not Just a Mirage! (2019), Image and Substance, Modi’s First Year in Office (2015) and Ayodhya Without the Communal Stamp, In the Name of Indian Secularism (2006))

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