After Two Polling Phases, Floundering BJP Needs To Take Drastic Steps

After Two Polling Phases, Floundering BJP Needs To Take Drastic Steps

The elections are not yet over. Things can still take a dramatic turn, but one thing is certain — that as of now, the BJP is in panic mode

AshutoshUpdated: Monday, May 06, 2024, 10:40 PM IST
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Representative Image | File

In my previous column, I had written that after the first phase of polling, the desperation is visible in the Hindutvavadi camp. Within two weeks now definite panic is discernible. At a time when the third phase of polling is on, the Bharatiya Janata Party needs to do some serious damage control if it wants a third term for the party at the Centre. The biggest failing of the BJP campaign is the absence of a national narrative to attract voters and keep the opposition defensive. Rather, BJP is in reactive mode and the Opposition led by the Congress is setting the agenda.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s scathing attack on the Congress’s manifesto and subsequent clarification by Amit Shah and others, that the BJP will neither change the Constitution nor will it abolish reservation, underlines the nervousness in the BJP and among its supporters. Modi is creatively blessed in terms of being able to weave a narrative and keep the Opposition on the defensive. He is such a brilliant communicator that once he realises that a certain narrative is not working, he has the ability, which he has shown in the past, to change the narrative in no time. It is surprising that till now he has failed to do the same.

As I have said in my earlier column, one of the most striking features of the election this time is lack of enthusiasm amongst the electorate, with voters across the country having shown a certain indifference towards the polling. Dip in the poll percentage in both the phases is an indicator of the same. This has made the election more complicated, and experts are in no position to draw any conclusions with regard to how many seats the BJP will get. The BJP has claimed that the party will get 370 seats and it will cross the 400 mark with the help of its regional allies. That talk is no longer heard. Now, what is most often talked about is “can BJP get 272”, the majority number, required to form the government for the third time. Have the tables started to turn? The elections, which the BJP believed would be a cake walk for it after massive victory in assembly elections in December 2023, are now open for discussion and speculation is rife that BJP will find it difficult to retain power. The BJP’s rabid communal campaign is seen as a last-ditch effort to not let power slip from their hands. The BJP itself is to be blamed for being in this situation.

First, after the assembly elections the party became over-confident. It took its victory for granted. This was the time when the Opposition was in total disarray. Nothing seemed to be working for them. Alliance partners were criticising each other; the Congress was being blamed for not taking any initiative to unite the Opposition and create a comprehensive electoral strategy. The situation was so bad that Nitish Kumar, who was seen as the pivot for Opposition unity and was credited with the formation of INDIA, switched sides, and joined hands with the BJP. This was a life-threatening jolt to the Opposition. INDIA was deeply demoralised and it was said that now the Opposition should plan for the 2029 general election, as 2024 was a done deal. This was also the time when the country was overwhelmed with the consecration of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. The BJP tried to portray the Opposition as being anti-Ram and anti-Hindu as it failed to welcome and appreciate the Ram Mandir Pran Pratishtha.

The BJP’s second failing was that it could not anticipate that 10 years is enough time for anti-incumbency to set in against any government or any prime minister. Despite the BJP winning assembly elections in three states, every survey has underlined that unemployment and price rise are huge issues and people are mightily upset because of that. In fact, in the Mood of the Nation survey done in August 2023 by India Today , 72% people said that the unemployment situation in the country is serious, out of that 56% told surveyors that situation is very serious, which is a big number. In the same survey, 33% respondents said that their household income/salary would worsen in the near future. Only 22% said that it might improve. If the government was alert, it would have taken steps to combat or improve the situation. Rather, it tried to counter the situation with the propaganda that under Modi, India has become the fifth largest economy.

Third, Ram Mandir consecration was their Brahmastra, their Plan A. The date January 22 was carefully chosen for the inauguration of the temple. The BJP believed that the Ram Mandir movement, which was the singular reason for the rise of the party in national politics, would further help them sail through the 2024 elections. The BJP failed to realise that the sentiment of revenge is a better motivator than the sentiment of construction. For a large section of Hindus, the Babri Masjid demolition was an act of civilisational revenge, due for centuries; the construction of the Ram Mandir afterwards was only an inevitability. The people are happy with the Pran Pratishtha but not motivated enough to oblige BJP with their votes. The biggest weakness in the BJP’s election strategy was its over-dependence on the Ram Mandir consecration — and once it failed, it did not know what to do as it never had a Plan B.

Fourth, if the BJP ever thought that anti-incumbency against the government and their MPs could be neutralised by the Modi factor, as Modi carries extra 8% to 15% votes as was witnessed in 2014 and 2019 general elections, the ground reports suggest that there is a definite unease among voters even with Modi. There was a time when his supporters were not willing to listen to any criticism about him. Now times have changed. He is still the most popular leader, but he is not above criticism. A section of his supporters is unhappy with his performance as the prime minister. Modi fatigue is also working against the party. The electoral bonds episode and induction of corrupt leaders in bulk from other parties into the BJP has dented his image. The people could see the hypocrisy of the prime minister when he claims to fight corruption.

Fifth, the slogan “Ab ki baar char sau paar” (this time beyond 400 seats) has majorly boomeranged on the party at multiple levels. One, people are intelligent enough to decipher the truthfulness of the slogan, as BJP does not have the bandwidth to win 370 or more seats. Secondly, statements by BJP leaders that BJP needed 400 seats to change the Constitution has not resonated well with the people, who sense a sinister design. They are asking what the need is to change the Constitution which has worked so well till now. Moreover, the Constitution is associated with Baba Saheb Ambedkar and the ploy to change it has enraged Dalits, backward classess and Ambedkarites. There is fear in their minds that this might lead to the abolition of the reservation to SC, ST and OBCs. The prime minister and the home minister have had to repeatedly issue clarifications on this issue, but the damage has been done and sceptics are not convinced.

However, the elections are not yet over. Things can still take a dramatic turn, but one thing is certain — that as of now, the BJP is in panic mode. The BJP is in deep trouble and if it has to successfully sail through, then it has to take some drastic measures.

The writer is Editor, SatyaHindi.com, and author of Hindu Rashtra. He tweets at @ashutosh83B

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