Analysis: Elections Promise Full-On Entertainment This Time

Analysis: Elections Promise Full-On Entertainment This Time

In many ways the BJP is a modern party. It has evolved a science of electioneering in which the feedback mechanism is very robust

AshutoshUpdated: Tuesday, March 26, 2024, 11:27 PM IST
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Despite tall claims, the BJP is not taking its victory for granted and it is not leaving any stone unturned | File Photo

The elections in India are an entertaining business with tall unbelievable claims made and colourful campaigning, with personal attacks and lots of self-inflicted injuries, with defections and deceptions, with promises of purity to the most brazen immorality. The 2024 general elections are no exception. It is going to be one of the longest elections, but what has caught the imagination of the media — not necessarily of the common man — is the hyperbolic claim that BJP will get 370 seats and NDA will cross 400. The only time any ruling party has passed the 400 mark was when elections were held after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984. Rajiv Gandhi was the leader of the Congress. Since then no party could touch the majority mark on its own till Narendra Modi won for the BJP in 2014. This was the time when the Congress for the first time in its electoral history could not win even 50 seats. Modi repeated the performance with improved numbers in 2019 but then critics blamed the Pulwama incident for BJP’s spectacular success.

If 2014 elections were defined by the deep sense of antipathy towards the Congress due to stratospheric corruption charges, and 2019 was taken over by the abnormal situation created by Pulwama, then 2024, in all probability will be the first normal election in the last 10 years in which people will not be blinded by the spectacle of situational abnormality, and 10 years of the Modi government will be judged dispassionately by the voters with people having a considered opinion before going to the polls. Though I concede the point that ideology and narrative management has the capability to create a delusional society in which humanoids fight invisible phantoms and a section of the society can be swayed by false consciousness. but in totality, it appears that rationality will guide the voter’s choice this time.

The BJP, after winning the Assembly elections in December 2023, did try to create an aura of invincibility, further reinforced by the Pran Pratishtha in Ayodhya but as polling days are nearing, one gets a feeling that the party is no longer confident. A sense of nervousness is palpable. Despite tall claims, the BJP is not taking its victory for granted and it is not leaving any stone unturned — and in this pursuit the lines between what is right and what is wrong have blurred. There is a series of steps which the BJP has taken in the last two months that tell the story that BJP is not sure of crossing the magic number that is 272 to form its government. The latest episode is admission into BJP of alleged mining mafioso of Karnataka Janardan Reddy, the uncrowned King of Bellary.

The Modi government is trying to paint the entire Opposition as corrupt and who have come together to loot the country, but the BJP has conveniently ignored criminal charges against Janardan Reddy. This is the same man who was arrested by the CBI in 2011 along with his brother B V Srinivas Reddy, and the Supreme Court had barred him from visiting Bellary and other nearby districts. Amit Shah who had said in 2017 during the Assembly elections that the BJP had nothing to do with him, has today asked him to merge his party with the BJP. Reddy has proudly told the media, “Amit Shah had invited me to Delhi and told me that there is no question of extending outside support and instead I should join the BJP and work for it as I took my political birth in the party.”

Karnataka is the state where the BJP won 25 seats out of 28 in 2019 election. But after its terrible loss in the Assembly elections, the BJP is not confident if it can even retain half the seats. It has forged an alliance with JDS conceding a few winning seats this time. The question is that if there is a wave for the BJP then why does it need Reddy and JDS, in a state where it has done exceedingly well in the Parliamentary elections since 2004?

Amit Shah had said about Nitish Kumar that doors are permanently shut for him, but those doors suddenly opened in January this year. The BJP had also conceded 16 seats to Nitish for the Lok Sabha elections. Nitish, after his third somersault, is a much discredited leader and his party is no longer the force that it used to be. In the 2019 general election, JDU had contested 17 seats and won 16. This time it was speculated that JDU should not get more than 12 seats. Then why should it not be understood that BJP conceding 16 seats to JDU is sign of weakness? And still, there is no certainty that the BJP-led NDA will win 39 seats out of 40 as it did in 2019.

UP is considered to be another Gujarat for the BJP and Hindutvawadi forces. BJP is aiming to win more than 71 seats like it did in 2014. The I.N.D.I.A alliance seems to be in disarray. The Samajwadi Party and BSP had contested together last time but this time they are on a different tangent. The Congress is in bad shape and it is speculated that the party might lose Raebareli along with Amethi. But the BJP has gone out of its way to poach Jayant Chaudhary. To lure him the Modi government has given the Bharat Ratna to Chaudhary Charan Singh, Jayant’s grandfather. What was the need?

Similarly in Jharkhand BJP had admitted Sita Soren and given her a ticket to contest the Lok Sabha elections. In Maharashtra, former CM Ashok Chavan was admitted into the party. This was the same Ashok Chavan who had to resign as CM once the Adarsh scam adorned media headlines. Surprisingly, this happened after PM Modi talked about the Adarsh scam on the floor of the House but the BJP had no hesitation in taking him into the party and rewarding him with a Rajya Sabha seat, ignoring the claims of local leaders of the party. Chavan and Soren are not the only ones; the BJP has gone out of its way to admit leaders of other political parties in almost every state. This is done to weave a narrative that since BJP is winning, therefore leaders of other parties are deserting sinking ships. But the moot point is why BJP is admitting them if it is winning big?

BJP was also been hobnobbing with BJD in Odisha for an alliance in the Lok Sabha elections. In 2019 BJP had won 7 seats on it own. BJD was victorious in 12 seats. The Congress is not a force to reckon with. There is also murmur on the ground that the CM Naveen Patnaik is not keeping well and anti-incumbency is building up against his government. This was a golden opportunity for the BJP to spread its tentacles and try to upstage Naveen Patnaik; instead it aligned with BJD. Naveen proved to be more wily and ditched BJP at the last minute. This is not the sign of a confident party which lays claims to win 370 seats.

Even the arrest of Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal can also be interpreted as signs of desperation in the BJP camp. AAP and the Congress have joined hands in Delhi and their combined presence can stop BJP from winning all seven seats as it did in 2014 and 2019. AAP has alleged that the arrest was meant to sully the image of an honest leader and also to stop him from campaigning. This ploy has the potential to boomerang on the BJP.

The problem with the BJP is that it has won optimum seats in North India and by no stretch of the imagination can it improve its tally in these states. In Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Punjab, BJP has almost negligible presence and there is very little possibility that it can increase its tally there. In Maharashtra BJP is not sure that along with Shinde and Ajit Pawar it can maintain its Lok Sabha tally of 43 in 2019. Despite the split Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar are still a formidable force, and together with the Congress are engaged with the NDA in a tough fight.

In many ways the BJP is a modern party. It has evolved a science of electioneering in which the feedback mechanism is very robust. The party might not be getting the desired feedback from the ground and its cadre of being on a strong wicket. Anti-incumbency of 10 years, a high rate of unemployment and price rise can turn the tables. In this context, the BJP is fighting the election in true gladiatorial style. How much it succeeds is to be seen. The elections this time will be more interesting and entertaining than ever before, that is for sure.

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

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