Predicting election outcomes in a country of India’s diversity is always dangerous, but an assessment can’t be unwelcome either. Five states are going to the elections that have been termed the semifinals for the Parliamentary elections in 2024. Though I firmly believe that every election is different and has its own dynamics which is vastly different from the other, yet every election helps the voters and readers to peep into the future and get a hazy idea about things to come. In this context these elections are important and should be viewed accordingly.
At a time when ticket distribution is on, and every political party is busy identifying its best candidate for each constituency, the picture that emerges is not good for the BJP which does not seem to be in the best of health, whereas surprisingly the mood in the Congress is upbeat. Other political parties in three states — Rajasthan, MP, and Chhattisgarh — are almost non-existent. The battle royale is between the two national parties and victory and defeat will send a strong signal for the future. I am not guessing which party is winning and which one is losing. But in two states - MP and Chhattisgarh, the BJP is trying to catch up with the Congress and in Rajasthan, it is the Congress led by Ashok Gehlot which has a lot of convincing to do as far as the voters are concerned if it wants to swing its way the pendulum because of which states oscillate between the two parties every election. Telangana is a surprise package for the Congress. I am still not sure whether the state is heading for an upset, but one thing is certain — that the Congress will emerge as a formidable force and those who were predicting its rout in the state might have to eat their words.
This election is more crucial for the BJP. If it wins a majority of the states then it should not majorly worry about the general elections but if it loses, then it has to do a lot of soul-searching. On the surface there are signs which suggest that the BJP looks jaded, and a certain fatigue is setting in in its relationship with the voters. The loss in Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh was a warning signal, and if it aspires to come back to power in 2024 then it has to re-design its strategy, and a new narrative must be woven. Every strategy and every narrative has an expiry date. The BJP in 2014 was a new political party which dramatically changed the course of Indian politics under the leadership of Narendra Modi. Unlike the BJP of Vajpayee and Advani, this BJP was aggressive, irreverent, had a no-holds-barred attitude, could go to any extent to win an election and was not willing to leave any space for the rivals. There was no laid-back attitude. It used every trick in the book, broke all the rules. It set a new standard for itself, and for its supporters.
The 2014 election was the most expensive election ever fought in India till then. Its campaign was designed by hardcore professionals. It created a cocktail of Hindutva and development. Modi was presented as a messiah who would transform everyone’s life. Above all the party was neither confused nor had any guilt about Hindutva. Though Atal-Advani had used Hindutva, they were never very confident about it being acceptable to the larger audience. They were never convinced about the fact that Hindutva could alone catapult BJP to the pinnacle of power. But Modi, fresh from his experiment in Gujarat, was supremely confident that the BJP without Hindutva was like fish without water, and it should be milked to the last mile if it wanted to create a permanent social base for itself.
There is no doubt that Modi was thinking far ahead. He was always one step ahead of his rivals, within his party and outside. His strategy worked. Now the BJP has a solid social base which has ensured its longevity in Indian politics. Even if the BJP were to lose it will remain one of the principal players in national politics for many decades. Modi has created an army of supporters who openly flaunt their ideological commitment and never shy away from calling themselves Hindutvavadis, which earlier was not the case with most of the BJP supporters. This has cemented BJP’s core belief system. In the future, the BJP only has to add and delete toppings over it.
Modi’s gladiatorial instinct was another original contribution to the BJP. For him every election is a matter of life and death. He has fought every election as if it was his last election. No wonder he pulled many election victories from the jaws of defeat. It was this instinct which made him do the unthinkable like changing the entire cabinet with an unknown face as chief minister in Gujarat. In Uttarakhand too he sacked two senior leaders as CM and made Pushkar Singh Dhami, a non-entity, the CM. In the 2017 MCD election (Delhi) he changed candidates in every seat to counter 10 years of anti-incumbency, and in all three the BJP came back to power with a vengeance. But in this election, Modi seems to be losing his touch.
It is no secret that in all three states — MP, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh — he wanted to replace Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Vasundhara Raje Scindia, and Raman Singh with younger faces. Today he has gone back to them. Raman Singh who was nowhere to be seen in Chhattisgarh was suddenly given the ticket to contest and is indirectly seen as the chief Ministerial candidate too. In MP, after the first list in which senior cabinet ministers like Narendra Singh Tomar was asked to contest assembly elections, it was believed that Shivraj might be moved to the central cabinet but now Modi is praising Shivraj Singh Chauhan. Rajasthan is more bizarre. It is public knowledge that Modi never liked Vasundhara Raje Scindia; it was widely speculated that she was being deliberately humiliated the last few months by the central leadership and was not given any responsibility of importance, but finally like Shivraj, Modi had to accommodate her and also her long list of supporters. This shows that either he has run out of ideas or has lost the appetite for the new experiments. Either way, he reveals weakness.
On the other hand, the Congress seems to be on a surer footing apart from the minor glitches. In all four states, it is going with the recognised faces and has given them total independence to chalk out their own strategy. Kamal Nath can be faulted for his soft Hindutva, but the central leadership is not telling him what to do and what not to do. Then, the Congress also seems to be a more cohesive unit. It has successfully put the lid over factional politics. It has helped iron out differences between Bhupesh Baghel and T S Singhdev in Chhattisgarh and between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan. In Telangana, Revant Reddy has been empowered to run the show. The Congress is definitely trying to reinvent itself ideologically and with the ‘caste census’ slogan, searching for a new social base, but the BJP seems to be fatigued, repeating old rhetoric, churning out the old narrative, and Modi is their only saviour. I am not sure whether it will click this time. The party certainly has to reconstruct its electoral vision and design if it has the ambition to come back to power for a third term, nationally.
The writer is Editor, SatyaHindi.com, and author of Hindu Rashtra. He tweets at @ashutosh83B