After India's successful conclusion of its G20 presidency, it is time to return to domestic politics. In the run-up to the general elections of 2024, the primary contest will be between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Opposition I.N.D.I.A. alliance. While there are a number of obstacles, such as seat sharing and agenda setting, the Opposition alliance will encounter, and has already begun to face, a lack of a unified narrative. With Narendra Modi’s rise to power, Opposition politicians have become accustomed to attacking the prime minister, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and on occasion particular BJP actions. But this lack of a distinct narrative against the ruling regime will become the Opposition's greatest obstacle. The sooner the Opposition acts to rectify this issue, the more advantageous it will be for their campaign against the BJP.
It is common knowledge that the Opposition political parties named their alliance I.N.D.I.A in an effort to counter the Bharatiya Janata Party's nationalist rhetoric. Nonetheless, it is essential to recognise that, beginning in 2014, the BJP has effectively branded nationalism with its political narrative. It is not only about the country's name. If the Opposition does not attempt to comprehend the origins of the BJP's nationalism, they will never be able to combat it. For instance, opposition political parties brought up the issue of Bharat versus India without justification. This argument will only serve to reinforce the hands of the BJP and weaken the Opposition. Beyond press conferences and social media posts, the Opposition political parties will be unable to convince the people of India that the BJP, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was afraid of the Opposition alliance's name and therefore pushed for “Bharat” to replace “India”. The narrative of the BJP's nationalism is multifaceted and intricate. In contrast to the Congress, this is predicated on organisational strength, charismatic leadership, effective communication strategies, and an alternative vision. In order to combat such a narrative, the Opposition will have to operate in a much more concentrated manner.
Similarly, Hindutva is another virtue of the BJP. There should be no doubt that the Opposition political parties lack a strategy to counter this Hindutva ideology. Based on their political backgrounds and the annals of their political parties, all politicians are attempting to engage in individual conflict. For instance, the controversy surrounding DMK leader Udhayanidhi Stalin's remark about Sanatan Dharma. Stalin made the remark because it is well known that a portion of DMK leaders oppose Hinduism as a whole, which is why he made such a statement. However, Opposition political parties responded differently to the issue; there is no uniformity. On the other hand, consider senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who attacks the RSS and the BJP on a daily basis for their Hindutva. In contrast to the Hindutva of the BJP, it is unclear what the Opposition political parties bring to the table. It is time for the Opposition to clarify whether Hindutva will oppose or extend the ideas of Udhayanidhi Stalin and Rahul Gandhi. A clear vision must be presented to the people so that they can decide what they want.
At this juncture, there is no doubt that the Opposition political parties have accomplished a magnificent feat by putting together an alliance. In addition, it cannot be denied that they have demonstrated unity and expressed a willingness to compromise for greater objectives, and have also presented a credible vision. This alliance is becoming more trustworthy and credible in the minds of the people because, unlike in the past, the Opposition did not emerge shortly before the election. It is essential to note that the Opposition's performance in the most recent by-elections indicates that they have the support of the general populace and enjoy sufficient acceptability.
However, the Opposition must recognise that defeating the BJP will never be simple. The Opposition is fighting not only one of the largest political parties but also a powerful ideology. A vision of plurality and diversity devoid of uniformity will not be effective against the BJP. The Indian populace has grown accustomed to embracing Hindutva and the nationalism of the BJP, and the Opposition needs to accept this. To create a narrative of inclusivity, diversity, and plurality, Opposition political parties must speak with one voice. Without such cohesion, the Opposition cannot win. Without this unity, the Opposition will be unable to articulate a compelling argument against the BJP.
The author is a visiting professor of journalism, a political columnist and a doctoral research scholar. He tweets at @sayantan_gh. Views are personal