Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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A BJP slide is not unlikely

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By Jagdish Rattanani

It is never easy or safe to read the mood of the nation, particularly in the midst of a national election that is well spread out, this one running over 40 days and in seven phases. With that caveat, it must still be said that there is more than a whiff beginning to gather against the BJP, light to moderate in intensity at best, depending on who is making the analysis. At this stage though, with one phase of the election behind us, it is difficult to say if and how this sentiment may build, or if the pattern can grow to become a gathering storm against giving Narendra Modi a straight third term.
The sentiment, if it is to gather, will have to stand against the overwhelming money power and consequent reach and impact of the BJP campaign. The BJP’s visibly heavy spends border on the vulgar, the Rs.8,250 crore it got from the now-declared illegal electoral bonds scheme finding its way to overwhelm the electorate. Yet, this heavily slanted money power can also harm because while it enables unparalleled reach on the one hand, it serves to highlight the BJP’s huge negatives on the other hand – a loud, overbearing, cocky persona that may not help during a time of seeking votes. The BJP has the largest share of private helicopter bookings for its leaders, not counting the travel of the Prime Minister. The party has outspent the Congress four-to-one on Google search ads and three-to-one on Facebook ads, according to Reuters. It uses this as part of psychological warfare to plug its surface narrative, which is that the BJP will improve its tally of 303 seats from 2019.
It is difficult to see how this might be possible unless the ruling alliance holds old ground and covers new ground in areas it did not do well the last time, say the entire Southern region or parts of the Eastern region. In the South, the NDA alliance in 2019 won 30 out of 130 seats in the five states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Telangana, but 25 of them came from Karnataka. Karnataka now has a Congress State government noted for progressive initiatives, boosting its standing and campaign energy, and so it is highly unlikely that the BJP will reach its 2019 tally of 25 out of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in the State.
There is a BJP-led hype of the party doing well in Tamil Nadu, where it drew a blank the last time and is now putting up a stiff fight in the urban areas. But the BJP campaign positioned as an ideological challenge to the Dravidian movement is unlikely to find resonance in the State where all regional parties trace their origins and ideologies directly or indirectly to the Dravidian movement of Periyar. The DMK has also been able to put up a strong campaign targeting the Prime Minister in particular and calling him out repeatedly for having institutionalised corruption. The BJP may well draw a blank here. Thus, with no scope of growing in the Northern region, where the BJP maxed out in 2019, and no new ground from elsewhere, it becomes almost impossible for the BJP to improve its overall 2019 tally. In fact, the party can slide significantly from its self-stated benchmarks given the new realities in States like Bihar and Maharashtra.
In Bihar, the moniker of “paltu ram” appears to have latched on to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of the JD(U) for his back-and-forth into the BJP fold. It is difficult to see how the JD(U)-BJP-LJP troika of the NDA can deliver 39 of the 40 seats they bagged in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Tejashwi Yadav of the RJD is leading an energetic campaign, directing his fire not plainly at Nitish Kumar, who Yadav refers to as the “respected” Chief Minister, but at his inner circle that the RJD says has used the Chief Minister for their narrow ends. This lends itself to the unstated suggestion that Nitish Kumar has become a pawn, is not in control and is being manipulated by the BJP, which has failed to meet Bihar’s demand for a “special status” – a consistent ask of the Centre and a demand that has disappeared from Nitish Kumar’s vocabulary since he returned to the BJP fold.
In Maharashtra, the forced splitting of the Shiv Sena and the NCP has hurt Maharashtrian pride and built a strong undercurrent of anger against the BJP, whose actions acquired the colour of Gujarat being used to manipulate an elected government in Maharashtra. The BJP leadership used Surat in Gujarat (and later Guwahati) as a safe city to whisk away MLAs while it engineered the split. Maharashtra and Gujarat were one State till an agitation gave birth to Maharashtra with Mumbai as its capital. Downtown Mumbai has a hutatma chowk, a martyrs’ memorial in memory of those who died in the struggle for a separate Marathi-speaking Maharashtra State when Morarji Desai was the Chief Minister of the then Bombay-Gujarat combine called Bombay State. In the 2019 and 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP and the Shiv Sena fighting in an alliance got 41 of the 48 Maharashtra seats. Expect the BJP to pay a heavy price here against a united opposition of the Congress, Sharad Pawar’s NCP and the original Uddhav Thackeray part of the Shiv Sena. The BJP MP from Amravati Navneet Rana openly said at a public rally that there is no Modi wave at work this time.
There are also reports of the Congress receiving an enthusiastic response in several other States, but the downside is the negative impact of the ugly CPI-Congress spat over Wayanad and the uncertainty over Amethi, the seat which Robert Vadra has claimed by speaking apparently out of turn to queer the Congress pitch.
On the other side, the BJP’s prime face, the Prime Minister, too, looks tired and lacklustre. Like a fix that you need more of over time, he has begun overusing (even by the BJP standards!) religion with calls and cries that border on the vaudevillian. At one meeting, he asked his audience to put on their mobile torches during the day to send light at a time the sun’s rays were being mirrored on the idol of Lord Ram on his “birthday” being celebrated in the temple at Ayodhya. At the same meeting, he offered this triple slip: ‘Modi ki guarantee yani guarantee pura hone ki guarantee’ (Modi’s guarantee means the guarantee of fulfilling the guarantee).
But we can let that pass – call it stress, fatigue or a theatre of the absurd in the midst of a festival of democracy that we hope India will continue to celebrate in the future.
(The writer is a journalist and faculty member at SPJIMR. Views are personal) (Syndicate: The Billion Press) (e-mail: [email protected])

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