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Monday, May 20, 2024

2014: India’s Priciest Poll With A Hindutva-Development Cocktail

Election outcomes in a country as diverse as India are inherently unpredictable, yet an assessment is both inevitable and insightful. The upcoming elections in five states are often considered the semifinals for the 2024 Parliamentary elections. While I hold the conviction that each election possesses unique dynamics, distinct from others, they all offer a glimpse into the future, providing voters and readers with a somewhat blurry preview of things to come. Recognizing the significance of these elections, it is crucial to approach them with due importance and scrutiny.

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By: Dipak Kurmi

Election outcomes in a country as diverse as India are inherently unpredictable, yet an assessment is both inevitable and insightful. The upcoming elections in five states are often considered the semifinals for the 2024 Parliamentary elections. While I hold the conviction that each election possesses unique dynamics, distinct from others, they all offer a glimpse into the future, providing voters and readers with a somewhat blurry preview of things to come. Recognizing the significance of these elections, it is crucial to approach them with due importance and scrutiny.

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Political parties are currently immersed in the intricate process of ticket distribution, each fervently identifying optimal candidates for constituencies. The unfolding scenario presents a challenging outlook for the BJP, which appears to be grappling with internal issues, while surprisingly; the Congress exudes an optimistic vibe. In three states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh – other political parties seem almost negligible, setting the stage for a battle royale between the two national parties. The outcome of this contest will undoubtedly convey a powerful message for the future. While abstaining from speculation on victory or defeat, it’s noteworthy that in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the BJP is striving to narrow the gap with the Congress, while in Rajasthan, the Congress, led by Ashok Gehlot, faces the challenge of winning over voters to influence the pendulum that often swings between the two parties in every election. Telangana adds a surprising element to the mix for the Congress, and though the prospect of an upset looms, one certainty prevails – that the Congress is poised to emerge as a formidable force, challenging predictions of its defeat in the state.

This election holds heightened significance for the BJP. Securing a majority in the states would alleviate concerns about the upcoming general elections; however, a defeat would necessitate profound introspection. Surface indications suggest a weariness within the BJP, with signs of a strained relationship emerging with the voters. The setbacks in Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh served as warning signals, prompting the realization that a reevaluation of strategy is imperative for the party. A new narrative must be crafted, recognizing that every strategy and narrative has an expiration date. The BJP of 2014, under the dynamic leadership of Narendra Modi, marked a paradigm shift in Indian politics. Unlike the BJP of Vajpayee and Advani, this iteration was characterized by aggression, irreverence, a no-holds-barred attitude, and a willingness to go to any extent to secure electoral victories. It exhibited an absence of complacency, employing every conceivable tactic and disregarding traditional norms. This election beckons the BJP to rediscover and redefine its approach, setting new standards for itself and its supporters.

The 2014 election marked the pinnacle of India’s electoral spending, standing out as the most expensive campaign at that time. Meticulously crafted by hardcore professionals, its strategy blended Hindutva and development into a potent cocktail. The campaign portrayed Modi as a transformative figure, almost a messiah destined to reshape lives. Crucially, the party exhibited neither confusion nor guilt regarding its embrace of Hindutva. In contrast to Atal-Advani, who had utilized Hindutva with a degree of uncertainty about its broader acceptance, Modi, drawing from his Gujarat experiment, exuded supreme confidence. He believed that for the BJP, Hindutva was indispensable, akin to a fish needing water, and that it should be fully exploited to establish a lasting social foundation.

PM Modi’s foresight was evident, always staying a step ahead of rivals both within and outside his party. His strategic prowess proved effective, resulting in the BJP establishing a robust social base that guarantees its enduring presence in Indian politics. Even in the event of electoral setbacks, the BJP is poised to remain a prominent force on the national stage for decades. Modi’s leadership has cultivated a dedicated legion of supporters proudly displaying their ideological allegiance, unabashedly identifying as Hindutvavadis – a shift from the past trend among BJP supporters. This solidification of the BJP’s core belief system implies that in the future, the party may only need to make adjustments to its approach rather than fundamentally redefine its foundation.

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The BJP witnessed an original contribution in the form of Modi’s gladiatorial instinct. Within this party, every election, thanks to him, became a high-stakes battle akin to a struggle for survival. Modi approached each electoral contest as if it were his final one, a mindset that contributed to turning seemingly precarious situations into victories. This instinct led to unprecedented actions, such as a complete cabinet overhaul in Gujarat, introducing an unfamiliar face as the chief minister. Similarly, in Uttarakhand, he removed two senior leaders as CM, appointing Pushkar Singh Dhami, a relative unknown, to the position. Notably, during the 2017 MCD election in Delhi, Modi countered a decade of anti-incumbency by changing candidates in every seat – a move that resulted in a resounding return to power for the BJP in all three instances. However, in the current election, there appears to be a perceptible waning of Modi’s once-formidable political touch.

Three states – MP, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh – bear witness to a notable shift in Modi’s initial plans. Initially inclined to replace Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Vasundhara Raje Scindia, and Raman Singh with younger faces, the current scenario reflects a reversal of that intent. Raman Singh, absent from the Chhattisgarh scene, suddenly emerged as a contestant, indirectly assumed to be the chief ministerial candidate. In MP, initial speculations of Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s move to the central cabinet were countered by Modi’s commendation of him, despite senior cabinet ministers like Narendra Singh Tomar being fielded for assembly elections. The situation in Rajasthan adds a bizarre twist. Publicly known for his reservations about Vasundhara Raje Scindia, Modi’s actions, including speculated deliberate humiliation, eventually led to her and her substantial supporter base being accommodated. This shift suggests a potential exhaustion of ideas or a diminished appetite for new experiments, revealing a certain vulnerability on Modi’s part.

The Congress appears to be standing on more solid ground, despite minor hiccups, across all four states. Opting for recognized faces, the party has granted them considerable autonomy to formulate their strategies. While Kamal Nath’s soft Hindutva stance may be criticized, the central leadership refrains from dictating his course of action. Additionally, the Congress exhibits a greater sense of cohesion, successfully quelling factional politics. Differences between leaders like Bhupesh Baghel and T S Singhdev in Chhattisgarh and Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan have been ironed out. In Telangana, Revant Reddy has been entrusted with significant authority. The Congress is evidently engaged in ideological reinvention, exemplified by the ‘caste census’ slogan, as it seeks a new social base. In contrast, the BJP appears fatigued, relying on familiar rhetoric and an old narrative, with Modi seemingly as their sole savior. The effectiveness of this approach remains uncertain, prompting the BJP to reconsider its electoral vision and design if it aspires to secure a third term nationally. (The writer can be reached at dipaknewslive@gmail.com)

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