It looks now almost certain that the still potent Modi wave will win BJP the next general election if no credible political rival or an alliance emerges from the shadows in the near future
AS we look forward to general elections in 2024, the outcome of the recent Assembly elections in five states serves as an accurate bellwether. There are four big takeaways from these polls, four of which were comfortably won by the BJP: It looks now almost certain that the still potent Modi wave will win BJP the next general election and that the party is here to stay until 2029. That is, if no credible political rival emerges from the shadows in the near future, a prospect that looks bleak considering the opposition is fighting over scraps.
Second is the decimation of Congress as the national party. The party’s presence on the ground is depleting by the day and there are not even distant signs that it will recover anytime soon. At least, not until 2024, unless there is a fundamental shift in the kind of politics the party has been practicing for many years now. As things stand, Congress lacks ideas, ideology, organization, and above all leadership.
Rahul Gandhi, it is now clear for the umpteenth time, is not up to the task. His image makeover is still a project in the works. Gandhi’s speeches are sincere but carry little conviction in the prevailing polarized environment. He has paid attention to his communication style: he now frames his arguments in a way that generates a bigger ideological contestation with the BJP– but he has still a long way to go to match Modi’s overarching persona. But if he hasn’t been able to do so over the last eight years of Modi’s rule, there is little hope that he will be able to make a redeeming difference in the future.
So, Congress does need deep surgery. It can only survive if it has a charismatic new leader who can not only corner the ruling party on day to day governance but also aggressively peddles a credible alternative vision of India on a sustainable basis. The chances of this happening in near future look very bleak. And given the current state of Congress, it may not happen at all. So, a Congress-mukt Bharat seems a distinct possibility as has been the BJP goal or as the dissident Congress leader Manish Tiwari has warned against.
The third is the wider opposition in India. It is true, some regional parties have done individually well for themselves in their respective states. For instance, Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, Tejasvi Yadav in Bihar, Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra and recently Akhilesh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh. And for that matter Naveen Patnaik in Orissa. But they have so far been singularly unable to stitch together an alliance – say the Third Front sans Congress. Or a Mahagathbandhan including Congress with the latter as one of its constituent parties, not a dominant entity, as used to be the case earlier. Despite its pan-India presence, Congress over the last decade has shrunk even below a regional party. So much so that the party seems now in no position to even win a state election.
Fourth is the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party as a major political force in the country with its landslide triumph in Punjab. Though the party led by Arvind Kejriwal has still a long way to go before it could emerge as a credible rival to the BJP, the party seems to offer a sort of new politics that has been effective against that of the BJP. And in Kejriwal, the party has a leader who is shaping up to be a match for PM Modi’s extraordinary rhetorical skills. If anyone had any doubt, these were put to rest by his recent speech in the Delhi Assembly which hit the BJP where it hurt the most – its perceived authoritarian style of functioning. The speech which went viral ended up showing the BJP in a poor light, something no other opposition leader, least of all Rahul Gandhi, has been able to successfully accomplish so far. And therein lies the threat to the existing invincibility of the BJP.
Of course, politics is not only about great rhetorical skills. It has to have substance too: For example, the party’s social, economic and ideological agenda and its credibility to execute these on the ground make all the difference. And the BJP is strongest on all these fronts. More so, in its ideological agenda: Hindutva has now widest acceptance across the country. No other party’s ideology comes even close, least of all that of Congress whose secular credentials now carry little conviction even within the party itself. The AAP has left this area conspicuously ambivalent. But from the actions of Kejriwal in recent years, the party has made not so subtle appeals to Hindu religion and majoritarianism to protect and expand its base. The party’s trump card, however, has been its model of governance which it has perfected in Delhi and which over the years has attracted notice from across the country. Hence the AAP’s absolute victory in Punjab.
And if the model works well in Punjab, the party could very well expand its footprint in other states, making it a potential rival to the BJP in the long term. The AAP along with the other regional parties could thus seriously dent the chances of the BJP to return to power in 2024, or at least help reduce the saffron party’s numbers in the parliament, circumscribing the latter’s ability to carry forward its ideological agenda.
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Riyaz Wani is the Political Editor at Kashmir Observer