Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Last Update : 06:18 PM IST

  Opinion   Columnists  07 Apr 2024  Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr | Will Modi’s narrative work or is the ground shifting?

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr | Will Modi’s narrative work or is the ground shifting?

The author is a Delhi-based commentator and analyst
Published : Apr 7, 2024, 11:49 pm IST
Updated : Apr 7, 2024, 11:49 pm IST

Amidst assumptions of single-party rule, dissenting voices highlight the diversity and complexity of India's political reality.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a gathering during a public meeting ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, in Nawada, Sunday, April 7, 2024. (PTI Photo)
 Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a gathering during a public meeting ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, in Nawada, Sunday, April 7, 2024. (PTI Photo)

If one goes by the media reports, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is into his third term even before the first vote is cast. Mr Modi himself believes this, and the media follows the tone set by him. The Prime Minister has told his Cabinet colleagues at the last meeting of the second term to prepare a 100-day plan to implement key projects in the new term. There is some speculation in the media that there will be a fewer number of ministries in Mr Modi’s third term as Prime Minister. The results of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections appear to be a foregone conclusion, and it has been turned into a one-horse race. So, have we arrived at single-party rule like the Communist China of Xi Jinping or the post-Communist one-party rule in the Russia of Vladimir Putin. In Turkey, newly-christened Turkiye, the 20-year Islamist rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to be ending with the Opposition scoring a huge victory over the AKP in nationwide mayoral elections. So, in the global context, India could go either the Russia/China way, or the Turkish way. Of course, the Turkish way is democratic because there is a change in political fortunes. Of course, Indians, including the media, like most Americans, are insular, and they cannot look beyond their noses. Mr Modi cannot look beyond himself and political observers cannot look beyond Mr Modi.

The opinion polls of different pollsters and television news channels are unanimous in their findings that Mr Modi will be the clear winner. And the argument is spun there is no real Opposition, and there is no Opposition leader who can match Mr Modi. So, there is a feedback loop that starts and end with Mr Modi. This should lead to the conclusion that nearly a billion people are thinking alike. It should further raise the question that if everyone thinks alike, what is the meaning of democracy and freedom? It is natural for Mr Modi, the BJP and its ideological fountainhead, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), to claim that the single thought of national glory should fire a billion hearts and minds across languages and cultures. The presumed uniformity of a billion people should send out alarm signals to democracy watchers and lovers of freedom everywhere.

The missing factor in this blinkered narrative is that the media, the pollsters, and Mr Modi cannot hear any other note except the one that confirms their own perceptions. But it is the duty of the media and other political scientists to find out other voices, however small and marginalised they may be. The dominance of regional political parties in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Odisha, Maharashtra, Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Delhi and Punjab should be taken into account. The explanation offered is that people vote for regional parties in state Assembly elections, but they prefer Mr Modi and the BJP at the national level. However, it has been found time and again that regional parties have a fair representation in the Lok Sabha, and the BJP is not winning in the places where they are clashing with the regional parties. There is a clear section of the nearly one billion voters who do not vote for Mr Modi and the BJP.

The BJP’s and the media’s narrative is that the Opposition in India is splintered, and that the Opposition has no prime ministerial candidate. On the other hand, the BJP is united, and Mr Modi is the most popular leader. The BJP has won 31.34 per cent of the vote across the country in 2014, and that figure had increased to 37.7 per cent in 2019. The number of seats it won in 2014 was 283 and it was 303 in 2019. In a system of first-past-the-post, the BJP has done well in 2014 and quite well in 2019. There is nothing spectacular, and it falls much behind the Congress’ peak figures in 1971 and in 1980, and that of the Opposition led by the Janata Party (which fought the election as Bharatiya Lok Dal, or BLD) in 1977. The circumstances were quite different in 1971, 1977 and 1980, but the figures are quite revealing. In 1971, the Congress had won 43.68 per cent of the vote, and 353 seats. And when it returned to power in 1980, it had won 42.69 per cent of the vote and 352 seats. In 1977, the Janata Party won 41.32 per cent of the vote and 295 seats. There was a large chunk of space left to the Opposition. In 2014 and 2019 too, Mr Modi was not the monarch of all he surveyed, which is what Mr Modi, and the BJP and the media want to project.

It is necessary to call the PM’s bluff that he enjoys the support of 140 billion. It is a rhetorical assertion, and not the truth. As a politician, Mr Modi can make exaggerated claims. But the media and political watchers should not echo the claims. The country is still a multi-party, diverse polity, and India cannot be anything other than this. The unity that Mr Modi wants to impose on the country is an unrealistic one. There is need to remind Mr Modi and his admirers that he enjoys the confidence of a little more than one-third of voters nationwide. The false narrative that Mr Modi is the undisputed leader of the country is not borne out by the voting figures for 2014 and 2019 compared to the figures of the winners in the 1971, 1977 and 1980 elections.

Mr Modi’s loud claim of working towards a developed economy by 2047 has echoes of the folly of the “India Shining” campaign of the 2004 Lok Sabha polls of Atal Behari Vajpayee’s BJP. The BJP then believed there was no Opposition. One can sense some listlessness in Mr Modi and his close circle. They are proclaiming the Ayodhya-Kashi-Mathura temples theme in Uttar Pradesh rather than India’s most populous state moving towards a $1 trillion economy, which remains a mirage. For a party that has been in power for a decade, it is strange that the main theme of Mr Modi’s campaign is the corruption of a weakened Congress rather than the economic achievements of his government. The Reserve Bank of India’s decision to keep the key interest rate at 6.5 per cent because the inflation cloud is hovering over the horizon shows that the situation on the economic front is not hunky-dory. The past 10 years have not been Mr Modi’s triumphant march to power and glory. And they will not be in the future if democracy functions.

Tags: prime minister narendra modi, bhartiya janta party, 2024 lok sabha elections