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  Opinion   Columnists  10 Apr 2024  Sunil Gatade | Anxiety rises within BJP: Where’s buzz over polls?

Sunil Gatade | Anxiety rises within BJP: Where’s buzz over polls?

The writer is a senior journalist based in New Delhi.
Published : Apr 10, 2024, 12:00 am IST
Updated : Apr 10, 2024, 12:00 am IST

As Narendra Modi aims to equal Nehru's record, challenges and uncertainties loom large over the BJP's election campaign.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets supporters during a roadshow in support of BJP's candidate from South Chennai constituency Tamilisai Soundararajan, ahead of the Lok Sabha election, in Chennai, Tuesday, April 9, 2024. (PTI Photo/R Senthilkumar)
 Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets supporters during a roadshow in support of BJP's candidate from South Chennai constituency Tamilisai Soundararajan, ahead of the Lok Sabha election, in Chennai, Tuesday, April 9, 2024. (PTI Photo/R Senthilkumar)

As the first phase of polling is scheduled for next week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign for the Lok Sabha invariably boils down to just one sentence: “I will be back”!

With Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s third term weighing heavily on his mind, Mr Modi, rightly or wrongly, feels that his life’s worth would be all in the dust if he failed to equal the record of Independent India’s first PM. The wages of propaganda are sometimes self-defeating.

Catching up with Pandit Nehru is creating more problems despite Mr Modi not leaving anything to chance. Despite all the bravado of “Ab ki baar, 400 paar”, there is a palpable fear and anxiety in the ruling party, whatever most of the media might be projecting.

It seems like the 10-year anti-incumbency is suddenly catching up despite the Opposition not being shipshape. Added to this is the fact that the Narendra Modi of 2014 and 2019 polls is missing. It seems too much of the same for too long.

The “Modi ki Guarantee” has become fodder for the Opposition to take a swipe at the BJP and its style of governance. All bets are on polarisation.

For the faithful, Mr Modi will get at least 325 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, some 20 more than the 303 he secured for the BJP in 2019, in the back of the Pulwama incident and the Balakot airstrike. The party aims to get 370 for itself and to cross 400 with its allies.

It won’t be child’s play. A section of the Sangh feels that Mr Modi should have called elections in January soon after the Ram Mandir consecration at Ayodhya to exploit the “Ram Lahar” to the hilt, which is not discernible at the moment. The two-month-long election schedule which was planned to help the PM campaign is becoming a drag as Mr Modi appears to have nothing new to say.

Defence minister Rajnath Singh’s tough talk about “ghar mein ghus ke marenge”, in reference to Pakistan, has not found resonance this time when the Opposition is harping on the Chinese incursions and land grab. The PM has not spoken the “C” word since the Galwan clashes nearly four years ago. His remark, “koi aaya nahi, koi gaya nahi”, is being made fun of even by BJP dissident Subramanian Swamy. Appeasing China has helped no one and will not help India too -- goes the refrain of the China watchers.

The problem is that Mr Modi has failed to set the poll agenda, forcing the Opposition to go on the defensive. The consecration of the Ram temple appears almost forgotten. This is not good news for those pitching for hardline Hindutva. It is not to say that Yogi Adityanath is not popular but Uttar Pradesh is a different cup of tea, where the issue of law and order has been given a communal twist. “80 vs 20” aptly sums up this. Whatever is wrong is with the “20”, goes the unwritten argument in India’s largest state. Hey Ram!

Another picture of UP is that for 600 posts of constables, there were 50 lakh applicants. This is at a time when it is proclaimed, right or wrong, that the most populous state will be a $1 trillion economy soon.

Something is definitely decaying in “Modi land”. On the home turf of the PM and the home minister, the BJP had to replace two candidates who they chose due to protests in the party. This shows the silent disquiet. The demand for cancellation of the renomination of Union minister Parshottam Rupala, a close associate of the PM, is incessant despite his apology more than twice over remarks that angered Rajputs. Former deputy chief minister Nitin Patel sprang a surprise by withdrawing his claim to contest the Mehsana seat.

Ordinary citizens are silent because they are not Opposition activists. If someone cares to hear, they let it be known how hard they have been hit by rising prices. Citizens are feeling the pinch and painfully realising that no one in authority is talking or doing anything about their problems. He or she is neither pro-Modi or anti-Modi, but laments that there has been no delivery.  

They also begin to notice that those against whom the PM and his party had campaigned vociferously on the issue of corruption are now with the BJP, directly or indirectly. Take the case of Maharashtra alone: Ajit Pawar, Praful Patel, Ashok Chavan and Narayan Rane, to name a few. Devendra Fadnavis is just a cog in the wheel in the state. The decisions are taken in Delhi. The talk of Kamal Nath joining the BJP helped the beleaguered Congress in Madhya Pradesh instead of harming it. Strange.

In 2004, when Atal Behari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister, no one from the ruling side thought he could be defeated, and that too by Sonia Gandhi, who was derided as the “reader” instead of leader. The moral of the story is that those in power always have a “feel good” effect and feel that India is “shining”. “Viksit Bharat” is a modified version of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency era slogan: “The nation is on the move”. Nothing more, nothing less.

Interestingly, in 1977, when Indira Gandhi lifted the Emergency and ordered elections, little did the Congress realise the wrath of the people, especially those in the North.  That time, it is said the journalists of the unified Samachar news agency had carried out a survey projecting an easy win for Indira.    

At present, if the rulers were on a sound footing, there was no need for the arrest of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, and also freezing the accounts of the Congress, which has been rescinded for the time being. The message is out, however, that once the elections are over, the Opposition will again be in the dock. Right or wrong, the Opposition leaders allege that Mr Modi can win only if the malpractices through the EVMs continue. 

In 2019, then Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis had disastrously said in the Assembly polls: “I will be back”. He ended up on the Opposition benches after a series of dramatic developments that altered the politics of the premier state. The BJP was back in power in Maharashtra two years after engineering a split in two regional parties. But the politics there continues to remain unsettled.

The long and short of it is that “I will be back” is a dangerous proposition for whoever might be pitching for it.

Tags: 2024 lok sabha elections, prime minister narendra modi, jawahar lal nehru