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Is Narendra Modi Losing Ground in India’s General Election?

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Is Narendra Modi Losing Ground in India’s General Election?

Despite a serious resource crunch and a lack of cohesive election strategy, the INDIA coalition is gaining traction. Where is the Modi magic?

Is Narendra Modi Losing Ground in India’s General Election?
Credit: X/BJP

The battle for 2024 is turning out to be the most audacious election in India’s electoral history, even more daring than the 1977 elections, when opposition forces in India were up against Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s authoritarian regime. Back then, the opposition was led by people who had participated in the Indian freedom struggle and were willing to make sacrifices as they had during the independence movement.

It is 47 years since that historic election. India is a changed country today. The Narendra Modi regime has been reconfiguring India’s morals and values, and attempting to hijack its history and transform the civilizational moorings of its society. India is heading toward an ideological dictatorship if it does not course-correct in this election.

The battle of 2024 is not an ordinary battle. It is a battle between David and Goliath. It is a battle between an ideology that harbors luxuries of cult, communication, and capital, ferociously supported by a utopia and the “ordinariness of the other.” No party in the memory of this country has been hallowed with so much cunningness and killer instinct to win an election, so much power in terms of resources, and willingness to resort to any course, with no compunction if the line between the moral and the immoral is blurred. For the BJP, victory is the only value and power is the only currency.

On the other hand, its opponents are cursed with fracture and disintegration. Fragility is their only attire. Without resources and capital, they are united by a survival instinct, knowing full well that if they lose this time then there will be no second chance.

This election is not between the two political formations or between the two leaders and thought processes. It is between two instincts, one representing the “fight back of the original” and the other pretending to be the “real” successor of history.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Narendra Modi are at the cusp of history. If not stopped today, India will lose whatever it has been proud of. It is no accident of history that suddenly, a “save the constitution” campaign has gained unprecedented momentum.

The fight has taken an interesting turn. The marginalized of society have sensed rather rightly that the BJP’s slogan “Ab ki baar, 400 paar(This time, [BJP] will cross 400 seats) to win more than 400 seats in the elections to the Lok Sabha, India’s lower house of Parliament, is not a campaign to gain extra power to take the country onto the expressway of development and make it a Vishvaguru (world teacher). Instead, it is a bid to throw the constitution into the dustbin of history and write and thrust a new one on the country, one that would pretend to imbibe Indianness, discarding the foreign-ness.

It is not to be forgotten that when the constitution was adopted in 1950, RSS leaders had trashed it as foreign, claiming that there was nothing Indian in it. In the name of Indianness, their leaders have always advocated going back to Manu Smriti, the legal code ordained by upper-caste Hindus, which treats women and shudras (the labor caste) with contempt, and embraces inequality.

The Indian Constitution is a unique document in the annals of world history that, with one stroke, made all Indians equal in the eyes of the law. It provides for universal suffrage. No one can be discriminated based on their caste, creed, religion, region, and gender, and the richest and the poorest all have the same voting rights.

In the Indian context, equality assumes more importance as India was never an equal society. Inequality was proudly upheld and enforced with strict caste hierarchy and severe punishment for transgressors. Baba Saheb Ambedkar, who belonged to the untouchable community, is credited with giving us the constitution. Dalits, Backward Castes, and the marginalized firmly aligned with him and believe that any attempt to tinker with Baba Saheb’s constitution would take them back to the civilizational ghettos in which they were treated worse than animals. They believe (with good reason) that affirmative action like reservations will be removed from the constitution if the BJP is back with a large majority.

The BJP has realized that its campaign for 400-plus seats has boomeranged and will cost the party dearly. The opposition led by Rahul Gandhi has sensed that on the issue of the constitution, there is a strong undercurrent against the Modi government and the BJP, and that if it is channeled well then Modi will find it difficult to regain power.

Gandhi and other leaders of the opposition, having come together under an umbrella coalition called INDIA (Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance), now carry a pocket-size copy of the constitution and wave it at election rallies to remind voters why they should not be voting for BJP if they want to save the constitution.

The BJP under Modi has made certain inroads amongst Dalits, the Backward Castes, and other marginalized sections of society, which comprise over 65 percent of India’s population. If a crack develops in this section of voters, as it seems to be happening now, the BJP will be in deep trouble. No wonder the prime minister and his deputy Amit Shah have categorically stated that what the opposition is saying about changing the constitution and revoking reservations is a canard. Modi has even said that even if Ambedkar were to be reborn and wanted to change the constitution, he wouldn’t be able to do so.

In this campaign, Modi looks like a pale shadow of himself. He lacks confidence. He has miserably failed to weave a national narrative in these elections. If, after winning the assembly elections in December 2023 he believed that the Ram Temple consecration in Ayodhya would make these elections a formality, and thought of himself as invincible, then after the announcement of these elections and the beginning of the campaign in April he seems to have received a rude shock.

Voters were happy with the construction of the Ram Temple, but other pressing livelihood issues gained importance. Unemployment, price rise, and corruption are now gaining importance in the election campaign. People are asking tough questions and Modi and his party have no credible answers. Rather, they are trying to change the goalpost.

Modi is a polarizing figure, who unhesitatingly uses communal issues to consolidate Hindu voters. In the 2014 and 2019 general elections, he did play the Hindu-Muslim card, but sparingly. This time he has crossed all limits. Modi is rattled. He has sensed that his defeat can’t be discounted. Whenever the BJP is in doubt, it goes back to its communal agenda. For the party, hate-mongering for the consolidation of Hindu voters is the main crisis management tool during elections.

From one rally to another, Modi is only spewing venom on communal lines. He has gone to the extent of saying that if the Congress comes back to power, then “locks would be put on Ram Mandir” and “only Muslims would be selected to play for India in cricket.” Home Minister Amit Shah is saying that if Congress wins then “Sharia law will be implemented.” Another Hindu icon, Uttar Pradesh’s Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who is seen as a potential prime minister by Hindutva forces, has been provoking Hindu voters by saying that “if the Congress forms the government after the elections, then cows will be slaughtered for Muslims.”

It is apparent that despite being in disarray, the opposition is very much in the race. Despite a serious resource crunch and a lack of cohesive election strategy and coordination between the INDIA coalition partners, the opposition is gaining traction. Voters across the country are showing their unhappiness with the ruling party. Modi magic has disappeared into thin air.

Instead of setting the agenda, Goliath is only reacting and trying to take the campaign to an absurd level, without realizing that people can be fooled once or twice but not all the time. David is valiantly fighting as the urge from the ground is strong that if democracy is mortgaged in the name of cult and ideology then India as an idea will not survive.

This election is a test of India’s resilience as a nation and as a civilization. The attempt to divorce the country from its original moorings has shaken Goliath. Now David has to unleash the final assault.