The independent India is staring at one of its most crucial general elections in April and May. The country is once again faced with a stark choice between the Narendra Modi-led BJP and the loosely united wider opposition with the Rahul Gandhi led Congress party as its most conspicuous representation. Sadly, the electoral arena is not about the ideological contestation. Among all the parties it is only the BJP which has a robust ideological narrative and a project that seeks to reshape India into a Hindurashtra. Congress which otherwise professes to be a secular party has chosen to nod to a softer Hindutva. It has decided to take on the BJP on the rather mundane development issues. But while those issues seemed to be resonating a bit, Pulwama attack which killed over 40 civilians and the subsequent skirmishes with Pakistan have more or less changed the game in favour of the BJP. According to latest ‘state of the nation’ tracker poll by CVOTER-IANS, Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to dominate the popularity charts despite a dip in his rating from the peak witnessed during the first week of March.
Rahul Gandhi remains his distant rival showing only marginal signs of recovery. The tracker poll based on the data collected till March 14 showed that Modi’s rating has begun to slide from the high of around 60 per cent seen on March 4, 5, 6 and 7 to around 56. Rahul Gandhi’s rating, which had gone down to less than 3 per cent in the period when Modi’s had surged, has improved marginally to around 7 per cent.
If anything, this shows that PM Modi continues to be the favourite to win the next elections. And this despite the fact that the confrontation with Pakistan didn’t go entirely his way. But as always over the past five years, the BJP has by virtue of its excellent marketing skills turned even a setback into an opportunity. Modi retains his image as a strong leader who will use tough measures to fight terror. The opposition, especially Congress, on the other hand, appears to people as lacking the political will to take militaristic measures in retaliation for an attack like Pulwama. At the same time, Congress continues to suffer from a narrative-deficit. So does the wider opposition. They are busy highlighting Modi government’s failures. But in South Asia, it is mostly the ideology, emotions and divisive issues that win you votes than the failures on the development front. The social unease triggered by the farmer distress and the lack of employment pales before the high generated by the ideology and dissemination of hate. So, the only way that the Congress and the rest of the opposition can hope to dislodge the BJP under Modi is by offering a alternative and a regenerative vision of India.