At the moment, even the combined opposition does not appear to be in a position to challenge the saffron party, much less defeat it
IF we look at the current political scene in India, it is overwhelmingly dominated by the BJP. No matter how well or poorly the party does in terms of governance, it only grows stronger with each passing day. And despite being in power for a second successive term, the party faces little anti-incumbency. What is more, as we look forward to the general elections in 2024, even the combined opposition doesn’t appear to be in a position to offer a decent political challenge to the saffron party, let alone beat it.
What makes the BJP tick and override criticisms, non-performance and occasional public backlash? On the face of it, Hindutva, the party’s ideology, seems to trump everything. It kills all political competition without even a fight. In fact, there is no alternative political ideology in the country at the moment. The opposition no longer sees secularism as an electorally beneficial proposition and would rather buy into the Hindutva narrative as it resonates with the majority of the people. Congress has been the first to abandon its ideological space. It doesn’t champion secularism, nor does it dare to woo Muslims, once its loyal vote bank. The reason for this is that, under the existing circumstances, the party sees secularism as its bane. In 2018, the UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi said that the BJP was winning the polls as it had managed to convince the people that the Congress is a Muslim party.
Similarly, Arvind Kejriwal, once a proponent of the so called post-ideological politics in the country, has chosen to rebrand himself as a Hindu leader. In 2020, he observed Lakhsmi Puja on Diwali together with his entire Council of Ministers, with his spouse by his side. Kejriwal was also the first to support revocation of Article 370. He didn’t speak against the Citizenship Amendment Act. And as the AAP, Kejriwals’ party, expands into Punjab and looks set to step into the vacuum of a national opposition party left behind by a depleting Congress, his nods to the BJP’s ideological vision have become more conspicuous.
Is there now a tacit consensus on Hindutva in the country? It does appear so. And this makes the BJP even stronger as the party remains the sole authentic purveyor of the ideology. And no matter how much other parties hew closer to the BJP creed, they will always be seen as counterfeit, opportunistic copies of the original.
Another existing political reality of the country that goes to the advantage of the BJP is the extinction of the parties adhering to socialist and communist philosophies. These parties were doggedly secular in their politics and had a national vision. Other than in Kerala, where communists run the government, they are no longer a political force anywhere else in the country. They are not even the distant opposition in West Bengal, a former communist stronghold. So, the BJP faces little political resistance in the near to medium term.
It would require the opposition parties to forge unity ahead of the 2024 general election to be seen as a credible challenger. As of now, the BJP remains the favourite to win the national polls, despite the setbacks of the second Covid-19 wave, a tottering economy, unemployment, inflation etc. Though the opposition parties appeared to have momentarily found their bearings after Mamata Banerjee swept Bengal polls in 2021, the momentum has since been lost. As things stand, the opposition has a long way to go before it is counted as a competitor.
Is Rahul Gandhi a credible political competitor? In the last few years, Gandhi has shown some promise to rise to the challenge, even though his image makeover remains a project in the works. Gandhi’s speeches now carry more conviction. 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 – albeit, he still has a way to go to match Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s overarching ideological challenge.
But the harsh truth is that it wouldn’t be sufficient to dislodge PM Modi from his exalted position. The fact is that India’s larger secular opposition is still in tatters and fighting over scraps. Gandhi may be a better challenger now, but there is no major pan-India leader in sight to take on the BJP.
The saffron party offers a deft blend of a hardcore ideology and welfare governance. It has Modi as its overarching leader. And considering its electoral machinery, it has become all-encompassing. If the opposition fails to get its act together, the BJP could even secure a stronger majority than it did in 2019.
The opposition will have to make more substantive moves to come together in the months to come to offer a more credible challenge to the BJP. The saffron party under Modi would not only need opposition unity but also an alternative ideological narrative which is so far sorely missing.
- Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
Be Part of Quality Journalism
Quality journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce and despite all the hardships we still do it. Our reporters and editors are working overtime in Kashmir and beyond to cover what you care about, break big stories, and expose injustices that can change lives. Today more people are reading Kashmir Observer than ever, but only a handful are paying while advertising revenues are falling fast.