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Rediff.com  » News » Is Election Slipping Out Of Modi's Hands?

Is Election Slipping Out Of Modi's Hands?

By RAMESH MENON
Last updated on: May 01, 2024 15:00 IST
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In nearly 100 seats, the BJP stands almost no chance of winning.
In 200 seats, it is a direct fight between the BJP and the Congress where the BJP has an upper hand.
In 243 seats, the BJP is pitted against regional parties and it is not going to be easy.
That is why 400 seats may end up as a pipe dream, states Ramesh Menon, author of Modi Demystified: The Making of a Prime Minister.

IMAGE: Bharatiya Janata Party leader Narendra D Modi addresses an election rally in Shahjahanpur, Uttar Pradesh, April 25, 2024. All photographs: ANI Photo

Narendra Damodardas Modi was all set to win the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, as enough indications were blowing in the wind. But a cloak of nervousness seems to have come over him and the Bharatiya Janata Party as he has reverted back to his divisive politics of channelling fear and hatred towards Muslims as a way to garner votes.

The agenda to become a global power, boost the economy, have a net of welfare schemes, and get on the road to ensuring development is now on the back burner as the focus is on fanning communal hatred in his election speeches.

He hit the bottom note, which was totally unbecoming of a prime minister when he told an election rally in Banswara in Rajasthan that if the Congress came into power, they would confiscate the gold collected by Hindu women along with their mangalsutra and distribute it among the Muslims.

For Hindus, the mangalsutra has spiritual and religious significance as women wear it on their wedding day and then keep it forever, which also signifies that marriage is forever.

Modi asked the excited crowd at the election rally in Banswara if they wanted their mangalsutra taken away.

Modi said that the Congress manifesto favoured Muslims and wanted this to be done.

The fact is that the Congress manifesto did not say anything of the kind.

 

How did Modi think he would get away with this lie?

Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge said he had sought time from Modi to 'educate' him on what the Congress manifesto promised.

Modi asked those at the rally whether they would want their gold confiscated and distributed to 'ghuspatiyas', alluding that all Muslims were infiltrators and, naturally, adversaries.

The last time this term was widely used in the country was when Pakistani infiltrators had moved into many heights in Kargil 25 years ago.

It was one of the worst stereotypes he whipped up during this year's election. It will see a heated campaign in 543 constituencies that brought the election debate to an all-time low.

Clearly, it was touching the lowest denominator of public taste.

He referred to Muslims as 'those who have many children', hoping to ignite a fear of how the Hindus will be soon outnumbered.

This is a fear that many Hindus nurse as they have blindly believed that this would be a reality.

Modi never tells them that India's population is 80 per cent Hindus and Muslims constitute only 14 per cent.

He does not tell them that fertility rates among Muslims have dropped from 4.4 in 1992-1993 to 2.3 in 2019-2021.

Though Opposition parties pointed out to the Election Commission that Modi had violated the Model Code of Conduct, no action was taken.

It refused to even comment on it. The Code strictly forbids hate speech and does not permit candidates from using 'caste and communal feelings' to promote ill-feeling and polarise voters.

The Election Commission has been compromised, said the Opposition. Old-timers remembered when T N Seshan was the chief election commissioner when such an act could not have gone without action. The then Congress government was terrified of him.

IMAGE: Modi at the election meeting in Shahjahanpur, April 25, 2024.

When all seemed to be going well with the BJP, as it had a vast ground force campaigning and considerable funds to spend while the Congress had its bank accounts frozen, why this sudden turnaround?

After the first phase of the six-phase polling ended, some panic buttons were struck as the polling percentage was low.

This is not good news for the BJP as they hoped their supporters would come out in strength.

There is a lot of cynicism in the air, voter fatigue, and the sizzling heat of summer is not helping matters.

So, one way was to polarise the electorate and create fear that their homes would be invaded and gold taken away, which had taken decades to collect.

This is how ridiculous the election scenario this year is.

See how far we have evolved after seven-and-a-half decades of independence.

There were signs of desperation earlier, too, when Modi stitched curious alliances with inconsequential political groups and parties when the Opposition tried to band together and fight the elections.

To reach its target of 400 seats, every seat matters.

This is why Modi wooed the Janata Dal-United back to the NDA fold in Bihar. It was a masterstroke as it demoralised the INDIA alliance of Opposition parties as Nitish Kumar was one of its prime movers.

Modi also stitched an alliance with the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh to improve his tally there.

He tried to do it with the Biju Janata Dal but failed, as Navin Patnaik knows he can manage independently and do well.

Why would he want the BJP to neutralise him as they have done with other alliance partners?

There is no way he can win 400 seats for the National Democratic Alliance, as he presumptuously announced weeks ago.

In Maharashtra, it remains to be seen how the voter will react as the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party have split with two factions joining the NDA.

He may, with his caustic speeches, be able to win a sizeable number of seats in Maharashtra, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, Assam, and Chhattisgarh.

But he will find it challenging in Punjab, West Bengal, Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

No wonder he visited Tamil Nadu more than half a dozen times in as many weeks to woo the electorate.

Kerala was one state that said no to communalism, but in the last few years, the BJP has made inroads in the bastion that the Left and the Congress held for decades.

Even if the BJP wins one seat, it will call for celebration as the southern state has never sent a BJP candidate to the Lok Sabha.

IMAGE: The crowds at Modi's election rally in Shahjahanpur, April 25, 2024.

In nearly 100 seats, the BJP stands almost no chance of winning. In 200 seats, it is going to be a direct fight between the BJP and the Congress where the BJP has an upper hand. In 2019, it won 185 of these seats.

In 243 seats, the BJP is pitted against regional parties and it is not going to be easy. That is why 400 seats may end up as a pipe dream.

What is significant and ironic is that even after ten years in power, the BJP has only one leader they can bank on. Without Modi, it would be rudderless.

This is not because it does not have leaders; it is a design that Modi has drawn and implemented.

How many Cabinet ministers and their portfolios can you name? Do you know the work they have done in the last decade? Even if they have done it, Modi has been credited for it.

When the Ram temple was inaugurated in Ayodhya, there was euphoria all over, and it seemed that it was a Modi masterstroke to do it just before elections were announced. But the euphoria and jingoism soon died down.

Vexed issues like inflation and unemployment are staring the electorate in its face.

India's unemployment rate was 7.6 per cent in March 2024, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, a think-tank.

Though economic growth is happening and stock markets are singing, there has been no job growth. The number of educated unemployed people is increasing every day.

Campus placements, which were assured at many elite institutions, saw them collapse this year.

As many as 15 of the 26 economists who took a Reuters poll in April 2024 said unemployment was the biggest challenge for the government.

Yet, Modi and his campaigners were not discussing it and were busy polarising the electorate.

There is a limit to which hatred can be fanned; after that, fundamental issues like hunger, poverty, unemployment, and inflation will arise.

IMAGE: BJP supporters paint their body with Modi's face in Bhopal, April 24, 2024.

Modi has reason to worry.

He can no longer claim to head a party with a difference as numerous corrupt leaders from other parties with criminal cases against them have been admitted into the BJP, and the cases have been magically laid to rest.

Many Opposition leaders who have joined the BJP have done it to escape investigations from the Enforcement Directorate or an Income Tax raid.

If this is not the case, then it is because they have been denied tickets, and the BJP has offered it to them.

Corrupt politicians and turncoats with no ideology getting tickets and feted by the ruling party do not showcase a democracy that one can be proud of.

The statement of how there was inheritance tax in the United States by Sam Pitroda, chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress, raised a hornet's nest when the BJP went to town saying that the Congress was planning to levy this tax on every Indian and how families will not be able to retain the wealth they had accumulated.

Congress leaders included Rahul Gandhi distanced themselves from Pitroda's statement and said that the Congress manifesto said nothing on implementation of the tax. But the damage was done.

What Rahul had said that there must be a survey to figure out who held how much wealth in the country.

The electoral bonds scandal that embarrassed the BJP showed how those targeted by the Enforcement Directorate or other investigating agencies showered the BJP with electoral bonds worth crores of rupees. Even loss-making enterprises were found to be buying the bonds to favour the BJP.

This should have been a major election issue. Still, the Opposition was strapped with minimal funds, and leaders in jail could not take up the problem to the electorate with the force that it could.

What is at stake here is the integrity of elections. There are rules that the Election Commission has set to make elections free and fair.

All are supposed to be equal before them. However, as we can see, some are more equal than others.

Ramesh Menon, an award-winning journalist, educator, documentary film-maker, and corporate trainer, is the author of Modi Demystified: The Making of a Prime Minister.

Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com

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RAMESH MENON