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Is Modi Ki Vote Guarantee Finished?

By Shekhar Gupta
July 11, 2024 10:09 IST
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Now, every state election -- first up, Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand later this year, then Delhi in January and Bihar in September next year -- will be seen by his followers for evidence of his recovery, and by rivals of sharpening decline, points out Shekhar Gupta.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra D Modi during the first session of the 18th Lok Sabha, June 26, 2024. Photograph: Sansad TV/ANI Photo

After 23 years in power, 13 of them in Gujarat as chief minister, this will be Prime Minister Narendra Modi's first experience of governing in an environment of contested politics.

The most fiercely contested new space will be the 18th Lok Sabha.

Despite the National Democratic Alliance's comfortable majority, the rejuvenated and united Opposition INDIA bloc will match the numbers and throat-power of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Mr Modi, and the BJP under him, has never had to deal with such a challenge either in the Gujarat Assembly or in New Delhi.

The time-tested method of the Modi-led BJP, to shout down, suspend or expel Opposition members en masse -- as with 146 in December last year -- will no longer be available.

Some of the most important laws were passed by near unanimous voice votes in Opposition-mukt chambers of Parliament.

The three new criminal laws are among the most significant examples. These come into effect from July 1.

All Bills will henceforth be fully and contentiously debated and put to vote.

Even areas where unanimity was found on the basis of the political rivals' shared 'trade union' interest, such as the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, will now face a challenge.

Parliamentary committees will change character.

Prominent political strategist (or political aide as he prefers to call himself) Prashant Kishor has gone wrong with his somewhat hasty prediction of an easy and large BJP majority.

But the second significant change he foresaw will turn out as right as the first was wrong: That even with this big majority, the BJP would face popular discontent, Opposition action.

As for his third -- that Brand Modi is in decline -- let's hide behind the oldest cop-out of the op-edist: Only time will tell.

The Opposition is already sharpening the knives on three issues: Serial examination paper leaks, the Agnipath scheme, and Manipur.

Each concerns large segments of the voter demographics vital for the BJP.

The government was carrying out a review of the Agnipath programme even before the elections, but it has to brace for two things now.

One, the Opposition isn't going to be satisfied with any changes short of a full withdrawal.

Second, even if the government retains it with substantive changes, the Opposition will claim that it forced the government's hand.

In the 17th Lok Sabha, when the scheme was implemented with the shock-and-awe secrecy characteristic of the Modi government, no such pushback was possible.

On exam leaks, the minister has already walked back to admit responsibility and ordering reviews and inquiries.

The BJP has so far had an easy ride on its failure to restore normality in Manipur.

With the Congress winning both seats in the state and even a chief minister as discredited as Biren Singh digging in his heels, the Modi government can no longer afford the earlier out-of-sight-out-of-mind approach.

IMAGE: Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Rahul Gandhi speaks in the House, July 01, 2024. Photograph: Sansad TV/ANI Photo

There will also be a new challenge in the Rajya Sabha now, though not as severe as in the Lok Sabha, but significant nevertheless.

So far, the BJP was able to count on support from two significant regional parties, Andhra Pradesh's YSR Congress Party and Odisha's Biju Janata Dal.

This included support on most contentious Bills, like the one constitutionally downgrading the powers of Delhi's elected government.

Neither was a member of the NDA or an ally of the BJP in any formal way.

If anything, the BJP contested against both in their respective states, but in a friendly manner.

Both became the majority government's obedient Opposition.

Can the BJP continue to count on their blind support now?

With their defeat by the BJP or its partner, political equations in both states have changed.

And finally in Parliament, Rahul Gandhi as Leader of the Opposition, will have the Constitutional right to sit with the prime minister to choose people for key positions, including the heads of the Central Bureau of Investigation, Central Vigilance Commission, and Election Commission.

However notional it is, chai with Rahul, unavoidable if occasional, is an important metaphor for the prime minister's transformed universe.

IMAGE: Aam Aadmi Party MPs protest against the NEET UG paper leak issue outside Parliament, June 28, 2024. Photograph: Rahul Singh/ANI Photo

The changed reality for the Modi government in its third innings is a return to the old normal, where even majorities had to routinely wrestle with the storied million mutinies.

The past decade was the Centre's least challenging on that count.

Most that emerged, notably the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act and Jawaharlal Nehru University protests, were speedily put down.

Only the farmers' protests ended with a victory.

By and large, the government had the space to compartmentalise its challenges, deal with some in a piecemeal manner, and put off others indefinitely.

Take the stalled Naga peace agreement, for example. It simply fell off the to-do list.

These aren't earthshaking new challenges. But they underline the fact that in its third term, the Modi government will now need to square up to what used to be usual, mundane challenges in governing India.

For example, the matter of the three radicals who have won in Punjab and Kashmir, two of them still in jail, is the kind of issue he has never had to confront.

This is the return of the normal irritants of democracy.

IMAGE: Modi, Ministers Amit A Shah, Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, Kiren Rijiju, Dharmendra Pradhan in the Lok Sabha, July 1, 2024. Photograph: Sansad TV/ANI Photo

And finally, the political challenge of the day after.

From 2002, when Mr Modi led his party to victory in his first election in Gujarat, there was never any doubt about his all-conquering electoral power.

Each election further cemented his position as his party's main vote-getter first, and the only one in the course of time.

Leaders of consequence from other parties, who had opposed the RSS-BJP ideology for decades, walked across presuming that crossing over brought them a 'Modi ki Guarantee' of winning elections.

Does that presumption still exist?

Even after both general elections, 2014 and 2019, it was evident that Mr Modi wasn't able to swing for his party even most of the state elections that followed soon thereafter.

It was then argued that while he could swing a lamp-post election as long as the vote was sought for him, the same formula did not often work when he wasn't on the ticket.

But it was not seen as a failing because he was only rising at the national level.

Now, every state election -- first up, Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand later this year, then Delhi in January and Bihar in September next year -- will be seen by his followers for evidence of his recovery, and by rivals of sharpening decline.

It isn't as if Mr Modi hasn't faced challenges in the past.

As chief minister of Gujarat, he and his key aides were confronted with multiple cases and investigations, a western boycott, and tough challenges from activists and courts.

Instead of weakening his politics, however, these strengthened it.

Because he was the underdog fighting for his ideology, his base was happier.

Nobody was able to challenge him electorally. The new situation is qualitatively different.

By special arrangement with The Print

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Shekhar Gupta
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India Votes 2024

India Votes 2024