‘Who is likely to win the 2024 elections’ is the question foremost in the minds of the Indian people. This election shall decide the future course of Indian politics for many years to come and hence is vital. If the BJP under Modi romp home, they have a strong second line in Amit Shah and Yogi Adityanath and the momentum can be carried on to 2029 and beyond. However, if they flounder in spite of the image that Modi has, they will be staring in the face of an inevitable downhill slide.
The following is a SWAT (Strength, Weaknesses, Assumptions and Truth) analysis, in contrast to the conventional SWOT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis. It is based upon an extensive study conducted by a team comprising me and some of my most brilliant former officers. We do not believe in conventional surveys because we have found that they are grossly misleading. Most respondents want to avoid getting into heated arguments in public and hence do not answer honestly to direct questions about their political views. We have instead adopted the classical intelligence technique called ‘elicitation’ in which people are first engaged in conversations and their real views are elicited from their comments made during unguarded moments. For the record, we were able to predict the outcome of the March 2022 UP Assembly elections with 100% accuracy in two articles published as early as September 2021 and December 2021.
What Goes In Favour of the BJP?
More than anything else, it is the image of a ‘Strong New India projecting its power in the international arena and respected all over the world’ (as also evident from the grand receptions accorded to Modi even by the traditionally snobbish USA) that is critical. The fact that we are now the fifth largest economy in the world, spending lavishly on defence in a manner unimaginable nine years ago, crystallizes the perception that we are now on a par with the great nations of the world and the ugly tag of a Third World country is removed forever.
Abolitions of Article 370 and Triple Talaq are perceived by the Hindus as setting right for historical wrongs that were committed to appeasing the Muslims. Similarly, the CAA is perceived as a step to undo the politics of the vote bank through the illegal Bangladeshi and Rohingya immigrants, all merging eventually into the ‘appeased Muslim monolith’. It is because of this ‘inference’ that they carry greater weight.
The BJP has a long list of achievements that touch the lives of the common man, including AB-PMJAY, Jal Jeewan Mission, free rations, toilets, MUDRA loans, and the record construction of the highways to persuade the people. Schemes not touching their lives include airports; Vande Bharat trains; new IITs, IIMs and AIIMS etc.
Most people believe that two things could help BJP greatly. One is their pitching for the Uniform Civil Code and the second is the Chandrayan. The UCC is regarded, almost by every Hindu, as the only thing that can undo what Nehru and Congress had done to accord a special status to appease the Muslims by shamelessly exploiting his popularity. Even if it does not succeed, vigorous pitching for it will help re-establish the BJP’s commitment to the Hindus.
If the Chandrayan succeeds, it will be regarded as a great achievement of Indian science and technology proving again what India could achieve with Modi at the helm—a tremendous boost to his image and credentials.
The Lesson of Karnataka
Unless the BJP is able to muster the unwavering support of the Hindus, it will face stiff competition from the opposition, which is better at playing caste politics, and thus breach communal polarization of Hindu votes. Most people pointed out that the BJP lost Karnataka mainly because of the Lingayats drifting away from them and not because the Muslims voted en masse for the Congress.
BJP’s Commitment to Hindutva
The only thing that can counter the inherently divisive nature of caste is religion. However, almost every Hindu we interacted with categorically maintained that the BJP seems to have abandoned its original USP and commitment to Hindutva. They say that by diluting their commitment to Hindutva, they have unwittingly played into the hands of the opposition.
The Hindus maintain that Hindutva for them means how their concerns vis-à-vis other religions, about which they are sensitive (such as the so-called love jihad, land jihad, fraudulent conversions, etc.) are addressed by the party. They are not convinced by the top leadership of the BJP distancing itself from Hindutva while the lower ranking leaders take it up, as it then appears to them as essentially lip service to the cause.
They are very happy about the Ram Mandir, the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor and the Mahakal Corridor. However, they also feel that these things do little as far as the Hindus’ position with respect to the Muslims is concerned because they stem either from SC judgment or are mere administrative works.
This weakening of the Hindutva plank of the BJP, in their opinion, was clearly evident from the knee-jerk fashion in which the matter of Nupur Sharma was handled. People felt slighted when the government was perceived as having buckled under the pressure of a puny Muslim nation like Qatar and their threat of a boycott of Indian products. Hindus feel despondent that this conveyed a signal that the government could be pressurized by the Muslim Right wing by roping in the support of the global Muslim community, and thus exposed a chink in their armour.
Most of them said that Bajarangbali was invoked very late in Karnataka and it was obvious even to the uninitiated that it was a last-ditch defence. In fact, they say that this must serve as a lesson that Hindu sentiments are not an ‘Akshay Patra’ they could dig into any time they wanted. If they want the Hindu card to play, they must start playing it right now. They feel that the rehabilitation of people like Nupur Sharma and Raja Singh would convey positive signals about the party’s stance on Hindutva.
How the Muslims View the BJP
‘Sabka sath, sabka vikas’ has not cut any ice with the Muslims. Almost every Muslim we interacted with clearly maintained that they are not moved an inch by the BJP’s outreach to the Pasmandas. They said that they regarded it as an obvious ploy to split Muslim votes. They very clearly said that when it comes to the crunch, they are Muslims first and Ashraf, Ajlaf, Arzaal or Pasmanda later. In any case, the articulate amongst them pointed out that, given their historically feudal mindset, the Pasmandas do not harbour that kind of grudge against the Ashraf, which the Hindu SCs and OBCs harbour against the upper castes, and which could be electorally exploited. As such, they were categorical that the polarization of the Muslim votes against the BJP shall continue unchanged.
Hindus also maintain that ‘statesmanship’ is lost upon the Indian Muslims who compulsively behave like ‘eternal outsiders’ and hence would never vote for the BJP irrespective of whatever it does for them. Hence, all the attempts to woo them are bound to fail.
Where Does the Opposition Stand?
In the perception of the Hindus, besides the caste card and appeasement of Muslims, the opposition’s main strength is the freebies they promise. Their commitment to Muslim appeasement is obvious from their intention to revoke the Hijab ban even as it was not invalidated by the Supreme Court.
As for freebies, the articulate Hindus pointed out that an appeal to the reason of the Indian voters that freebies are dangerous for the nation does not cut any ice with them. Indian people are historically accustomed to expecting freebies from their rulers and have never bothered to think even for a moment as to from where the rulers will get the money. The Indian ruler is expected to ‘provide’ the people with everything—how he does it, is his problem. That is why Chanakya, the most sagacious statesman this land has ever produced, could never win the hearts of the people for his advocacy of stiff taxation.
The people say that you cannot give marks for governance to compare parties and hence an appeal to good governance is not a decisive factor in elections. Governance is nobody’s exclusive preserve and it can be argued that no party has ever led the country to its doom.
The opposition has the English print media in its pocket, which criticizes Modi bitterly and tries to drag him back even for things like the UCC, which has got the support of the Supreme Court. The opposition is also able to muster a lot of Modi-baiters and critics abroad. However, people pointed out that it is a mistake to regard it as their strength. Indian voters vote on perceptions and do not base their choices on rational considerations. In this sense, political canvassing is not different from corporate advertising. Both thrive on bypassing the rational faculties of the targets by appealing to sentiments and not to reason. Some of the American newspapers might have criticized Modi. However, as far as the Indian voters are concerned, they do not bother about what TOI, Indian Express or The Telegraph write, not to speak of what the Washington Post writes. They do not even know who the Pakistani-American journalist Sabrina Siddiqui in the USA is, much less care about her views.
People also pointed out that while the BJP has traditionally been vigorously assailing the opposition for nepotism and corruption, the consequences of the dented image of its Karnataka leaders have weakened this plank.
Efforts at Opposition Unity
People believe that an opportunistic alliance may fizzle out in the end. They also point out that the ambitious Kejriwal and Mamata may be averse to working under an ‘unproven and inexperienced’ leader like Rahul as the PM. Most people believed that people like Kejriwal and Mamata would be right in holding that drawing crowds at ‘spectacles’ like the Bharat Jodo yatra is one thing, fetching votes for their candidates is quite another.
First up, it is not likely that there would be any ‘wave’ whatsoever in 2024. Presently, the Hindus, cutting across caste fault lines, in spite of their dissatisfaction with the BJP, do seem to realize very well that if they could ever hope anything from a party, it is the BJP. The opposition, in its historical pursuit of the policy of appeasement, is regarded as anti-Hindu, bent upon relegating them to as low a position as possible. Hence BJP for them is more of TINA (There Is No Alternative). Yet, they maintain that the BJP should not take Hindu support for granted. Hindu voters believe that the BJP will have to abandon its grandstanding and fight the election in the dirt pit.
Interestingly, a large percentage of people believed that even though they could prefer non-BJP governments in the states depending on local considerations and reasons, the BJP with Modi at the helm was ‘somehow’ believed to be better suited to rule at the centre. In other words, they seem to be convinced that the BJP can do much more for India as a nation than the opposition. This is where the image of a powerful New India built so assiduously by Modi, as evident from the obviously much greater prestige that India commands in the international arena and with the superpowers, counts. From that perspective, even if the BJP performs rather poorly in the upcoming state Assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana and Mizoram, it would not spell doom for them.
In the end, our study clearly suggests that the BJP has an edge over the opposition for 2024, but their tally is poised to be lower than what they have in this Lok Sabha unless they once again go aggressively on the Hindutva plank starting now.