On Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi oozed confidence in his reply to the discussion on the Motion of Thanks on the President’s address in Parliament, claiming that the National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA) third term “was not far away”. He made a bold prediction that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will get 370 seats, and along with allies, the NDA will cross 400 seats in the upcoming Lok Sabha election. This is the first time that someone from the BJP’s top leadership has spoken publicly about the party’s ‘Mission 400′. Just a few months back, the BJP had announced its intent to achieve a 50% vote share in the election.
The 3-0 scoreline against the Congress in the recent state polls, which defied most poll predictions; the grand opening of the Ram Mandir, which has generated a positive fervour across the country, and the failure of the opposition to stitch together an alliance to take on the BJP have together bolstered the saffron party’s chances. There are a couple of reasons why the BJP and PM Modi are so confident about their win.
I.N.D.I.A Bloc’s Sorry Take-Off
The united opposition bloc, which was launched with huge fanfare in July last year, appears to have lost steam. So much so that it now seems reduced to the UPA of yesteryears. Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) supremo Nitish Kumar, who held ambitions of becoming the convenor of I.N.D.I.A, has made a ‘gharwapsi‘ to the NDA; West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress boss Mamata Banerjee has adopted the policy of ‘ekla chalo re‘, that is, of going it alone; and Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav has given a take-it-or-leave-it offer of 11 seats to the Congress in Uttar Pradesh. In Punjab, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress will be contesting separately.
The formation of the I.N.D.I.A bloc and the buzz around it last year had triggered the notion that it would neutralise the TINA (‘there is no alternative’) factor that helped the BJP in 2019. With the I.N.D.I.A bloc in fray, people had an option. But with the alliance in disarray now, the TINA factor might work in Modi’s favour again as there is no credible face in the opposition to take him head on.
A Weakened Congress
The principal opposition party, the Congress, doesn’t appear to be in a position to defeat the BJP—a section of even its staunch supporters now believes so. The drubbing it faced in the Hindi heartland has demotivated its cadre and the second-rung leadership. In his address in Parliament, PM Modi hit out at dynasty politics and said the Congress’s shop is on the verge of closing in its attempt to “launch one product again and again” (read: Rahul Gandhi).
Tactical mistakes of boycotting the Pran Pratishtha ceremony of the Ram Mandir, the adoption of a hard stance in seat-sharing talks and the launch of the second leg of the Bharat Jodo Yatra at a time when the party’s focus should have been on tightening the nuts and bolts to prepare for the general elections, have thrown the Congress the out of reckoning for 2024.
Banking on Economic Delivery
PM Modi strongly believes that he has delivered on the economic front. India is now the fifth-largest economy, and the ‘Modi guarantee’ is to ensure that it becomes the third-largest one in his third term, much ahead of the target for 2044 set by the UPA-II. PM Modi often uses the slogan “10 years vs. 70 years” to establish that his government has not only performed better than Manmohan Singh’s 10-year term but also better than all prime ministers put together.
While there are issues around economic disparity, price rise, unemployment and agricultural distress, Modi hopes that voters will find him a better leader for solving these issues compared to his rivals. The opposition itself has not come up with any concrete solutions to tackle these problems and has just been highlighting issues.
While Modi talks of aspirational politics, the opposition talks of a caste census, which many in the middle class believe would take the country backward rather than forward.
A Large Pool of Loyal Labharthis
The BJP has taken 25 crore people out of multidimensional poverty. It has built 4 crore rural houses. Through a slew of schemes targeted at youth, women, farmers and poor, it has created a pool of labharthis who are now its loyal voters.
According to estimates, there are around 25 crore labharthis, and this segment of voters has shifted from voting along caste lines to voting on the basis of socio-economic class. Voting is an emotional decision of aasha (hope) and aakrosh (anger). Modi’s schemes have generated hope amongst beneficiaries and this has ensured continued political support of four key cohorts—gareeb (the poor), kisan (farmers), yuva (youth) and mahila (women).
Continued Support of OBCs
OBCs account for the highest share of population in India, with estimates ranging from 45% to 50%. With PM Modi being an OBC leader himself, and with the BJP’s strategy of adopting anti-dominant OBC politics in the Hindi heartland, the BJP has today become the party of choice for lower/most backward OBCs. According to the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, OBC support for the party doubled in the 10 years from 23% in 2009 to 44% in 2019.
The BJP has also been able to neutralise the caste census pitch of the opposition as it failed to walk the talk. With a Bharat Ratna to Karpoori Thakur and the return of Nitish Kumar to the NDA fold, the BJP seems to have punctured the jitni abadi utna haq (rights proportional to population) slogan of Rahul Gandhi, who has, in any case, not used it since the latest debacle in the state elections.
‘Zero Tolerance’ for Corruption
PM Modi has repeatedly indicated his government’s zero tolerance for corruption. The Enforcement Directorate’s (ED) raids on leaders and the subsequent arrests of many high-profile names do help the BJP build a narrative that the opposition leadership is corrupt. It also helps Modi cement an incorruptible image. In the 2014 elections, the BJP played up the 2G and Commonwealth Games scams as well as the controversial land deals involving Rahul Gandhi’s brother-in-law Robert Vadra, to target the Congress; this time, it’s the ED arrests. While a section does feel that the party is using the central agency to silence its competition, the fact that the leaders under scrutiny have not received relief from courts either helps the BJP neutralise this notion to some extent at least.
So, can the NDA cross 400 seats in 2024? The BJP surely is going in for the kill and giving it its very best shot.
(Amitabh Tiwari is a political strategist and commentator. In his earlier avatar, he was a corporate and investment banker.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.