Would it be correct to say that confidence – rather overconfidence - marked Prime Minister Modi’s address from the Red Fort as he asserted that he would be there again a year later on the same date and highlight India’s achievements?
Of course, as has been expressed by several observers, this clearly marked a part of his electoral campaign for coming Lok Sabha elections. Meanwhile, questions have also been raised by a few critics on his using national address for this purpose.
The question however is, if he is so confident about his forthcoming “success", then what has prompted him to pronounce the same loudly much before electoral victory takes its course formally?
Perhaps, this message was not actually meant for voters but was directed in several other directions. Of these, the most obvious seem to be rival politicians in the race. Modi can certainly afford to be over-confident about them being no match for him in the electoral field, at least it seems so. And so, he chose to assert the same as loudly and as clearly as he could, to apparently let this sink into their minds.
Howsoever this message is comprehended by them, prospects of this pushing them out of the electoral field may be viewed as minimal, even non-existent. In fact, the momentum most opposition parties are displaying for their newly formed alliance, the question of their understanding and accepting Modi’s message as desired by him is not just difficult but practically impossible to digest.
Apparently, this matters little for Modi and his die-hard supporters. Of course, this raises another question - Why?
Elementarily speaking, they prefer words, tone as well as attitude that pleases them, including their leader, irrespective of its significance for others, including their rivals. From this angle, asserting his return to Red Fort a year later to address the country as Prime Minister was, may be intentionally or unintentionally, directed at assuring himself and his fans about his success in 2024. Perhaps.
It is possible that political atmosphere prior to Lok Sabha polls in 2014 as well as 2019 was not marked by “alliance” in the opposition camp which is being witnessed nowadays. Modi and his camp were probably not prepared for recent developments. Nor were they probably for “enthusiasm” displayed for Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra (Unite India March) or his return to Parliament. To a degree, impact and reach of Rahul’s yatra followed by the success of Congress in Karnataka polls appear to have prompted opposition parties to seriously pursue their plan of aligning to contest Lok Sabha polls. It is as yet too early to speculate on prospects of this alliance actually sticking together. Who knows, tantrums of some politicians may spell a major political headache for others. But at present, formation of I.N.D.I.A. (Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance) appears to have spelt political headache for present power-holders.
In this context, notwithstanding all the confidence Modi and BJP have about returning to power, they may be frustrated at more rivals having suddenly becoming louder and more assertive, than probably envisaged even a year ago. Their apparent numerical strength cannot also be side-lined. At present, I.N.D.I.A. includes more than two dozen parties. Of course, as suggested earlier, there is no guarantee, that this strength will increase or decrease just ahead of elections or following results.
Added to this are reports about certain “disquiet” within the BJP camp. Does this imply that all is not well within the most powerful party in India at present? Undeniably, it is practically impossible to keep all members of any political alliance totally satisfied. BJP’s strategy of ensuring entry into its fold of politicians from rival camp has at times frustrated some of its own members as well as allies.
In other words, BJP’s political strategy has not always pleased all its members. Several BJP members quit the party ahead of Uttar Pradesh Assembly Polls in 2022. The same happened ahead of Karnataka Assembly Polls. Of course, this can be countered by listing numbers who changed camps to join BJP. What however cannot be missed is that political chain keeping all members together is probably not as strong as it seems. This suggests that perhaps Modi’s point of “his” return to power in 2024 was asserted to keep his party members together.
Another purpose may have been to suppress speculations of who would step into Modi’s shoes following BJP’s “success” in 2024. There is no denying that BJP’s image is strongly linked with Modi’s name. If the party contests by projecting anyone else’s name as its prime ministerial candidate, BJP is likely to lose a significant number of votes; whether the name is of Amit Shah, Adityanath Yogi or anyone else. This doesn’t imply that these two don’t have significant clout but certainly not as much as Modi has within the BJP as well as outside. Irrespective of the ambitions the two and several other BJP-stalwarts have for the coveted chair, a few words of Modi’s address has certainly stumped them for the time being.
Now, this doesn’t imply that just these words may be enough to ensure BJP’s return to power. Other strategies, including that of spreading communal tension may be a part of this party and the saffron brigade.
Where does this place BJP – banking on Modi’s name and its apparent dependency on religious extremism?
Here, one is compelled to deliberate on “over-confidence” displayed by Modi, and as mentioned, BJP’s dependency on his name. This doesn’t explain saffron brigade and its associates’ use of communal cards. If Modi and his party are “over-confident” about BJP’s success in 2024 with him at the helm, their falling back on communal strategies with increasing frenzy as elections approach seems rather odd. And as mentioned earlier, he didn’t need to assert his “return” ahead of schedule. Clearly, Modi isn’t taking any chances.
Specifically, he talked of addressing the nation on 15th August from Red Fort with “even greater self-confidence.” Should it be assumed that recent developments appear to have somewhat shaken, at least a little, “self-confidence” he displayed in 2019? His address from Red Fort on 15th August 2018 did not include his vision for his address on Independence Day a year later. And this probably explains what is reflected by his displaying apparently “over-confidence” this year. This seems his manner of letting those in race for the coveted chair know that he remains ahead of them. This also implies, he has apparently acknowledged that in this Kissa Kursi Ka or in Tale (Battle) for the chair, all contenders cannot be ignored.
Where does the key opposition party - Congress, stand here?
Nowhere if I.N.D.I.A. doesn’t really function as an alliance. In case, even if due to some miraculous turn, this alliance does manage to win, the fight for the “chair” and key ministerial positions may just throw it back to opposition. The possibility of being confined to history if they don’t make it to centre is likely to force most members of I.N.D.I.A. to ensure that they work as an alliance for the ensuing Lok Sabha elections. Fear factor of being nowhere if they don’t display their credibility may prompt them to push their mutual differences to the backburner for the time being at least.
Perhaps, 2024 polls are not just a race between BJP and I.N.D.I.A. but also a major political battle and gamble for a few hoping to head the next government. The scene now is no more what it was in 2014 or in 2019, but a Kissa Kursi Ka for Modi as well as his rivals!
[The writer, Nilofar Suhrawardy, is a senior journalist and writer with specialization in communication studies and nuclear diplomacy. She has come out with several books. These include:– Modi’s Victory, A Lesson for the Congress…? (2019); Arab Spring, Not Just a Mirage! (2019), Image and Substance, Modi’s First Year in Office (2015) and Ayodhya Without the Communal Stamp, In the Name of Indian Secularism (2006).]
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