“The general election is not an organizational exercise; it’s a mass media exercise.”
It is believed that the engine of election campaigning in India never stops. Political parties remain in election mode all the time. We are in 2023, but the parties are already gearing up for the Lok Sabha 2024 elections. On the way to the Prime Minister’s seat, the current PM and his political opponents will face five state elections (Tripura, Meghalaya, Karnataka, Nagaland and Mizoram). The BJP will, as usual, play safe while the opposition is working on an image makeover. The Bharat Jodo Yatra, which was nothing less than a picnic to show the mature side of Rahul Gandhi, ended up in Jammu and Kashmir in January 2023. While you can make fun of Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, you should also focus on the strategy of the BJP to win more seats than in 2019. Yes, the BJP has confused its voters right from the beginning of this year by specifically announcing an outreach campaign for Muslims. It has given a sudden heart attack to the secular parties like Congress, which always fought elections on the idea of Hindu-Muslim Bhai Bhai. While as a political party which is currently in power, it is good that the organization wants to reach those set of voters who don’t vote for them in large numbers because of their parent ideology, this has fumed many of the BJP supporters. While we can stretch this old decades debate on Congress Vs BJP, the Indian election system has a new member in the form of AAP. “Kattar Imaandar Sarkaar”, as its convener Arvind Kejriwal claims about his party, the political outfit recently got the tag of a National Party after their defeat in the Gujarat elections 2022. AAP will undoubtedly play an essential role in Lok Sabha 2024 elections and the upcoming state elections. We also have BRS (Bharat Rashtra Samithi) by Telangana CM KCR, who has already identified 100 parliamentary seats for Lok Sabha 2024 elections. This has washed away the old dream of Nitish Babu, who wanted to become the Prime Minister of India. The best part about opposition parties in India, whether National or regional, is that their heads have presented their wish to become the Prime Minister. The only issue is that all these opposition parties are riding a ship without a rudder. In this blog, I would like to discuss the upcoming state elections, the campaign strategies of various parties and their implications for the Lok Sabha 2024 elections.
The Bharat Jodo Yatra: The Most Costliest Picnic Of All Times
A party that once won 404 seats in 1984 under the leadership of Shri Rajeev Gandhi is down to just 52 seats today in Lok Sabha. The Grand Old Party, which once enjoyed support across all the states of India, has been almost wiped out of North India. As of today’s political scenario, the INC has expectations only from South India, and therefore the Yatra started in the Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu. I don’t know what was in the mind of the political strategists who finalized the route of this Yatra because the route didn’t include two election-going states – Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. Also, the Yatra didn’t include any state from the North East, yet the Yatra was called “Bharat Jodo Yatra”. Initially, I thought that the strategists would eventually revise the route and include the North East states and must have left it by mistake, but it didn’t happen!
The political pundits might comment on the electoral impact of this Yatra. Still, the real reason behind conducting the Yatra was to show Rahul Gandhi as a grown-up, young politician (even though he is 52 but party leaders consider him Yuva Neta) who can defeat Narendra Modi and at the same time revive the party cadre. The nation saw Rahul Gandhi running, swimming, doing push-ups, cracking jokes, and involving people from all walks of life. The Congress IT cell uploaded short videos of Rahul’s padayatra with a trending Hindi song as if he were the superstar ‘Rajnikanth’ of Indian politics.
The Lok Sabha and assembly constituencies covered by Rahul Gandhi in South India will surely have an impact of BJY because, in all those ACs and PCs, the INC has a good hold. Still, when talking about North India, the Yatra covered all those seats where the INC now has no chance of winning the seat again. In all those seats in North India, either BJP (in a majority of them) or another regional party MLA/MP has been winning for a long time. Another significant aspect of the Yatra was that it covered those constituencies and especially those booths where the Muslim and Dalit population is very high. The vote bank of INC has been reduced to only these two caste groups – SCs and Muslims. In contrast, BJP targets all the caste groups, getting the majority from Brahmins, Kshatriyas, OBCs, and small proportions from STs, Non-Mahars and Muslim women.
It is well-known that Rahul Gandhi was advised to be kept out of the Punjab Election campaign in 2017 Punjab Elections by former Punjab CM and now a BJP leader Capt. Amarinder Singh. Many people within Congress consider that when Rahul Gandhi opens his mouth, he invites trolls and criticism from the BJP. Even though all the events of the Bharat Jodo Yatra were pre-planned, Rahul Gandhi couldn’t stop making a fool of himself by making ridiculous statements that made everyone laugh on social media. Comments like “Rahul Aapke Dimag mein Hai, Mere Dimag mein nahin hai. Maine Uss Rahul Ko Maar Diya” and “Mujhe Thand Nahin Lagti Kyunki Main Thand Se Darta Nahin Hun” again showed him as a “confused” politician who still hasn’t learnt from his past mistakes. Apart from such statements, Rahul Gandhi kept criticizing Hindutva and Savarkar and invited those who gave Anti-Hindu ideas to speak on stage. Therefore, it was elementary for the BJP to show Rahul Gandhi and Congress as Anti-Hindu.
Therefore, I can easily conclude from this Yatra that neither the party nor the top brass like Rahul Gandhi has learnt anything from their past mistakes. All these actions make me sometimes believe that Rahul Gandhi is the star campaigner for BJP and might be a secret agent working for them. Because ignoring the Hindus and hurting the Hindu sentiment will surely not help you win any election. Therefore, this Bharat Jodo Yatra was a picnic event, an expensive PR exercise and the costliest trip any group has ever gone on.
The Dilemma of the BJP and Their Secret Relationship With Minorities
Even though the BJP made fun of the Bharat Jodo Yatra and the BJP IT cell provided the internet with the best clippings of Rahul’s funny speeches, the party should not forget how Congress snatched away Himachal Pradesh from BJP last year. Though BJP accomplished a record win in Gujarat, the party lost two significant elections – the Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections and the Delhi MCD elections. Losing the Himachal Pradesh elections came as a surprise for everyone. There was infighting within the Congress camp in Himachal Pradesh while the BJP struggled from high anti-incumbency. The political pundits predicted that the Modi magic would again work in the elections just like it did in Uttarakhand, but it didn’t.
The following month, in January 2023, the BJP called for a 2-day National Executive meeting in Delhi to discuss the victory of Gujarat and the reasons for the loss in Himachal Pradesh and MCD elections. From the stage, PM Shri Narendra Modi clearly announced that BJP will now reach out to the Bohra Muslims. In the last National Executive Meeting held in Telangana, the PM said the party should contact the Pasmanda Muslims. The idea of this Muslim outreach received a mixed reaction from BJP supporters.
There is a familiar feeling across the nation that the Sikh and Muslim communities are unhappy with the BJP. While the Anti-CAA riots irked the Muslim community, the farmer’s protest infuriated the Sikh community. Since the farmer’s protest was called off, the Prime Minister has celebrated all the Sikh festivals with great pomp and show. With the same energy, Shri Narendra Modi, Maharashtra’s CM and Deputy CM, inaugurated an Arabic academy for Bohra Muslims in Mumbai. Recently, the party has identified around 60 Lok Sabha constituencies having more than 30% Muslim population where the BJP Minority Morcha will be active.
Outreach in Karnataka: The Muslims make up 12% of Karnataka’s population, out of which the Nadafs and Pinjaras are considered the Pasmanda Muslims. These Muslims have been given 4% reservation in the state. But the primary demand of Muslims has always been regarding representation in the state legislative assembly. There are 20 odd seats in Karnataka, which are Muslim dominated. Even as of now, all the seven Muslim MLAs in the Karnataka assembly are from the Congress party. Therefore, it would be interesting to see if the BJP can shed its tag of the Hindutva party and grant a ticket to any solid Muslim contender in those 20-odd Muslim-dominated seats in Karnataka.
Even though the BJP supporters might criticise the party’s Muslim outreach programme, I would like to support such plans because even if it doesn’t increase the Muslim vote bank of the BJP, it will eventually help them in administration. It is much better than Congress’s approach of ignoring the Hindus. At least, the Modi government isn’t ignoring the interest of the Hindus, which is evident from the decisions like changing the name of Aurangabad to Chhatrapati Sambhaji Nagar, changing the name of Mughal Garden, decreasing the budget of Madrasas and diverting the funds to other education-related schemes etc. It is the Congress party which has to revamp its strategy.
This was the first post in the series of Election 2024 series. In the next post, I will discuss the upcoming elections and analysis.
Author : Ritwik Mehta is a public policy analyst and Country Leader at MGCY.
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📌 Summary of Reports from Government Agencies
📌 Analysis of Election Manifestos