On 30th December 2023, when much of the humanity was planning how to usher in New Year 2024, PM Narendra Modi was sipping tea at the modestly built house of Meera Manjhi, a frail but articulate woman in the temple town of Ayodhya. Meera’s name happened to be at serial number 10 crore in the list of ‘Ujjwala’ beneficiaries and it seemed apparently normal for the PM to visit her house to tout the success of one of his pet schemes.
But it was no ordinary event. Modi was visiting Ayodhya on the eve of the inauguration of Ram Temple scheduled on 22nd January 2024. Construction of a grand Ram Temple was one of the main election planks of BJP for many decades and the PM, known as a dyed-in-the wool Hindu nationalist, wanted to reap maximum political dividend out of the much-awaited consecration of the temple. Modi just tried to kill two birds with one stone by visiting the house of a lady from the socially disadvantaged Nishad community who also has got benefits of a number of flagship welfare schemes of the central government.
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Many on the opposite spectrum of the Indian political landscape saw his two actions of visiting Ayodhya and Manjhi’s house as desperate attempts to fend off challenges arising out of 10 years of incumbency and the promised spirited challenge from a loose coalition of opposition parties calling themselves ‘INDIA’ (backronym for Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance). Certainly, he and his party are desperate to clinch a third term at the centre. But the irony is, so are they who are calling Modi and BJP as desperate.
For BJP, the challenges are many. Ruling for last 10 years has its own ‘fatigue’ factor in the form of some voters feeling bored of the current dispensation and looking for change. Further, BJP has reached the plateau in terms of electoral success in its stronghold states and it has to score wins in new areas to offset the probable loss of some seats in states like Rajasthan, Gujarat, M.P. and Delhi where it had won almost all seats in 2019. Loss of strong allies like JD(U) in Bihar and Shiv Sena (Uddhav faction) in Maharashtra is expected to reduce BJP’s 2019 tally in these two states. So, BJP is leaving no stones unturned to attain at least a simple majority in 2024 general elections, its reported target of bagging 400 seats being a bit of a political bravado at best.
On the other hand, the very fact that disparate and sworn adversaries have joined hands under the umbrella of INDIA to prevent BJP from returning to power is also an act of stark desperation. Congress and CPM are main political opponents in Kerala. Most Congress leaders in West Bengal are deeply antagonistic to the ruling TMC with the latter reciprocating the same feelings towards the Congress. CM Mamata Banerji even can’t stand the presence of CPM leaders at the same gatherings. AAP and Congress are bitter rivals in Punjab and Delhi. But Congress, CPM, TMC and AAP are all together in INDIA in a bright example of political expediency.
How things will pan out when seat-sharing talks are actually held among the constituents of INDIA is anybody’s guess. Already bickering has started between leaders of TMC and Congress in West Bengal and between Shiv Sena (Uddhav faction) and Congress in Maharashtra due to unilateral announcements regarding number of seats to be contested. Negotiations for allocation of seats are expected to have nail-biting finishes and prospects of ‘friendly fights’ among the parties in INDIA are highly probable. But the report of Congress deciding to contest in only 255 seats leaving the rest for its allies have suggested that Congress has realized that it’s a make-or-break election for them. For the grand old party, return of BJP to power at the centre will further demoralize the former’s support base and reduce its stature among opposition parties. Notwithstanding the verbal skirmishes between their leaders, there are indications that parties like JD(U), RJD and Congress in Bihar and Congress, Shiv Sena (Uddhav faction) and NCP in Maharashtra may eventually reach understanding in seat-sharing among them, to pose a challenge to the BJP as also to send signals to anti-BJP sections like majority of the Muslims who are known to vote for parties opposing BJP.
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Coming to Odisha, the three main political parties are no less desperate. The recent electoral success of BJP in the three Hindi-belt states has alerted the ruling BJD which has been in power since the last 23 years. To counter the religious fervour expected to be generated due to completion of Ram Temple in Ayodhya which is expected to electorally benefit the BJP, BJD has positioned the completion of heritage corridor project around the world-famous Jagannath Temple at Puri as a counter weight to the former. To steal a march on BJP, the project is scheduled to be completed by January 11, 2024, a good 11 days before the opening of Ram Temple to the public. Acutely aware of the fact that most Odia Hindus are quite religious and thereby susceptible to the appeal of BJP on the basis of the Ram Temple issue, BJD, of late, has been trying to be more Hindu than the BJP by loosening the purse strings of the state government for developmental work in various temples. Another noteworthy point which shouldn’t be missed is that the all-powerful ex-bureaucrat Mr. V. K. Pandian, who recently joined BJD, wants to score a point by securing wins for BJD in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, both scheduled in 2024. Congress is also trying to improve its performance.
To summarise, 2024 would be the year of reckoning for all political parties in India who matter in electoral politics. From their perspective, by the end of 2024, India’s political landscape is guaranteed to be a changed one, for better or worse for them.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)