By Saarthak Anand
Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort for the fourth time, MPs of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been tasked with taking up “Sankalp Yatras” or pledge marches in their respective constituencies. They are intended for educating people about the programmes of the Modi government. Scheduled to be organised between August 15 and 30, the marches will see the MPs administering oath to the people to do their bit about ensuring the success of these government programmes by 2022, the year India completes seventy-five years of its independence, and the deadline the PM has set towards making a “New India”.
BJP’s expansion of its support base
As the ruling administration’s current tenure ends in 2019, it is fairly evident that this programme is part of the PM’s agenda for ensuring a second term for his government. The past three years have seen the BJP work untiringly towards not only securing its victory in the next general elections but also towards establishing long-term political dominance.
Foremost among such manoeuvres was the party’s membership drive in late 2014, by cashing in on the popular mood following the Lok Sabha polls. The regular invocation of B.R. Ambedkar and the election of a Dalit President are part of a well-planned strategy towards the backward castes. Traditionally seen as the party of the upper castes, the BJP is trying to turn its core voter-base on its head.
Despite earning criticism early in its tenure for measures such as the Land Acquisition Bill, the party has been quite able to shed its “suit-boot ki sarkar” tag and project a pro-poor image. Last year’s demonetisation move, however controversial, allowed Modi to pitch himself as a “messiah of the poor”, eager to bring to account the corrupt.
Reflections of popularity in assembly polls
All such measures have been reaping rich dividends, as is obvious from the regular state-election victories for the BJP. Most notable among those was the politically-significant Uttar Pradesh, where the party, in a multi-pronged contest, managed to win a three-fourths majority. Today, the BJP is part of the government in eighteen states.
The opposition lies in tatters
Working to Modi’s advantage, of course, is the widespread disarray in the opposition ranks. At a time when they should be taking the fight to the government, the opposition parties are struggling to stay politically relevant. The Indian National Congress, in free fall, continues to be in denial, with no accountability for the party brass, despite a string of bruising losses.
Instead of hitting the government where it is vulnerable — on issues such as unemployment and border security —the opposition continues to shoot itself in the foot. It has offered no alternative agenda at all. The Presidential election demonstrated just how brittle the opposition unity is; their ranks had been breached the moment Ram Nath Kovind’s name was announced, with many parties losing little time in endorsing his candidature.
Moreover, there is a leadership problem in the opposition. Even as Rahul Gandhi continues to struggle to establish himself as a potent political force, Arvind Kejriwal and Nitish Kumar — the only two leaders who had been able to pause the Modi juggernaut post-2014 — no longer pose a challenge to the PM. Kejriwal, following a chain of stinging defeats in Punjab, Goa and the MCD elections in Delhi — his home turf — is a shadow of the politician he was a year ago. Nitish, on the other hand, has jumped ship yet again and is running an NDA government in Bihar.
BJP to tap unchartered territories
The 2014 election saw the BJP peaking in its traditional spheres of influence while performing only moderately well in most other regions. The party, along with its allies, won more than 80 percent of the seas in Northern, Central and Western India, almost sweeping the Hindi heartland. Such a stellar performance seems almost impossible to replicate in 2019, making the Eastern and Southern states all the more crucial.
The party, rising rapidly in Odisha and West Bengal is also almost certain to improve on its past performance in the five Southern states. In addition, the BJP-led North-East Democratic Alliance, under the foresight of former Congressman Himanta Biswa Sharma, is now running governments in five North-Eastern states.
What the future holds
The saffron party has been able to overhaul the nation’s political landscape in less than five years. The well-oiled BJP machinery, led by master strategist Amit Shah, is bulldozing its way into territories where the party’s presence was almost inconceivable. It has established a robust grassroots connect, and is dominating the political discourse, with the opposition finding it hard to keep up.
While it is tempting to dismiss the next general election as a foregone conclusion, elections have been won and lost in a lot less time. BJP would do well to keep in mind the 2004 Lok Sabha polls, which PM Vajpayee, on account an of impressive performance in Assembly elections, had preponed by six months. His party lost the polls and had to stay out of power for the following ten years.
It cannot, however, be denied that in terms of a national presence, the BJP stands on much firmer ground than it did a few years back. As his party goes from strength to strength, barring a disruption of epic proportions, the next Lok Sabha election is Modi’s to lose.
Featured Image Source: Twitter @PIB_India
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