Sunday 6 August 2023

Victory in 2024 central to PM Modi’s agenda (The Sunday Guardian)

 Who emerges the winner in 2024 and who loses will determine the trajectory of India for generations more. Small wonder that the Opposition’s gloves are off.

It is no secret that the defeat of the 8-10 August No Confidence motion in the Lok Sabha is a foregone conclusion. Or that the primary intention behind the move by the 26 parties in the I.N.D.I.A alliance is to get Prime Minister Narendra Modi to speak to the House after volley after volley of thinly camouflaged abuse has been sent in his direction during 8 and 9 August. During the period when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister, India experienced what in effect was a presidential election. Both 1977 and 1980 were about whether voters wanted the only child of Kamala and Jawaharlal Nehru to continue as Prime Minister or not. After their electoral sweep of north and west in 1977, the Janata Party had clearly won the war, but then lost the peace. Although responsible for such policy blunders as the Gold Control Order while he had been Finance Minister, Morarji Desai was a capable Prime Minister. His problem was that there were too many colleagues in the ministry who wanted to either turf him out or to take his place in South Block. The group of young people around Sanjay Gandhi expertly fanned such ambitions, fantasies even, of several in the government. Among them was Sanjay’s wife Maneka, who used her writing skills to skewer prominent personalities in the Janata Party government. The President of India, Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, by virtue of his seniority in protocol, regarded himself as entitled to have the decisive say in who would be the Prime Minister. Indira Gandhi was therefore correct in assuming that the effort by the Syndicate within the Congress Party in promoting Reddy was to get him elected as President, confident that he would find a way of replacing a Prime Minister who had gone her own way rather than abide by the views of the party elders who had placed her in power after the demise of Lal Bahadur Shastri in Tashkent.

Reddy’s bid to occupy Rashtrapati Bhavan was scuttled through the shock victory of the personal candidate of the Prime Minister, V.V. Giri. Soon afterwards, voters turned out in large numbers to give Indira Gandhi a substantial majority in the fifth Lok Sabha Had Sanjiva Reddy won the Presidential election and succeeded in changing the Prime Minister, the trajectory of India for the next generation would have been different. Foreign policy would have changed as much as economic and social policies would have. Indira Gandhi’s victory in the 1971 polls gave her the confidence to go ahead with policies very different from those that a Prime Minister from the Syndicate would have followed. Similarly, had the Mahatma chosen Sardar Patel to be the Prime Minister in 1947 and not Nehru, India would have been set on a different course. Lal Bahadur Shastri could have changed the trajectory of India but for his death in 1966, as could have P.V. Narasimha Rao had he won in 1996 rather than losing his majority to an opposition assisted by the split in the Congress Party caused by the antipathy of Mrs Sonia Gandhi towards Prime Minister Rao.

In the same way that Lok Sabha elections became a referendum on who should be the Prime Minister during the period when Indira Gandhi was in office, since 2014 national polls have become focused around a single leader, Narendra Damodardas Modi. In 2014, it was an acknowledged reality that Modi and not Advani would be the PM should the BJP win, a factor that ensured its majority. In 2019, the question before the electorate was whether Modi or Rahul Gandhi should be Prime Minister of India. The results showed which individual was preferred over the other. In the 2024 elections, it is not clear who the 26-party coalition that is working to defeat the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls will appoint as the Prime Minister, should they secure a majority. Should the Congress Party get 75 seats or more, it would have a good chance of having a party veteran as the coalition choice for the Prime Ministership if the alliance secures a majority. The Opposition alliance is proceeding on the assumption that the BJP’s 2019 seat tally in states such as Maharashtra, Karnataka, UP, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh will not get repeated in 2024, and that the BJP could therefore fall well short of a majority. The obstacle to such an outcome is the credibility and confidence that voters have in Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Which is why the No Confidence motion that is to be debated during the next two days is going to be fought in an effort at chipping away at the image of the Prime Minister in the minds of voters.
The 2024 elections will be the most consequential election in the history of India, superseding any previous poll. Who emerges the winner in 2024 and who loses will determine the trajectory of India for generations more. Small wonder that the Opposition’s gloves are off, and that the effort to reduce voter confidence in PM Modi is being fought freestyle. Whether it be in foreign, economic or social policy, there is a universe of difference between Prime Minister Modi and any of those in the Opposition who seek to replace him. The next five more years are essential for the Prime Minister to set in stone the change of course that he has engineered since 2014 in India. Those changes would then be placed on a trajectory that overall cannot be reversed. Those opposed to him are aware of that, which is why the contest ahead is likely to be the most contentious in a long time. As Chief Minister, Modi secured a hat-trick in Gujarat. Should he do likewise at the national level as Prime Minister, the Congress Party would be the most affected, in that its national leadership would be severely weakened and it would in its functioning simply be a collective of regional satraps. 2024 is not just another Lok Sabha poll.
More than in any previous election, the outcome of the contest for the next Lok Sabha will permanently redraw the contours of India should PM Modi get a hat-trick. A win in 2024 would ensure that he places the country in an entirely different path from that followed by past regimes. Continuing in office for another term is central to fulfilling the transformational agenda that Modi set out to accomplish when he was sworn in as Prime Minister of India in 2014. Those opposing PM Modi understand this, hence their “no holds barred” approach to the looming poll battle.

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