Opinion | Development vs. Doles: The Real Decision Indian Voters Will Have to Make in 2024

The arguments center on Narendra Modi’s 400 paar (with the BJP at 370) aim, as there aren’t any substantive problems with which to criticize the Modi administration. Similar to what happened in the last two Lok Sabha elections in 2014 and 2019, Modi’s opponents are hopeful that the BJP won’t get an absolute majority, which would leave the door open for a coalition government headed by the Congress.

Even though that would be their first choice, the “180s Club” also sees another BJP member—Nitin Gadkari is the current front-runner; in 2014, Rajnath Singh was the favorite—upending Modi and becoming the government with outside help. They are part of the “Anybody but Modi” (ABM) group. Many of them are Indians who are not residents who are parked around Ivy League universities and the Washington, DC Beltway. They would see any result for the BJP that was lower than 370 as a setback for Modi.

Likewise, there exists a group of political experts from both the North and South who are quite excited about the possibility of the BJP losing power in South India. Their ardent goal is to demonstrate that the BJP is really a North Indian party, much as how they formerly referred to it as a Brahmin-Bania party—that is, until Modi and Amit Shah broke the caste system. A Gujarati would never be acceptable in the “Hindi heartland,” according to the same group of people. Modi met this problem head-on and ended it once and for all in 2014 when he ran from Varanasi. They don’t care that the Congress is now only in fourth place in Bihar and has all but vanished from Uttar Pradesh. The party has been out of power in both states for more than thirty years. Rather of focusing on what would happen to the BJP’s vote share in key states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala, they take voyeuristic joy in seeing the Tamizh land as Modi’s actual Waterloo.

That being said, the opposition seems to have settled on the “Democracy in Danger” mantra, which is now being repeated nonstop by politicians of all stripes, after fumbling with a number of other and contrasting campaign tenets. Mamata Banerjee and Lalu Prasad Yadav have gone so far as to declare that if the BJP regains power, there won’t be any more democratic elections in India and that an authoritarian government would take control, despite the Congress framing these elections as a fight to “Save the Constitution.” Concerns have been expressed over the BJP and RSS’s goal of establishing “One Nation, One Religion, and One Language.” While this may seem like extreme fear mongering, it is gaining traction abroad, particularly with the international media, which are exaggerating the concerns. This does make one wonder whether this “line” of propaganda came from elsewhere or if India used its deep domestic resources to replace it.

But whether such a notion would hold water with regular voters is a moot point. For what it’s worth, opinion surveys that have been released so far do not indicate that the electorate has any problems with them. But judging by the way the opposition is ramping up the rhetoric, it seems like they may have found a weakness in the BJP’s defenses. The Congress intends to go farther than that. Targeting the core, it has included three more components: the RSS philosophy, which Rahul Gandhi often brings up; Modi’s Hindu background; and, lastly, it is making a strong push about electoral relationships. Congress seems to have selected the latter as the “Rafale” of 2024. By claiming that the BJP has seized the majority of the bonds via “extortion,” it is attempting to deflect the claim that other parties have also received sizeable contributions through electoral bonds.

Even in the unlikely event that the opposition’s most recent narrative finds resonance with voters, will it cause a wave of unfavorable feelings that will eventually result in significant anti-incumbency sentiment? This would mostly rely on the option that voters were presented with. When the UPA was widely despised in 2014 for corruption, the BJP and NDA were unmistakably seen as the better option. Do the Congress and UPA now elicit comparable positive feelings, especially in relation to one another? Most likely not. Even if the elder generation tends to be more forgiving, there is reason to suppose that the legacy of UPA II’s incompetent government has not been completely wiped from the minds of voters, particularly the younger ones. The seniors may be content with their handouts and money, but Gen Next will be searching for whatever each side has to offer in terms of prospects. This is where the electoral manifestos come into play.

The electoral manifestos received little attention until a few years ago. Political parties conducted the activity more often as a tradition. These were papers filled with hyperbole, religious clichés, and hazy assurances of social benefits. That has been altered, nonetheless, by the BJP fulfilling pre-election pledges on things like Article 370 and Ram Mandir. The Congress is now taking its own manifesto exercise more seriously as a result of this. This is seen in the specifics. Regardless of one’s agreement with its plans or methodology, it is indisputable that a great deal of effort and research went into identifying the concerns they wanted to draw attention to.

While the BJP concentrated on its vision of “Viksit Bharat” with #ModiKiGuarantee, the Congress platform placed more emphasis on “NYAY” and the caste census. With the use of technology, it seeks to expand on the achievements of the preceding two administrations and accelerate progress. Its foundation is a wager on the populace’s faith in themselves to create a better future and shun hopelessness, which is emphasized by Congress’s pledge of quotas and doles. Crutches cannot be used to build New India; industry, infrastructure, and most importantly, entrepreneurship and a winning mentality are required. That ought to be the overarching idea of the real “One India,” bridging geographical divides brought about by religion, caste, and economic status.

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