Lok Sabha Elections 2024: What Led BJP to Abandon ‘Development’

Anwar ST. TwoCircles.net

Eighty-eight constituencies across 13 states went to polls on April 26 in the second phase of ongoing Lok Sabha elections. With the exception of Kerala, the lone southern state, where it did not register an electoral victory in 2019, the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies have the majority of these seats.

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What is noteworthy is the abrupt shift in the tone and subject matter of the BJP’s campaign, spearheaded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He has apparently shifted his focus from the typical mix of “development”, “surging economy” and government schemes to attacking the Opposition and its INDIA alliance for allegedly appeasing Muslims.

His use of language and imagery has prompted numerous Opposition parties to file complaints with the Election Commission, claiming that the Model Conduct of Code (MCC) has been violated. However, the prime minister and senior BJP members are sticking to this tactic.

Why this shift?

Polling on 102 seats across 21 states during the first round of the election seems to have picked up on the general consensus that there was no “Modi wave” or “Modi magic” like 2014 and 2019 general elections. Numerous economic problems, particularly unemployment and inflation, seem to have undermined the high-octane BJP campaign.

Furthermore, the BJP advertising machine’s catchphrase, “Ab ki baar, 400 paar” (this time, over 400 seats), had created a great deal of unease: were they sticking to this goal in order to secure a sizable enough majority to amend the Constitution?

All of this was connected to the arrests of chief ministers of two states — Jharkhand and Delhi — whose parties are part of the INDIA bloc as well as ongoing raids and actions by central government agencies against Opposition leaders. These actions contributed to the BJP’s reputation as a haughty party, which routinely tramples on people’s aspirations.

The decline in voter turnout from over 70% in the previous election to about 65% in the current one seems to corroborate the public’s disenchantment with the BJP and Prime Minister Modi. Several researchers have demonstrated that BJP-held seats have seen a greater drop in voting turnout. This indicates that people are no longer trusting everything the BJP and its leaders say throughout the campaign.

These events may have convinced the BJP that it needs more powerful weapons to win this election and secure the 400+ seats it has set out to win.

Eighty-nine seats were initially up for polls in the second phase. However, Betul in Madhya Pradesh was moved to phase three following a candidate’s death. Of the remaining 88 seats, one in Jammu and Kashmir and five in Assam are newly delimited constituencies; therefore, they cannot be compared to those from 2019. Eighty-two seats remain after that. Of these, only one seat in Manipur is partially covered. Voters in the remaining constituencies have already exercised their right to franchise in the first phase.

The BJP and its allies held 55 of the 81 seats that were still up for grabs, while the INDIA bloc held 23. However, Kerala accounts for 20 of the INDIA bloc’s seats (19 for the Left Democratic Front and one for the United Democratic Front, led by the Congress). One in Bihar and two in Karnataka are the final three seats that the INDIA bloc is holding.

Four seats in Bihar, all three in Chhattisgarh, eleven out of fourteen in Karnataka, one Independent who became a BJP member and is running again from Mandya, all six in Madhya Pradesh, seven of eight in Maharashtra (the Independent from Amravati is running again as a BJP candidate), all thirteen seats in Rajasthan, the lone seat from Tripura, seven of eight seats in Uttar Pradesh and all three seats in West Bengal had been won by the BJP and its allies.

Roughly, at least 20 of the 81 seats have a significant Muslim concentration. These are primarily in Kerala but also in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. Thus, there is some immediate significance to the campaign’s pivot to focus on minorities.

The larger picture, however, should not be overlooked: the BJP has historically used “appeasement” rhetoric and thinly veiled anti-minority hostility as its go-to tactics. In addition to the recent controversy surrounding the Uniform Civil Code, the early consecration of Ram Mandir and the bogey of “love jihad”, infiltration, demographic advantage, jingoism, etc., this incendiary plank has always been utilized in election campaigns, sometimes primarily and sometimes secondarily.

Many experts and the mainstream media would have people believe that the BJP’s policy will exacerbate the divisiveness that has been purposefully created for political purposes and cause religious polarization among the populace. Indeed, this threat is present. However, unlike in the past, the general public is clearly disenchanted with this ruse.

Any sympathy that might be engendered by the advocacy of Hindutva causes or claims of defending sectarian interests has been outweighed by the country’s widening economic disparities, deepening caste divisions, distress brought on by economic mismanagement that primarily benefits the wealthy and the BJP government’s persistent failure to deliver on its numerous promises of “two crore jobs”, “controlling price rise” and so on.

Despite the prime minister leading the much-heralded event to consecrate the Ram temple, there does not seem to be any accumulation of support for the BJP. Reports and polls indicate that voting decisions are not much influenced by the temple issue. Naturally, this could also indicate that the BJP will want to escalate the situation and use even more polarizing strategies. However, it is likely that this will not make many people very happy.

Whatever the case, one of the Opposition’s primary responsibilities should be to protect the nation’s unity and fundamental values across the board.

Views are author’s own