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Navigating India’s Political Landscape: Prospects for Narendra Modi’s Re-Election

by Vaishali Basu Sharma - 15 April, 2024, 12:00 128 Views 0 Comment

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking a third term in office. Amid his claim ‘Ab ki baar, NDA sarkar, 400 paar…’, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is on course for a hattrick of terms in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections 2024, according to several opinion poll results.

 

Voting for the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Indian Parliament, will go on from April 19 to June 1, over six weeks. Nearly a billion voters will exercise their right to vote in the general elections of the world’s biggest democracy. A maximum of 1,500 voters are allowed for every polling station and there will be over a million polling stations. The results will be declared on June 4. 

 

The poll panel is currently headed by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Rajiv Kumar. A record 2,798 political parties are registered with the Election Commission of India (ECI) as of March 5, 2024. Almost 5.5 million electronic voting machines will be deployed and nearly 400,000 vehicles will be used in the six weeks of polling. 

With over 2150 senior officers from the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), and Indian Police Service (IPS) as well as officers from the Indian Revenue Service (IRS), 15 million polling officials and security staff will be deployed as observers. The Central Armed Police Forces will be deployed, and they will be assisted by integrated control rooms in each district. Drones will be used for vigilance. The strong technical safeguards in electronic voting machines and elaborate administrative safeguards, procedures and security put in place by ECI to ensure that the elections are transparent, free and fair.

 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP appear unstoppable and there is a likelihood that the party will break its own performance record of 2014 and 2019 and set a new record in 2024. From nationalism to the economy, development to foreign policy, Prime Minister Modi is touting his accomplishments in the lead-up to the polls. The BJP wants to rack up a record number of seats in the next parliament. Who wins, and by what margin, could shape India’s destiny for the next decade. 

 

Amid the national election campaign, its news media is in sharp focus. Political Strategist Prashant Kishor shares his outlook on the landscape of Indian politics, predicting that the BJP will remain a central political force for the next 20 to 30 years. He has suggested that Congress MP Rahul Gandhi should step back from leading the party, as Congress has faced numerous setbacks with Rahul as its public face. He has also criticised Congress for not allowing a non-Gandhi family member to lead the party, calling it “anti-democratic.” He, however, asserted that the BJP is unlikely to win 370 seats, its target set for the polls. Telangana, Odisha, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Kerala together account for 204 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha but the BJP couldn’t cross 50 seats in all these states put together either in 2014 or 2019 when it won 29 and 47 constituencies respectively.

 

A look at the assembly poll number shows that the BJP is in power in 12 states on its own, while the Congress, the second largest national party, has only 3. The Aam Aadmi Party, with its government in Delhi and Punjab, is third among national parties. The BJP, which rules the centre, is in power in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Goa, Assam, Tripura, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh

 

The BJP received a boost of confidence in early December after landslides in three Hindi-speaking northern states. While there’s a near-consensus that northern states especially, UP are ready to give the BJP a third term, indications are that the more progressive and successful Southern part of the country is drifting away from the poverty-ridden north and its majoritarian politics. The NDA and the BJP have a major vote bank in the Hindi heartland, however, it lacks advantages in Karnataka, Kerala, Bengal, Odisha and other states.

 

The BJP has included several infrastructure projects as a key promise in the Lok Sabha poll manifesto for the next five years with a focus on multiple bullet train projects. PM Narendra Modi will contest from Varanasi, while heavyweights like Amit Shah and Rajnath Singh from their current Gandhinagar and Lucknow seats respectively. The party’s main big-ticket successes are firstly GDP growth which came close to eight per cent in 2023. Big, visible infrastructure was built — highways, airports and a vast new parliament transforming the centre of New Delhi. The government claims that more than US$40 billion of investment was committed in memoranda of understanding in 2024. Foodgrain production reached an all-time high of 330 million tonnes. Hosting the G20 in New Delhi in September 2023, India succeeded in producing a joint statement faster than expected, at a time of international strife. India’s Chandrayaan-3 mission achieved a soft landing on the moon’s near side, near its south pole. Finally, Narendra Modi’s leadership may be the biggest factor in propelling the BJP to victory in this election. He remains highly popular even after serving two terms. 

 

Arrayed against him and his ruling BJP, is a united opposition INDIA Bloc, hoping to chip away at his hold on power. Longtime political mainstays like the Indian National Congress Party, know that this election will be make or break – if they lose by a wide margin, their parties could fade from relevance. The Congress, in its manifesto for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections 2024, has promised that it will take action to ease the tax burden on the salaried class if it comes back to power. The opposition alliance has accused the PM of preparing to sweep the election by jailing its leaders and choking its funds and alleged that India’s secular constitution will be upended in Modi 3.0. 

 

Critics of the BJP government believe that the party under Modi is mobilising around identity politics, purposefully creating a Hindu versus Muslim narrative. Sweden’s V-Dem Institute referred to India as an electoral autocracy as democratic principles, including the freedom of expression, have come under strain.

 

On the other hand, it has been asserted that Hindus, particularly non-resident Indians (NRIs), only started taking pride in their identity and culture after Narendra Modi became Prime Minister. Overall governance has improved, starting from the domain of digital public infrastructure, which has helped to streamline welfare payments while reducing space for corruption. In its foreign policy which has increasingly become a prominent electoral issue, the Modi government is seen as being more assertive towards countries challenging India’s sovereignty.

 

Challenges like voter turnout and deep fakes are likely to pose problems in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. 

Technology is expected to play a significant role in India’s upcoming election. In a recent conversation with Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, highlighted the dangers of deep fake videos. And ahead of the Lok Sabha elections 2024, cybersecurity experts have raised concerns over the possible use of artificial intelligence and deep fake technology to influence the electorate and mislead the public. The Indian Cyber ​​Crime Coordination Center (I4C) has been designated as the nodal agency to deal with objectionable online content, while YouTube’s new policy allows for the removal of misleading AI-simulated content.

 

The AAP has alleged that the arrest of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, one of the country’s most prominent opposition leaders, which is related to money-laundering charges, a political conspiracy and an open vendetta by the ruling BJP government to “crush” the party before the election. The Congress leaders have meanwhile accused the BJP government of using “tax terrorism” by freezing its bank accounts, crippling its ability to campaign in order to disable the party before the polls.

 

Amid these developments, there have been calls by the US State Department and the UN to ensure there were fair and transparent elections. New Delhi has criticised these concerns as unacceptable interventions. The government has strongly refuted the concerns raised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, regarding the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in the country. Reacting to a recent statement made by a senior UN official regarding the country’s elections, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar asserted that he does not require the international organisation to inform him that the polls should be “free & fair.”

 

As the electoral landscape takes shape, the survey results suggest a resounding mandate in favour of the BJP-led NDA, paving the way for a historic victory in the upcoming general elections. Amid these predictions, ECI has banned the publication of exit polls between April 19 and June 1. 

 

To ensure maximum participation the EC and political parties are making efforts to promote voter registration, including awareness campaigns and the inclusion of younger candidates, have been ongoing. 

Vaishali Basu Sharma
Author is an analyst on Strategic and Economic Affairs. She has worked as a Consultant with the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) for nearly a decade. She tweets at @basu_vaishali
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