The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

The inability to organize an effective opposition has all but gift-wrapped a third term for Narendra Modi.

On the verge of the Indian general election, the electorate’s gaze fixates on what is shaping up to be an epic political contest. The prevailing wisdom suggests a windfall for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is on the cusp of securing a third term. Modi’s aura persists despite the vortex of controversies encircling him and his government. Remarkably, a sense of optimism thrives amongst the electorate, one that venerates Modi himself, seemingly independent of his party’s machinery.

This phenomenon prompts an inquiry into the underpinnings of Modi’s robust public confidence. Is it the case that Modi has transcended the collective identity of his party, or do other elements contribute to this narrative? The electoral tableau before us warrants a deeper exploration of the forces at play.

Why are voters optimistic about Modi? From the agrarian belts to the urban precincts of India, a narrative unfolds through dialogues with both rural inhabitants and the educated citizenry: the Bharatiya Janata Party may be beleaguered by accusations of misrule and corruption, but there endures a palpable conviction in Modi’s dedication to rectify these grievances. This sentiment reaches its zenith in rural locales where Modi is lauded for the advent of government initiatives adorned with his stamp. The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana for housing and the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana for clean cooking fuel have translated into discernible benefits for the populace, thus cementing Modi’s stature as a figure that borders on the sacrosanct.

The association of such schemes with Modi’s name has significantly magnified his persona, propelling him beyond the realm of party politics. In the arena of media, a discernible pro-Modi tilt prevails, with accolades often eclipsing the achievements of his party. It’s postulated that Modi’s primary challenger is his precedent, a testament to the formidable self-image he has constructed.

Nevertheless, there lurks a potential hazard in this grand self-representation. Modi has assiduously fostered a depiction of himself as an extraordinary guardian of Indian tradition, a champion of Hinduism, and an influential international figure. Although this portrayal has undeniably been instrumental in his political rise, it bears the risk of over-embellishment should Modi internalize this portrayal too fully.

Modi has engendered an almost cult-like following within the Indian political sphere, a distinction that his political adversaries have failed to replicate. This cult of personality is a pivotal factor buttressing forecasts of Modi’s victory in the forthcoming elections, as he is perceived not merely as a political leader but as an emblematic force.

Modi’s advantage lies in the weak opposition. It is an acknowledged narrative that Narendra Modi has constructed an unparalleled political cult; yet, this is not the sole determinant of India’s political affections. A segment of the populace remains unconvinced of Modi’s exceptionalism, craving an alternative that remains elusive. Modi’s apparent supremacy is augmented by the opposition’s disorganization and discord. It is not merely Modi’s merit or policies that fortify his position; it is also the opposition’s incapacity to forge unity or present persuasive alternatives. This dynamic highlights the salience of Modi’s command and the schisms and weaknesses that mark the opposition.

The Indian political landscape is bereft of a leader with an all-encompassing national appeal, one who can mend regional rifts and steer divergent developmental agendas. The opposition’s failure to present such a figure bolsters Modi’s depiction as the sole architect capable of rallying the nation under a common banner of Hindutva.

The Indian National Congress, historically a dominant force, now appears rudderless, occasionally reaching for international lifelines in its struggle against the BJP. The paucity of decisive leadership is palpable; support for Rahul Gandhi wanes amidst ambivalence regarding his stance on national issues. Other opposition luminaries like Mamata Banerjee entertain national ambitions yet lack substantive political bases in their home territories. The opposition’s inability to strategize effectively, particularly at the national level, is laid bare in televised debates where they often appear bewildered, devoid of policy clarity and insight into pivotal matters.

Political tactician Prashant Kishor, once an ally of Modi, conjectured that the emergent Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (I.N.D.I.A.) might have posed a credible threat to the BJP had their coalition been marshaled earlier. Although united in their objective to dethrone Modi, the alliance is not without its internal dissonances. Contentious decisions loom, from selecting a prime ministerial nominee to allocating electoral districts. Crucially, the alliance requires a cogent counter-narrative to Modi’s portrayal of Hinduism and nationalism. Time is of the essence, yet decisiveness eludes them, exemplified by Nitish Kumar’s defection from the alliance back to the BJP-led coalition. This signals that the I.N.D.I.A. may be faltering at its foundation. Without a transformative agenda, Modi and the BJP’s continued reign appears inexorable.

As we anticipate the 2024 general election, Narendra Modi emerges as a commanding figure, buoyed by a wellspring of rural support and a magnified persona, carefully curated through government initiatives and media representation. Despite the volley of criticisms, his leadership seems largely unchallenged, with the opposition’s fragmentation only reinforcing his preeminence. The formation of alliances against him stumbles amid internal strife and a lack of a consolidated narrative. Consequently, Modi’s ascendancy to victory appears more and more a certainty, a testament to his political savvy as well as the convolutions confronting India’s democratic expanse.

H. M. Sabbir Hossain is an undergraduate student of International Relations at University of Chittagong, Bangladesh. He writes about international politics, specially focused on South Asia.