INDIA alliance
Leaders of the INDIA alliance in a file photo

2024 polls: With unclear poll narrative, INDIA bloc braces for Hindutva tsunami

To avoid a complete washout in the coming general elections, the Opposition needs to frame a people-centric narrative and a common minimum programme doubly quick

Inaugurating the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya on Monday (January 22), Prime Minister Narendra Modi has all but sounded the poll bugle for the BJP’s Lok Sabha re-election campaign. It is now for the Opposition, which is still bickering over the final contours of its INDIA formation despite fewer than three months to go before the polls, to offer an alternative narrative to the electorate that can challenge the emotive and polarising snare of the Ram Mandir.

It doesn’t matter that Modi, in his speech following the consecration of the Ram Lalla idol, did not name the BJP’s principal political rival, the Congress, or any of the other INDIA constituents, while reminding citizens of “a time when people said (building) the temple will set things ablaze (aag lag jayegi)” or when he misled his listeners by claiming that the long legal battle in the Ram Janmbhoomi title suit was “over the existence of Lord Ram”. The Prime Minister’s speech may have been to mark the consecration of a temple that has “finally ended 500 years of slavery” and “united Lord Ram with his devotees,” but its brazen political messaging cannot be ignored.

Shaping BJP’s electoral rhetoric

Much of what Modi said at the politico-religious jamboree that was the Ram Mandir inauguration is now expected to shape the electoral rhetoric of the BJP as it gets fully into poll mode following the presentation of his government’s vote-on-account little over a week from now.

Where does this leave all the Opposition parties who skipped Monday’s event, variously dubbing it politically motivated, against the Hindu scriptures or simply a vanity project of Modi and his colleagues in the wider RSS-BJP ecosystem?

The Opposition realises the agni-pariksha (trial by fire) it will face at the hustings once the formidable spin-doctoring machinery of the saffron combine and Modi’s oratorical flourish haul it over smouldering coals over the Ram Mandir issue. The edginess within the INDIA bloc manifested through Monday with several top leaders of the group’s constituents – from Congress’s Rahul Gandhi to Trinamool’s Mamata Banerjee and from AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal to Shiv Sena (UBT) chief Uddhav Thackeray – making up for their absence at Ayodhya by some display of their religiosity.

Opposition in disarray

The atheistic Left Front being the only exception to this brazen marshalling of faith for political gain, most prominent INDIA partners projected their ironic interpretations of what their avowed commitment to the Indian Constitution’s secular ideals looks like, as opposed to Modi’s political Hindutva.

Hours before the Ayodhya event, Rahul Gandhi, presently on his 6,700-km Manipur to Maharashtra Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, sat in protest in faraway Assam’s Nagaon after being denied entry to the Batadrava Than, the birthplace of Vaishnavite saint and social reformer Srimanta Sankaradeva. Banerjee offered prayers at Kolkata’s Kalighat temple before leading an all-faith padyatra, while Kejriwal’s AAP was busy organising Shobha Yatras of Lord Ram and hosting community kitchens all over Delhi. Most other Opposition leaders, too, have made it clear that they would visit the Ayodhya Ram Mandir sometime soon to seek the Hindu deity’s blessings.

Weaponising Hindutva

“This is one issue on which the Opposition has no option but to play the BJP’s game. We may disagree with the sentiments of Hindu chauvinism that the BJP has kicked up with the Ram Mandir inauguration, but we simply cannot ignore the fact that politically this is the most emotive issue in the country today. The BJP has weaponised Hindutva to such an extent that commitment to secularism now sounds like a gaali (abuse) and rest assured that Modi and the BJP won’t just stop pushing this narrative now because the temple has been inaugurated. The real push for their Hindu Rashtra narrative is only beginning now and Modi that clear today when he spoke of the temple’s inauguration as the dawn of a new era,” a senior Congress leader told The Federal.

Another Congress functionary from a Hindi-speaking state compared the hysteria over the temple to a “tsunami of majoritarian sentiments” and said the INDIA bloc “would be foolish to even attempt to counter or criticise it”. “Iska virodh kiya toh sab beh jayenge (if we oppose it, we will all be swept away),” this leader said.

No CMP in sight

The INDIA bloc, sources cutting across its constituents told The Federal, wants to go into the Lok Sabha poll battle with a “common minimum programme (CMP) that is based on livelihood issues” and “issues of social equality, financial inclusion and communal harmony”. However, the bloc has not been able to even initiate discussions on the framework of the CMP, so far, because seat-sharing agreements between its constituents are still far from sealed.

“All INDIA partners agree that the only way we can give some competition to the BJP is by putting up a united fight but for that to happen, we need to finalise our seat-sharing arrangements. It should have happened by now but the way things are, I doubt we will finalise these in each state before the end of this month. Only after we have the seat-sharing blueprint can we proceed with joint campaigns and a CMP. What is clear though is that whatever form our alliance may finally take, we will not be helping our cause by challenging Modi on issues like Ram Mandir or even Hindutva. We will have to be very cautious in how we frame our narrative; it has to be people-centric and talk about how we will improve their standard of living, socially or economically,” a Lok Sabha MP from Sharad Pawar’s faction of the NCP said.

INDIA bloc has its task cut out

The Congress and its INDIA partners have been pushing for a nationwide caste census, correcting India’s skewed economic policies that visibly favour a few corporate honchos over common citizens and a combination of promises that are rooted in the idea of India, as envisaged by the framers of the Constitution. However, the cocktail of majoritarian rage, nationalistic pride and freebies (recall how laabharthi entered India’s political and administrative lexicon) that Modi has been able to whip up in recent years to give the BJP its seemingly unending electoral buoyancy seems unassailable, at least for now, when juxtaposed against anything that the INDIA bloc has offered the electorate. The BJP’s clean sweep across the Hindi Heartland of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan was a testament to this.

With the Ram Mandir now delivered and promises of a Modi-fied and Modi-enabled Ram Rajya now blaring all around, the Opposition has a daunting task as it flounders through the INDIA seat-sharing talks ahead of the big electoral battle to seize control of Raisina Hill.

Read More
Next Story