Why the BJP is smiling today
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is keenly watching the churn in India’s oppositional politics. On the one hand, it can see the implosion in the Congress. The battle within India’s Grand Old Party between those who are increasingly exasperated with what they see as a bleak future under the current leadership and those who believe that the future of the party rests in the Gandhi siblings taking full control of the party has intensified, symbolised by Captain Amarinder Singh’s announcement that he would quit the party. As both Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi assert authority and alienate established leaders, this battle will only intensify. On the other hand, the BJP can see the Trinamool Congress and Aam Aadmi Party’s attempts to establish a national footprint at the cost of the Congress.
The BJP has little to do with this — except that since it is the common target, how the dynamics in the Congress and between the Congress and the TMC and AAP evolve will shape the landscape for 2024. And it is in this context that the ruling party can see that its trump card — the leadership and appeal of Narendra Modi — will only stay intact. There is a range of structural explanations for the BJP’s dominance — from the rise of Hindutva to the party’s robust organisational machine, from the government’s welfare schemes to the interplay of urbanisation, caste and technology leading to a change in voting patterns. But at the core, the BJP’s voters — and even those voters who are disillusioned with the BJP — ask a simple question. If not Narendra Modi, then who?
In terms of principles, this is not the right question to ask in a parliamentary democracy. But both the 2014 and 2019 elections have shown that India is witnessing a presidential model in polls. As the Opposition battles it out internally, for the BJP, reinforcing and amplifying the question of the alternative has become much easier. Rahul Gandhi can be dismissed for mismanaging Punjab; Mamata Banerjee’s rise allows the BJP to play on urban India’s sense of her as a maverick; it also allows it to play up its messaging on her as a pro-Muslim leader. But beyond the specifics, the Opposition’s churn allows the BJP to portray Mr Modi as a stable hand at the wheel, even as all others are mired in the race to get inside the car.