View: Congress’ minority empowerment vs BJP’s development pitch shapes 2024 Lok Sabha polls - Hindustan Times

View: Congress’ minority empowerment vs BJP’s development pitch shapes 2024 Lok Sabha polls

Apr 25, 2024 08:12 PM IST

Opposition Congress leans on wealth redistribution and minority empowerment, while BJP highlights PM Modi's leadership and economic policies.

After a relatively staid first round of polls, the campaigning for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections caught fire with the Opposition Congress firing salvos of wealth distribution, inheritance tax and including Muslims in the OBC category for reservation in Karnataka to protect its minority vote bank, which is key to defend its 15 seats in Communist-ruled Kerala and increase the numbers from one seat in Karnataka. While the entire Kerala goes to polls on April 26, half of Karnataka seats are up for grabs on Friday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a public meeting in favour of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Shivmangal Singh Tomar for the second phase of the Lok Sabha polls, in Morena on Thursday.(BJP)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a public meeting in favour of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Shivmangal Singh Tomar for the second phase of the Lok Sabha polls, in Morena on Thursday.(BJP)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi fired the first round when he picked on the INDIA bloc manifesto on wealth distribution and accused the Opposition of having plans to redistribute the wealth from the majority Hindu to its Muslim vote bank.

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After this, the floodgates opened with BJP pointing to then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s December 9, 2006 speech at the National Development Council meeting in Vigyan Bhawan where he said that innovative plans to ensure that minorities, particularly the Muslim minority, are empowered to share equitably in the fruits of development.

Narendra Modi was present in the audience as Gujarat Chief Minister. If that was not all, a key Congress NRI advisor talked about imposing inheritance tax in India on the lines of the US even as the Congress state government included Muslims in the OBC reservation category to woo the substantive minority vote bank in the poll-bound state. The Congress seems to have ended up giving out a message that wealth creation is bad and those who generate it will be taxed heavily for its radical minority empowerment schemes if the party comes to power.

The concept of redistribution of wealth is Nehruvian and along with nationalisation found electoral resonance when India was a 30 billion-dollar economy. While the world has moved on after the failure of communism and socialism of Hugo Chavez, the grand old party is still stuck in the past.

Read: In letter to PM Modi, Mallikarjun Kharge seeks time to explain Cong's ‘Nyay Patra’

Today, India is a nearly 4 trillion dollar economy and the fastest-growing large economy in the world. The youth and the neo-middle class want India to become the 3rd largest economy rather than regress into failed socialism in the past decades.

With Congress leader Rahul Gandhi harping on caste census, the Opposition party’s strategy is quite clear. It wants to consolidate the Muslim vote in its favour through the Marxist interpretation of wealth distribution in the name of social justice and divide the Hindu vote against the BJP-led NDA by playing on the caste angle.

While the Opposition wants to drag PM Modi into the mess of caste and religion politics, the electorate is still searching for the missing PM candidate of the INDI alliance with members of the alliance fighting bitterly against each other in states like Kerala and West Bengal.

Simply put, it is not a strategy that can win Congress the 2024 Lok Sabha elections but can protect its 2019 seat numbers from further electoral erosion. The young aspiring India is in favour of the country becoming number 3 global economic power and is totally opposed to the redistribution of wealth from productive to non-production population under the garb of minority empowerment and social justice.

In sharp contrast, the BJP has a tall leader in PM Narendra Modi with clear-cut national and political objectives. Rather than wait for the INDI alliance to indulge in horse trading and political compromises to throw up a leader post June 4 in the unlikely scenario of the Opposition coming to power, the NDA has an efficient clean administrator in Narendra Modi with credibility, experience and phenomenal track record on governance, national security and global diplomacy.

The BJP-led NDA has the big vision of making India a developed country by 2047 through a 24X7 working Prime Minister, the Opposition Congress vision is limited to regressive far-left concepts in the name of social empowerment and justice. Even their political attacks on PM Modi are personal or through tired tropes. The basic idea is to drag the BJP leader down to caste and religion and take the public view away from the development agenda of PM Modi.

Although money power, infighting, and poor ticket distribution is endemic to all political parties during elections, what will separate the winner from the loser is public attraction towards a national leader and his or her policies for economic empowerment and growth. The 2024 election results will depend on who the public wants India to be led with for fulfillment of its aspirations.

Even though backed by a strong track record of the past 10 years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also taken the political fight seriously to the Opposition camp by tearing apart the wealth distribution scheme. He has bowled a political googly at the Opposition by saying that the majority Hindu community will be robbed under the wealth distribution and minority empowerment scheme to feed the Muslims and the illegal immigrants.

By invoking the word ‘mangalsutra’ in his political rhetoric, the PM has reached out to the masses directly and women voters in particular as it also counters the Opposition narrative on Shakti in Hinduism. To top it all, he as well as Home Minister Amit Shah have made it clear that the four per cent job reservation for Muslims will be set aside and distributed among the OBCs, Dalits and SC-ST Communities.

As far as Karnataka elections are concerned, the BJP is all set to achieve numbers close to 2019 despite money power, political machinations and minority vote bank consolidation of the ruling party in the state. With 14 South Karnataka seats all set to go to polls on April 26, the NDA ally, the JD (S), led by nonagenarian former prime minister H D Deve Gowda are putting their heart out to help the NDA come out tops in the erstwhile old Mysuru area.

Fact is that even the BJP leadership has admiration for the Vokkaliga leader Deve Gowda, who has made a point to campaign for the alliance notwithstanding his advanced age. He is force-multiplying into PM Narendra Modi’s huge popularity in Karnataka even though it will be a touch and go for the NDA in Chitradurga and Chikballapur constituencies.

The key drivers in Karnataka election is PM Modi’s popularity, his development agenda, strong alliance vote in key pockets, anti-incumbency against the state government and also recent violence giving additional push to the Hindu narrative. The joining of hands of the Lingayat clan of B S Yediyurappa and the Vokkaliga clan of H D Deve Gowda and, add to this, the massive public support to PM Modi should ensure that the BJP keeps its 2019 seats numbers largely intact with odd aberrations.

In Kerala, it is quite evident that the BJP will gain in vote share but the big question is whether PM Modi’s popularity translates into seats. The BJP is in an electoral contest in five constituencies— Thiruvananthapuram, Attingal, Pathanamthitta, Thrissur and Palakkad. But the party has a real chance in Rajeev Chandrasekhar in Thiruvananthapuram, V Muraleedharan in Attingal and Suresh Gopi in Thrissur.

BJP’s Anil Antony from Pathanamthitta and C Krishna Kumar from Palakkad is fighting hard with a 50-50 chance but a state with a 26 per cent Muslim population and 18 per cent Christian population will be a tough nut to crack even for a leader with national popularity like Narendra Modi.

While the BJP numbers will remain largely intact in the second phase with BJP-ruled states like MP, Maharashtra, Manipur, Rajasthan, Tripura, UP going to polls along with three seats in BJP-rising West Bengal, PM Modi and his party as in the past has a charted a plan to maintain the electoral tempo in the General elections till the last day. Despite having a strong development and economic record, PM Modi and the BJP is not afraid to play the street card to ensure that no barb from the Opposition remains unanswered.

The Islamists engineered the Rameswaram cafe blast and the brutal killing of a college-going daughter of a Congress corporator apart from rising radicalization fueled by Gulf money coming from north Kerala into South Karnataka has made internal security a key issue in the Southern State as it is still the preferred destination of global companies.

As the state is part of the Chennai-Bengaluru defence corridor, the electorate and the global companies will need assurance of internal security from the Centre as well as the State. With PM Modi making NDA zero tolerance to terror policy very clear with the concurrent commitment to take the fight to the terrorists wherever in the world, the BJP is on a good wicket in the second round with phase III of polls looking even better with core Hindu states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, MP and UP going to polls.

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    Author of Indian Mujahideen: The Enemy Within (2011, Hachette) and Himalayan Face-off: Chinese Assertion and Indian Riposte (2014, Hachette). Awarded K Subrahmanyam Prize for Strategic Studies in 2015 by Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA) and the 2011 Ben Gurion Prize by Israel.

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