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Invincible, Modi 'taller' than BJP, RSS: An opportunity for Congress beyond 2024?

By NS Venkataraman* 

With the announcement of poll schedule for the 2024 parliamentary election, there is palpable excitement and expectation amongst the countrymen  about the shape of things to happen in India after the  results of the election would be announced. There is also speculation abroad about the future course of developments in India.
With around 970 million people in India registered as voters, the forthcoming 2024 election would go down in history as the largest democratic election exercise in the world.  One expects that the polls would be conducted with  reasonable level of fairness, dignity  and with people’s enthusiastic  participation, as the process of conducting elections  in India over the last several decades have attained  certain  level of  perfection.

Theme for 2024 election

What is unique about this election is that the poll theme has been focused on one person, Narendra Modi,  who has been the Prime Minister for the last ten years. He is fighting polls amidst the perception that under  his leadership,  there have been  considerable achievements on industrial and economic front  in India. Also, the view is strong that under him
 there have been  visible efforts to prioritise  historical traditions, culture  and value system of Hindu religion. He banks on more than 75% of Indian population, which is Hindu, even as the concept of secularism is being subjected to closer scrutiny.
Modi’s leadership seeks  to show itself as  Hindu at every opportunity, which has been questioned by opposition political parties, calling him as non-secular.  The opening of Ram temple in Ayodhya  with much fanfare and with Modi personally acting as chief priest, and his participation in inauguration of a massive temple in UAE, have been criticised as indication of  Modi’s lack of commitment to the principles of secularism. 
However,  Modi's supporters argue,  secularism does not prevent anyone, whether Prime Minister or anyone else, from being a follower of a particular religion and exhibit his religious fervour. 
At the same time, it is imperative, according to the principles of secularism,  that no one should be critical of other religions. On the basis of such principle, it is suggested by Modi's supporters, he is committed to the principles of secularism, as he has  also  visited churches and mosques on certain occasions -- which suggests that the criticism of Modi being not secular is unfair and condemnable.
Modi supporters also highlight how several political parties in India seek to prioritise the importance of minority religions as  part of  strategy for strengthening  their vote bank. They claim, sections of leadership of  minority communities have been targeting to expand their religions’ population strength by encouraging conversions. This conversion practices have been checked to some extent by the Modi government,  and this has upset the leadership of minority communities, who  directly or indirectly are asking the people belonging to their religion to vote against Modi.
Meanwhile, several  pre-election surveys have predicted overwhelming majority for Modi in the forthcoming election, and in all probability, Modi would stay as the Prime Minister of India till 2029.
The question, however, is as to what would be the impact of Modi’s leadership in India during the next five years. Modi, who seems to be in the peak of health in spite of his age, 73, and claims to work for  around  18 hours a day, is likely to continue the same policies, programmes and priorities that he followed and practiced  during the last ten years.
There is likely to be  spectacular corporate  growth in the next five years in under Modi’s stewardship amidst greater stress on utilising and adopting modern technology practices. Modi would reach out to advanced countries for  technological cooperation, telling their lesders, it would be a win win situation for India as well as them.
In all this, it is said, as a person, Modi appears to have no personal interests to target  or family interest to boast about. But, the fact is, he has sense of personal ego, as he would desire to be known in the future history of India as one of the most dynamic Prime Ministers that India had with national pride and global outlook.
Modi would  continue to protect his image as a strong  Prime Minister claiming to be a votary of national pride,  patriotic fervour, courage of conviction and commitment to the national cause. To his level best, he would   try to maintain   his popular image in the country at every opportunity and retain his strong popular base.
Today, it is well recognised that no political leader  in India matches Modi on any scale. Modi would try  to keep this  scale gap between him and other political leaders,  both in the opposition ranks as well as in his own political party.   In other words, he would continue to aim to remain  “bigger”  than his own political party, BJP, and its social wing, RSS, and all other political parties in India. 

What future for Congress?

 Apart from BJP,  the Congress is the only other  significant national party in India. Unfortunately, the party has gained an image  over the years  as a party controlled by the Sonia family, unlike BJP,  which is not family or dynasty controlled. If the Congress were to emerge to challenge BJP in 2029 election, it has to undergo considerable structural change  and procedural change in its style of functioning.
The basic requirement is that   the Congress should be able to get rid of control of the Sonia family in letter and spirit, as  such control has let down the party at national level  and it has given a negative image as a  family controlled party.  The Congress  needs a new leadership and one doubts whether Sonia family would allow this to happen. 
In any case, with the drubbing that the Congress is likely to  receive in 2024 election, there is bound to be some upheaval  at different levels in the party and Sonia’s leadership would be challenged. There is bound to be internal turmoil in the Congress in the next one or two years and, perhaps, something good will happen for the party.
The time for introspection and new leadership would emerge. With Modi unlikely to be continuing in political sphere after 2029, the rejuvenated Congress party could come on its own and even attain power in the 2029 parliamentary election, if the emerging leadership of the party can see the writing on the wall.

Whither communist parties?

The communist parties in India, which was once considered as a national level party,  appears to have lost its sheen over the years which is unfortunate.  This has happened due to the ego of the leaders of the party, which has resulted in the party being split. Today, communist parties are conspicuous by lack of sense of direction. Alignment with other political parties with no common principles  have eroded the party’s image as a principled party.
 Communists too  can emerge as a significant counter force for Modi’s leadership, if it can get the benefit of newer leadership which can reorient the priorities  based on current scenario, without sacrificing the basic philosophy of fighting against oppression and inequalities. It has to necessarily get rid of some of its obsessions. There is lot of scope for them without being bogged down with outdated strategies.
---
*Trustee, Nandini Voice For The  Deprived, Chennai

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