Likely Hatrick to Modi, But Tough Inning Ahead

Straight Talk


K B Jandial

As the curtain finally falls on one of India's fiercely contested and longest-spanning 7-phase Lok Sabha elections in recent history, the electoral narratives have continuously shifted, with counter-narratives following each phase. This volatility has been reflected in the fluctuating predictions of the 'satta bazars' like Phalodi, making the outcome uncertain, even though Prime Minister Modi began the campaign as a strong favourite and still poised to achieve a hatrick, increased number of Modi-haters notwithstanding.

Despite fighting each other in some States, the I.N.D.I. Alliance managed to maintain pre-poll unity, upholding ‘gathabandhan dharma.’ It is perceived to be driven by their shared hatred of Modi. Conversely, senior Congress leaders defected to the BJP, anticipating better prospects, abandoning the perceived sinking ship. There are no qualms on ideology which no longer matters in Indian politics. The primary consideration is winnability and the potential to undermine opposition parties. Despite it, the I.N.D.I. Alliance, especially the Congress has proved a serious challenger to Modi.

The BJP's campaign which started with a catchy slogan "Is baar 400 paar," was solely dependent on PM Modi’s popular image and widespread development and welfare programs benefiting millions across the country, negating anti-incumbency. However, as the election progressed, slogan took a back seat and the campaign was overshadowed by critical issues, some of which were perceived to be threat to India's unity, harmony, progress and the "basic structure of the Constitution," a doctrine established by the Supreme Court in the Kesavananda Bharati case in 1973.

In every election, political leaders often make sweeping promises to win votes, with their speeches having caste and religious overtones, and pledges for freebies, regardless of the state's resources. The objective is simply to lure voters and gain power. It has become common practice to distort opponents' statements to suit one's agenda, creating fear among specific voter segments. Election manifestos are typically overlooked during campaigns and seldom fully implemented on coming to power. However, the Congress manifesto has been one of the most scrutinized, partly due to criticism of PM Modi and the BJP.

Samvidhan has become an electoral plaything in the 2024 election campaign. Leaders have created fear about the alleged BJP plan to overturn the Constitution, promising to rescue it from Modi. A narrative was crafted suggesting that the BJP would replace the Constitution with one based on Hindutva if it secured more than 400 seats. While it blamed RSS for working for change of Samvidhan, it quoted BJP’s MP, Anantkumar Hegde who had said that BJP needed 400 seats in Lok Sabha to “rewrite” the Constitution. The I.N.D.I. Alliance accused the BJP of planning to end reservations, a sensitive issue that resonated with the millions of beneficiaries and a strong vote bank of BJP.

The BJP countered it and charged the Congress to plan snatching away the reservation benefits from SCs, STs and OBCs, to give it to the Muslim community, citing the Karnataka model. The Constitution does not permit religion-based reservation and the BJP would not allow any party to reduce the share of SC, ST & OBCs by including Muslims in its fold. Despite being aware of Constitutional provisions, the charges and counter charges continued.
Can the Constitution be changed? Can reservation be taken away? Can reservation be given on religious basis? These issues are critical for the survival of Indian democracy.
The possibility of changing the Constitution or altering reservation policies is a serious concern for Indian democracy. Article 368 empowers Parliament to amend the Constitution, but the Supreme Court has restricted its legislative power by the historic judgment in Kesavananda Bharati case in 1973, which introduced the doctrine of the 'basic structure’. The judgment has barred the Parliament to amend this ‘basic structure’, and any attempt to do so would likely be struck down by the independent and proactive Apex Court. The present-day Apex Court is not like that of the mid-seventies when the Constitution Bench had the impertinence to uphold Indira Gandhi’s draconian Emergency.

This is not possible today. No Govt would take away reservations which, in fact, have been enlarged with inclusion of OBC and period extended beyond the initial ten years’ time. It has been made almost a permanent feature of the Constitution by successive Govts, not because of any concerns on the conditions of weaker sections but as a huge vote bank. Won’t it be more practical and fairer to link this reservation with economic criteria with consideration of caste or religion? But then vote bank politics ends.

Fear-mongering, lies, and propaganda have characterized the 2024 election campaign. The BJP accused the INDI Alliance, if comes to power, of intending to revive Article 370, scrap the CAA Act, and lock the Shri Ram Lalla temple in Ayodhya, drawing parallels to the Rajiv Gandhi Govt overturning the Supreme Court ruling in 1985 in the Shah Bano case, which BJP characterised as appeasement politics. Such claims, while politically charged, are unrealistic but effective for campaign rhetoric.

The promise of caste census is another dangerous electoral plank. It has the potential to further divide the country and the Hindus on caste lines when we should have removed division on caste lines for a better society. Along with the caste census, Rahul Gandhi’s fired a divisive slogan of ‘jitni aabadi, utna haq' (rights proportional to the population strength). In fact, it is not the brain wave of Rahul Gandhi but a rehash of BSP founder, Kanshi Ram’s famous slogan of early eighties, “Jiski jitni sankhya bhaari, uski utni hissedari (Share proportionate to the population strength of the community). The Congress, when in power for decades, did not give any attention to this ‘vision’ of Kanshi Ram which has now become its election war cry. The Congress too had found it dangerous for the country but now, it felt that it could be a road to power by distancing OBCs from Modi’s influence.

Initially, this strategy was also opposed by Abhishek Singhvi. His twitter post read, “Equality of opportunity is never the same as equality of outcomes. People endorsing #jitniabadiutnahaq have to first completely understand the consequences of it. It will eventually culminate into majoritarianism,” It was embarrassing for Congress and Singhvi was prevailed upon to withdraw it.

Caste Census has a long history, starting from 1881 and ending in 1931. After Independence, it was thoroughly debated by national leadership led by Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru decided to move away from this divisive approach to promote national unity. In fact, the debate on the first post- Independence census centred around caste as a parameter and collection of data for affirmative action. Nehruvian leadership finally decided not to conduct caste-wise census except for the SCs & STs. It is intriguing that the proud descendants of Pt Nehru and the same Congress party is now campaigning for caste-based Census.
Whenever India is ruled by weak dispensations, such sensitive demands are accepted for remaining in power. That is why a majority Govt is always preferred for political stability. Morarji Desai’s Janata Party Govt had to set up the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Commission under B P Mandal on 1st January 1979. It led to widespread protests and counter-protests, marred by violence. Youth felt that it affected their job opportunities while others argued that the existence of inequalities among people of different castes necessitated job reservations. Some found it unfair to deny equality of opportunity to those who did not belong to a backward community. There was also a feeling that this would weaken national unity.

While the report was submitted in December 1980, it gathered dust for a decade and came back into focus during another coalition Govt of V P Singh who accepted the recommendations of the Mandal Commission in August 1990 and created another category of reservation beneficiaries Other Backward Classes (OBC). This led to widespread protests and violence including 200 self-immolations. However, the Supreme Court upheld the OBC quota.

Just to get votes and return to power, they are seeking extension of reservation in defence forces, judiciary, Research institutions and corporate sector. The promise of extending reservation to defence forces, judiciary, research institutions, and the corporate sector has sparked concerns. Day is not far off when non-OBC will demand reservation. While economically and socially backward families deserve Govt support to progress but enlarging the scope of reservation is bound to have disastrous consequences.
While the nation needs to be strongly unified, such moves would reinforce the caste system in India for which it earned a bad name world over. This has been the major roadblock in unity, harmony, and progress of India. Despite 75 years of independence, poverty persisted, and the scheduled category population remained socially, educationally, and economically disadvantaged. The focus should have been on individual rights and equal opportunities for all citizens, rather than categorizing people based on caste identities.

Should not accountability be enforced of successive Govts for their failure and cheating the masses for not bringing them out of their mould? They only made political rhetoric and befooled the gullible people. The rulers only used the poverty, and social and economic backwardness of people as their vote bank without sincerity to address the cause in 75 years.

The alarming proposal for a wealth survey and potential redistribution further added to the electoral turbulence. To cap it, a proposal for wealth tax was also talked about. The spectre of wealth confiscation and redistribution, reminiscent of failed socialist experiments, generated anxiety among corporate and middle-class constituents. Modi's counter of potential seizure of personal wealth, though criticized, highlighted the underlying economic anxieties driving the electoral narrative.

While Dr Manmohan Singh is credited to open the economy to private investment and consequent profit, now the Congress seems to be overturning his laudable initiative. It has pressed the alarming button for Corporates and even the well-to-do middle-class families. It may not end with Adani, Ambani and their likes. While Modi’s utterances of possible seizure of mangalsutra have not been received well but once the surveys are conducted of personal wealth, ‘Istridan’ may not find exemption.

If the private or even corporate wealth is nationalised to take away their wealth, why would the corporate sector or moneyed people invest in India and create wealth? In that eventuality, let the Govt. controls everything and prepares a pattern for equal distribution of public resources among the have nots. All these things would take India backward which could support the enemy's agenda.

If Modi gets absolute majority, which he will in any case, as predicted by surveys, his third inning may not be comfortable as the serious divisive issues flagged in the election campaign may not die down even. The united opposition may ignite and coordinate agitations like that of farmers, creating serious impediments in implementation of the guarantees. In his third term, Modi needs to function as a Statesman rather than BJP leader to steer India to his vision. He must transform his public image of an uncompromising ‘one man army’ (which opposition calls as Dictator) to a strong leader who could carry along even opposition and all sections of population including Muslim, for “achhe din.”

The Author is a retired IAS officer,feedback:-

Disclaimer: The views, observations and opinions expressed in above write up of KIP News are strictly author’s own.Kashmir Independent Press ( News does not take any onus or liability for the veracity, accuracy, validity, completeness, suitability of any of information in the above given write up. The information, facts or figures appearing in the write up in no way manifest the position, standpoint or stance of Kashmir Independent Press ( and the does not assume any encumbrance or answerability of the same. All disputes are subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of competent Courts and Forums in Jammu City Only)

Kashmir Independent Press(