India Elections 2024 (Part II) – OpEd


Decoding political fortunes. Congress has obliged ruling BJP by releasing a vision-less manifesto document 

The countdown to the mammoth and magnificent exercise of close to one billion people voting to elect their government has commenced. In less than ten days from now, in seven phases, from April 19 to June 1, one seventh of the world’s population will be addressed and wooed by political parties. The sheer numbers are so incredible that it sets one thinking about the predictability of such a contest.

With India having gained importance in the global arena, the world is looking at India with enough interest. Team Modi is batting on the planks of Hindutva and development, whereas the fragile INDIA alliance (a political alliance of the main opposition party Indian National Congress and over two dozen regional parties)  lacks vision and was unable to even capture the imagination of the electorate with a decent vision document which they call their ‘manifesto’.

Congress downslide continues

Two months after everyone thought the INC was on a recovery roll, a series of faux pas by their top leaders have proved everyone wrong.

The oldest political party of India is confronting its most serious crisis in its electoral history since 1951. From 400 plus MPs in Lok Sabha in 1984, the current number of parliamentarians, including the 30 in Rajya Sabha, is just 80. Never before in the history of the party, has the Congress fallen below 100 seats in both houses of Parliament put together. 

Since the 2019 debacle in the general elections, look at the free fall it had in various state assembly elections. In the last round of assembly elections, the ruling party swept the three Hindi heartland states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan in a dominant electoral show and set the trend for its downslide in the general elections. In these assembly elections, the Congress drew consolation from an impressive win in the southern state of Telangana, denying the regional BRS party a hat-trick. It was the only state they won.

That was the background. Now, let’s move on to the current scenario. 

INC’s Nyaya Patra is a “vision-less” manifesto 

The Document for Justice (INC’s Vision Document for the elections) also titled ‘Nyaya Patra’ is a joke in the name of making a pitch for the party’s political revival, given the clarity and gusto with which the Narendra Modi-led BJP has prepared for this election. Compare Modi’s guarantees to the poorly written 25 guarantees being offered in the Congress manifesto under categories such as justice for youth, women, farmers, workers and for equity. The focus, according to INC, is social justice, economy and the primacy of constitutional institutions. The most significant political promise is to remove the 50% cap on reservation for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes (OBC) and conduct a nation-wide caste census. It was the worst step that the Congress has taken, while knowing very well that the BJP which was earlier seen as an upper caste party has now systematically expanded its base by offering inclusive incentives and growth to the lower castes. Many other promises have been made, including a self-regulation regime for the media and a law to preserve the freedom of the Internet.

An unconditional cash transfer of ₹1 lakh a year to every poor family under the Mahalakshmi scheme, legal right to the minimum support price (MSP), and the right to health with cashless insurance of up to ₹25 lakh under a universal health scheme, the right to apprenticeship with an annual stipend of ₹1 lakh, one-time writing off of all educational loans including unpaid interest and a lot more is on the platter. 

Whether all this adds up to a new vision that stands out in comparison with that of the BJP, is the question. The Congress should have displayed more imagination and grit in its manifesto. 

Congress should have offered to create an “employment revolution”

There is absolutely nothing in this document that offers hope for the youth and promises to secure their future. The Congress seems to have forgotten that it was this fraction of the voters that brought Modi to power in 2014 after employment numbers had plunged in the last three years of the UPA rule, after the RBI’s precipitous increase in interest rates in the middle of a global recession. Modi took advantage of this and offered to create 20 million jobs a year, which is why 42 per cent of the youth voters in the age group of 18-30 voted for him in 2014 and branded him as a visionary leader. Today, if the India alliance wishes to turn the tables on the ruling party, it should have offered a credible assurance that it can and will create an “employment revolution” and will create 25 million secure jobs for the youth, which with the multiplier effect would mean a hundred million jobs over the next few years across the country. 

Kharge – The Rubber Stamp President

The Congress could solve one criticism they constantly faced of being a Nehru-Gandhi party- they elected a new president who isn’t from the Gandhi family; but for all practical purposes, and going by the last few weeks’ performance, the appointment of Mallikarjun Kharge has been a disaster.

Despite having passed the baton on to Kharge in October 2022, the Gandhis continue to rule the roost and Kharge has become the butt of ridicule with BJP addressing him as a ‘rubber stamp president’.

Inability to set any narrative against Modi 

It isn’t as if the ruling party doesn’t make its share of mistakes, but the Congress fails to take advantage of any of these lapses. Communication between senior leaders and party workers is at a very low ebb with disillusionment looming large on their faces. On the other hand, BJP has a set of suave and intelligent techies handling the narratives and burning the midnight oil to continuously monitor and keep the situation under control. Use of social media has been working to the advantage of the Modi led government since they swept to power. Complacence has never set in and everyday is considered to be more important than the previous. There is a clear cut hierarchy in this group and not a minute is lost in setting the narrative right where required. 

They have only one eye-catcher and star campaigner, Priyanka 

A timely mainstream political launch for Priyanka could have buoyed the prospects of the sinking INC ship. There is no denying that Priyanka has more charisma and connect with the crowds and that she could have been a challenger. Priyanka has in the past been billed as “Indira reincarnated”. Many in the Congress had hoped that an aggressive Priyanka will take on Modi directly in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, something Rahul Gandhi did but without success. Senior leaders have been confessing behind closed doors that she should have been the leader and not the cheerleader. 

Congress underestimation of rivals & myopic political understanding. 

Their number one problem has been man management or the problem of losing their big names. Ghulam Nabi Azad, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sushmita Dev, Jiten Prasada, RPN Singh, Himanta Biswa Sarma, Kuldeep Bishnoi, and Kapil Sibal .. the list is unending. These are just some of the people who felt insecure and neglected. In most of the cases, Congress dismissed their exit as a “drama of convenience” saying that they were all leaders with limited public influence. In reality, however, many of the leaders became significant when they crossed over to the rival team. 

Take it or leave it, there is in reality no contest. 
Love him, or loathe him, Modi is here to stay.

Manoranjana Gupta

Manoranjana Gupta is a Journalist, TV opinion leader, and a Special Advisor for GDKP in India, at the Center for Digital Future, Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism under the University of Southern California.

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