Indian election: As Narendra Modi juggernaut rolls, Rahul Gandhi tries to halt it

By Mayank Chhaya-

Mayank Chhaya

As India begins its gigantic election process, the best that is being expected of its diffident opposition alliance is that they deliver a sobriety check to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) juggernaut.

In an atmosphere where even some of the most strident critics of Modi and the BJP say with a measure of resignation that his victory is a fait accompli and the only question is by how much, there are some discernible signs of undercurrents of renewed vigor among his challengers. The main challenger, of course, being the Indian National Congress’s former president Rahul Gandhi who exudes a measure of self-assurance that he believes results from insights into the people’s minds gained from his two cross-country marches.

On the one hand, Modi is projecting to win 370 seats for his party on its own and over 400 along with its allies called the 38-member National Democratic Alliance (NDA). On the other, their opposition the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) consisting of 26 opposition parties, hope to unseat the prime minister.

Currently, the BJP has 303 seats in the 543-member parliament and 352 seats with its coalition partners.

The BJP’s only direct national rival, the Indian National Congress, once the unassailable political force for over five decades, has only 52 seats. Most reasonable political observers say that if the Congress manages to win even 100 seats on its own this time around, it should be considered an assertive comeback.

Considering that between the two opposing camps there more than 60 parties, a majority of them regional ones with limited political footprints, even this parliamentary election like most other previous ones is expected to be a complex and convoluted affair in terms of its party-specific expediencies.

Starting from now right until May end, India will be in the grip of relentless electioneering expected to be marked by recriminations among rivals that would often degenerate into unvarnished name-calling despite the code of conduct being enforced by the Election Commission. Both Modi and Gandhi are known to take their gloves off—Gandhi more in response to Modi—as they both rally their allies. Speeches bordering on hate are expected notwithstanding Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar’s unambiguous warning.

Kumar challenged the media misgivings about bias within the commission in favor of the ruling party while dealing with problematic speeches. At a news conference to announce the election schedules, he said, “Wherever there will be a case of violation against anyone, no matter how renowned the politician may be, we will take action against him or her.”

It is often not remembered that right from the very first general election in 1951-1952 India has always been conducted the world’s largest such exercise. That year there were over 170 million eligible voters. Every election in the last 73 years has been progressively bigger with 2024 accounting for nearly 969 million voters, 215.8 million under the age of 30.

There are several issues before the voters, including high unemployment, persistent inflation, a variety of protests topped off by the country’s politically consequential farmers and a distressed population of over 800 million Indians who receive free ration. While the government often highlights free ration to nearly 60 percent of the population as an accomplishment, economists argue that the very fact that such a vast number of people have to get by on free ration means the economy has not worked for a majority of people.

The result of the election is scheduled to be announced on June 4 after the last phase of voting ends on June 1, having started on April 19 and spread over seven phases.

Prime Minister Modi has already cast himself as a foregone winner having asked his cabinet ministers to prepare a plan for the first 100 days. The opposition though treats such sanguine confidence derisively saying there are unpleasant surprises waiting for him.

It is a measure of how unsure even some of the strongest supporters of INDIA are that they would be content if the alliance managed to just reduce the BJP’s parliamentary numbers from the current 303 seats by between 50 and 70.


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