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New Parliament, G20 stage, Ram temple: How BJP will set stage in 2023 for Modi 2024

What we are likely to see in 2023 is PM Narendra Modi portrayed as the Vishwa Guru. With India the president of the G-20, foreign policy is likely to drive BJP’s narrative next year.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the golden jubilee celebration of the North Eastern Council, in Shillong, Meghalaya, Sunday, Dec. 18. (PTI)
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New Parliament, G20 stage, Ram temple: How BJP will set stage in 2023 for Modi 2024
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The imposing Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai was lit like a bride in India’s Tricolours. So was the iconic Gateway of India. The streets of Mumbai had been cleaned up — at least for those three days when G-20 delegates of the Development Working group were meeting in the metropolis, hosted by India now the head of the G-20 group for a year.

Of course, critics were quick to point out that slums near the airport were hidden by large hoardings, as was done in Ahmedabad when Donald Trump visited India. But it did not take away from the beauty of the heritage buildings in India’s most resilient city — and a sense of feel-good it brought—even temporarily to its residents.

After their deliberations on issues of sustainable growth, the G-20 delegates were taken to the picturesque, 2000-year-old Kanheri caves, highlighting India’s linkages to the Buddhist world, not lost on the Japanese or the Chinese. By choosing the Taj Mahal hotel, the scene of terror attacks by terrorists from Pakistan in 2008, India wanted to emphasise, subtly, — and this too was not lost on the delegates — that terrorism remained the world’s collective challenge.

Mumbai earlier this month gave a foretaste of what is likely to follow in the coming year but on a grander scale. And as another year comes to a close, it’s time to look ahead, at the preparations the Narendra Modi-led BJP, and indeed the Opposition parties, are making for 2023 and for the big electoral battle that lies ahead in 2024.

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In the last years, we have seen Modi the Hindu hriday samrat, Modi the nationalist, undertaking a surgical strike after Pulwama, Modi the welfarist doling out free rations during Covid besides gas cylinders. Earlier, there was the Jan Dhan Yojana and a plethora of schemes which reached something, even small amounts, in the hands of many.

There is Modi the aspirationalist, who sells big dreams to make people feel good about themselves despite the economic distress they may face. The OBC Modi has not yet got full play. This, too, is expected in January 2023 with the judgment by Justice G Rohini in the ongoing case to decide the redistribution of quota within the OBC reservations—and it may help the most backward castes, being wooed by the BJP.

But what we are likely to see in 2023 is Modi portrayed as the Vishwa Guru. With India the president of the G-20, foreign policy is likely to drive BJP’s narrative next year. Though the leadership of G-20, a powerful group of industrialised nations and influential developing nations, is given by rotation, India has got it for the year 2023. Will this help in the run-up to the general elections due in mid-2024?

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It is an opportunity the ruling party has seized and the prime minister is pulling out all stops to make the September summit of the G-20 a significant milestone. Two hundred events are planned through the year all over the country to showcase its cultural heritage, its development, and spruce up its cities as well as tourist destinations; hopefully, they will increase the tourist footprints.

But what it is likely to do for sure is to add to an already larger-than-life image of the prime minister who will be leading from the front, hosting world leaders from powerful nations, including the US, China, Russia, France, the UK, France and Germany.

The summit will be watched with interest by the world. But it will be watched even more closely by Indians at home. As it is, many, particularly young Indians, say they are attracted to Modi because he has enhanced India’s image globally.

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It may be wishful thinking but it is possible that the ruling party may scale down the contentious part of its agenda in the run-up to the G-20 summit—like ED raids against opponents and aggressive attacks on the opposition, which have done its image damage to show that India is a vibrant and functioning democracy.

There are three events around which the BJP narrative is likely to emerge in 2023. These are the opening of the new Parliament due in February-March, hopefully in the second half of the Budget session of Parliament; the G-20 summit in September and then the opening of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, most likely at the beginning of 2024. Today, the mandir signifies not so much the building of a long sought-after temple in Ayodhya; its message is more about Modi — that he delivers what he says he will do. This, too, will be part of the narrative.

Interspersed between these events are state elections. The BJP is on shaky ground in Karnataka due to go to the polls in the summer of 2023. Since the G- 20 presidency lasts until December 2023, the BJP is bound to encash the newly created fervour for Modi after the September summit to build momentum for the crucial winter elections due in Telangana and the north Indian states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The BJP has a high stake in all these elections. These will set the tempo for the Big Battle in 2024.

From the big picture to the details, the party has been concentrating its attention on 144 Lok Sabha seats in the last six months. These are seats where the BJP came second or third in the 2019 elections. Union ministers were put in charge of these constituencies, under the watchful eye of Amit Shah and JP Nadda, to examine the difficulties and suggest what the party could do to win these seats. Most of these constituencies are in the southern states and in West Bengal, where the party is not strong.

But victory in some of these seats could offset the loss, due to anti-incumbency, of some of the 303 seats it won last time. The party has added 16 more seats to this list which were won by Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal(U) and he is now on the other side of the fence. It is focusing as much on micro-management as on the macro sweeps.

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What could upset the BJP’s well-laid plans is China, Covid and the economy. China is trying to spoil the copybook with skirmishes in Tawang and the border. With the abrupt end to China’s zero-Covid policy, the upsurge is being watched carefully lest it yield a new variant. How does the economic recovery play out in 2023 given the looming recession in the US?

And what does all this mean for the Opposition? That will be next week’s column. For the moment, the Opposition can take comfort in the dictum politics rarely moves as per a script.

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Neerja Chowdhury, Contributing Editor, The Indian Express, has covered the last 10 Lok Sabha elections.

First published on: 23-12-2022 at 18:00 IST
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