The Rozgar Mela, promise of 10 lakh government jobs, the increased reliance on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity in the party’s campaign, have all been measures taken by the BJP in anticipation of the need to fight back on the economic front.
The road to 2024 will have crucial pit stops this winter in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. Sources in the party said that the task is cut out. The party has to contend with an Aam Aadmi Party that is proving a fast learner; Rahul Gandhi’s Yatra, which continues to draw crowds 50 days after he took off; and the possibility of Opposition parties coming together to forge coalitions. While none of these may amount to enough of a challenge in terms of electoral numbers, the BJP understands well the sheer power of perception.
On inflation, party leaders argue that rising prices are a global phenomenon linked to factors largely out of the government’s control. Some also point out that unemployment never has a direct impact on electoral results; which was also seen in the recent Uttar Pradesh elections where joblessness came up in voter conversations but eventually did not alter the overall results.
However, the economic scenario may be headed for even more tumultuous times, with global markets hit and the Ukraine-Russia war pushing up energy prices. This could leave the Modi government with very little leeway to extend economic relief. The Prime Minister has made a start by promising 10 lakh government jobs in the coming 18 months, and has personally handed out appointment letters as part of the Rozgar Mela.
But, given the difficult choice the government is facing, between containing inflation and pushing growth, there are no easy fixes on rising prices. At a time when the party is focusing on the woman vote, inflation and its impact on household savings are a challenge the party needs to find a way around.
At the state level too, there are several challenges. In West Bengal, the appointment as in-charge of Sunil Bansal, who is credited with successfully rolling out Home Minister Amit Shah’s election strategy in Uttar Pradesh, has given hope to many in the party. But repeating the 2019 performance of 18 seats is perceived as a challenge given the disarray in the organisation.
In the Naveen Patnaik-ruled Odisha, the BJD continues to dominate state politics. In Andhra Pradesh, the party has not really struck roots, with the ruling YSRCP largely a friendly party. In neighbouring Telangana, where the BJP has invested heavily in terms of organisation work and campaign, its challenge is to translate that to electoral gains.
Karnataka, the only state in the south where the BJP is in power, is giving the party jitters over anti-incumbency, corruption charges and internal feuds, even as the Congress that has a significant presence in the state is trying to gain some traction following the Bharat Jodo Yatra. In 2019, the BJP had won as many as 25 of Karnataka’s 28 Lok Sabha seats.
In Gujarat, while the Congress has failed to build on its 2017 performance, which saw it reduce the BJP to below 100, AAP has emerged as a challenge. BJP calculations show that AAP will dent the Congress and not affect the BJP’s substantial vote share, but should Arvind Kejriwal take the party anywhere close to the dozen-seats mark that some surveys are giving it, he has the potential to emerge as a future threat. In the immediate future, such a result would cause resentments within BJP ranks – kept down despite the wholesale Cabinet change of last year – to simmer up.
In Himachal Pradesh, which is voting on November 12. the BJP is facing a rebellion in its ranks in the state. Many are standing against the party’s official nominees, and there is unhappiness among its cadre amid anti incumbency. While the BJP had won all the four Himachal Lok Sabha seats in 2019, last year it lost one of them in a bypoll to the Congress.
What the BJP is counting on is people trusting Modi above all, notwithstanding any issues – especially in Himachal. Hence the refrain to trust the PM’s “niyat (intentions)” and the emphasis on how he is trying to “transform India into a giant and successful economy”. On Tuesday noon, Modi, who has been campaigning in Gujarat, will be at Morbi to offer his condolences over the bridge tragedy.
Even in 2019, the Uri surgical strikes and the Balakot attack had proved a force multiplier for the BJP narrative of Modi being the leader the country needed, taking it to 303 seats in the Lok Sabha. Sources see a return to a similar muscular messaging, pointing to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s recent remarks that India under PM Modi has at its goal reclaiming Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. “We have only just begun walking north. The journey will end when we reach the remaining parts of (PoK), Gilgit and Baltistan,” he said last week.