Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr | Are the gloves off for the Battle of 2024? Not yet…

The Asian Age.  | Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Opinion, Columnists

If the Opposition is keen to nail the Narendra Modi government, it has to conduct a focused and forceful election campaign.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Photo: PTI)

It is going to be a mean half-year and more to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, and the people by and large are generally not interested in it, nor are they invested in it. May 2024 is a little too far away, and it is difficult to anticipate the electoral outcome. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already declared what he will do in his third term in office: put India among the top three economies in the world. He is sure that he will win the election. But that has been part of the aggressive mind-game that he had been playing since 2014, though he had lost many state Assembly elections on the way. On the flip side, Mr Modi’s overweening confidence is an act of self-hypnosis, which has serious psychological and social implications.

If Mr Modi and the BJP were to lose the 2024 general election, they may not easily accept the defeat and the BJP’s frenzied followers might go on the rampage as did Donald Trump’s followers in Washington DC on January 6, 2021. This is of course only a hypothetical scenario. On the other hand, the Opposition’s claim that the “INDIA” alliance will defeat Mr Modi seems to be only a resolve, and not yet a certainty. So, what happens in the debate on the no-confidence motion that the Congress has moved in haste without informing its INDIA allies is of little interest to anybody. If the Opposition is keen to nail the Narendra Modi government, it has to conduct a focused and forceful election campaign, and speak directly to the people. Whether the Opposition has connected with the people will be known only when the results are announced in the second week of next May.

Manipur, however, remains a major matter of concern. The disrobing of two Kuki women by the Meitei mob is much too serious to be left to the BJP and its enraged spokespersons in the party and in the government. An unflappable Union home minister Amit Shah announcing a probe into how the video was made and went viral will not help the government to take the attention away from the shameful incident itself. Mr Shah and the BJP really seem to be in a bind on the issue. If the state police and the CBI want to prove that the video which was released on the eve of the Monsoon Session of Parliament was a fake one, then it will sow deeper divisions in the two communities.

And if the government wants to nail the mischief-makers who made the video and then released it on the social platform out of sadistic motives, then the crime becomes all the more serious and the failure of the government speaks louder. Neither can the home minister explain away the months-long violence that broke out between the Kukis and the Meiteis, nor can he explain away the dubious direction by the outgoing Chief Justice of the Manipur high court in the mischievous order that the Meiteis’ claim to be included in the Scheduled Tribe list, which triggered the violence.

There is no denying the fact that the BJP was clearly giving a leg up to its Hindutva agenda by silently supporting the Hindu Meiteis to get the ST status because that would change the politics of the Northeast, where most of the people fall in the ST category and enjoy the legal protection that the Constitution of India provides them. By trying to insert the Hindu Meitei community into the ST system is a dirty trick, to put it politely, by the BJP. The Manipur violence that followed showed just how shortsighted the move was. The BJP has indeed committed a political crime by its Hinduisation of the politics of the Northeast. For the Hindutva ideologues, of course, it is an imperative rather than a crime. Assam is leading the charge of the Hindutva brigade in that part of the country, and Arunachal Pradesh is playing second fiddle. The Hinduisation of Arunachal Pradesh began in the 1970s under Indira Gandhi when the Ramakrishna Mission was allowed to set up schools in that state formerly known as the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA), and the Congress in Assam was known to have played the Hindu card there as well. The Opposition attack on the Modi government over Manipur will be muted because none of the Opposition political parties would want to alienate the majority Meiteis in the state.

The general view is that the no-confidence motion has blurred the focus on Manipur, and the Opposition will be left to attack the record of the Modi government in its nine years in power. The BJP’s supporters want the Opposition to bite the bait and launch a wide-ranging ineffective attack on the Modi government so that the issue of Manipur would get lost in the general din of charges and counter-charges. The government can easily duck the Manipur issue because the discussion is on the Modi government’s record and not on Manipur specifically. Even if the Opposition were to stick to Manipur, the government can choose to speak on its nine years rather than the troubles in Manipur.

The danger lurking in a situation where the BJP is a predominant force and the Opposition is unable to find its feet is that democracy and its processes get frayed and eroded. The BJP has lost the fear that it will lose a Lok Sabha election because it has pressed the basic instinct button of religious identity as national identity. BJP leaders like Mr Modi, however, are still afraid of saying that India is Hindu.

Prime Minister Modi is forced to admit in international forums, if not at home, that India believes in pluralism, including religious pluralism. What India needs is a strong critique of the dominant ideology of religious nationalism, and it has to come from people who are not opp-osed to nationalism and religion. Nationalism involves taking pride in the achievements of the past and the courage to accept the failures. Religion cannot be equated with fanaticism and violence. The BJP/RSS have been promoting nationalism based on venomous pride and religion based on hatred of other religions. This is not good for a vibrant democracy because it rules out respect and understanding for others. It has become clear that Opposition politicians cannot posit an alternative to BJP-dominated India. This has to be done by an intellectual class. We have to look beyond non-confidence motions and Lok Sabha elections.

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