Tatsat Chronicle Magazine

#Election2024: The Two-Man Army Poll Campaign Gets Murkier, Below-The-Belt

BJP, I.N.D.I.A. block are trading heftier blows in 2024 than they did in 2019 but Modi still holds the edge, despite the threat of reduced numbers
May 18, 2024

Voters went to the polls for the fourth phase of the general election on May 13 with campaigning becoming increasingly acrimonious between the two main contestants — the BJP-led NDA and the gaggle of opposition parties christened the I.N.D.I.A. bloc that has the Congress as its single largest party.

There was a significant difference, though, in the tenor of the political campaigns through social media between the campaign of the 2019 Lok Sabha election and the current polls. In 2019, responding to the Congress campaign of Chowkidar Chor Hai (the watchman is a thief) which was started by Rahul Gandhi, Modi launched a counter campaign on social media with the tagline of Main Bhi Chowkidar (I am a watchman too).

With slogans like Main Bhi Chowkidar and Chowkidar Phir Se (watchman once again), the BJP outwitted the opposition with an outreach programme that connected with the people on a mass scale.

This year, responding to Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief and former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav’s “no family” jibe, the combative prime minister said that 140 crore Indians were “my family” and slammed “dynasty parties”, saying they may have different faces but jhoot and loot (lies and plunder) was common to them. He was addressing a public rally in Telangana’s Adilabad district.

Beginning the campaign, top BJP leaders, including Union Home Minister Amit Shah, on March 4, added the “Modi ka Parivar” (Modi’s family) slogan to their handles on social media platform X.

But the jury is out on whether the 2024 social media campaign is going to be as successful as the 2019 winning slogan.

In 2019, on May 14, the prime minister did something he had not done before. Days after sparking controversy with his remarks about the opposition parties backing “infiltrators” and “those with more children” — an indirect reference to the Muslim community — he appeared to backtrack from his remarks, claiming that he did not speak solely to target Muslims but, rather, to address every poor family.

Additionally, he said that if he started dividing people into Hindus or Muslims, he would be “unworthy of public life”.

Also Read: Kejriwal And The Art Of Seeding Chaos

In an interview to News 18, Modi claimed that he did not politicise regard for Muslims. “I do not work for a vote bank. I believe in Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas,” he said.

But that has not been the only comeback from the feisty prime minister. More importantly, is the current election campaign establishing the pecking order in the BJP regarding succession in the party? While democracy is a numbers game and any prediction is fraught with unlikelihood, the way the cards are stacked makes for interesting interpretation.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, a day after being released on interim bail last week by the Supreme Court to campaign in the ongoing elections, set the cat among the pigeons when he raised questions about the BJP’s leadership succession, highlighting Prime Minister Modi’s approaching 75th birthday on September 17.

Kejriwal pointed to the prime minister’s own rule mandating retirement for party leaders at 75, citing the examples of superannuated leaders like L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi. Speculating on potential leadership changes within the BJP, Kejriwal suggested that if the party forms the government, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath could be sidelined in favour of Amit Shah as prime minister.

For those who have noticed, Yogi, regarded as a political heavyweight and a potential successor of Modi, has been relatively low-key during the current poll campaign. That position has been taken by Shah.

The BJP hit back, for the first time publicly affirming that Modi won’t retire at 75. Amit Shah was categorical in his denial: “The people of this country, be it from East, West, North, South or Northeast, are standing with Modi. All the leaders of the INDIA alliance know that we are going to cross 400 seats and Modiji will become the PM of this country for the third time, that is why they are spreading this type of misconception.”

There is little doubt, however, that the 2024 campaign blitz is largely being powered by the Modi-Shah duo, who have run the party and the government as a joint team.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has addressed more than double the number of election rallies attended by his Congress rivals put together. Following close on his heels is Amit Shah.

Modi addressed 83 election rallies across 18 states and Union Territories between March 31 and May 5 — the last campaign date for the third phase of the election. During the same period, Amit Shah, the party’s principal political strategist, attended 66 election events.

These numbers fare well against their Congress counterparts, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.  In comparison — or shall we say, contrast — for the Wayanad MP, who is now also standing from Rae Bareli, this figure stands at 40. With Priyanka as the main speaker at 29 political rallies, Modi’s tally was higher than the Gandhi siblings’ together!

Post the third phase of polling, it is very clear that this Lok Sabha election is about the complete dominance of the Modi-Shah duo as campaigners for the BJP. The rest of the party leaders follow in their footsteps.

Says Jagdish Shetty, BJP member, national general secretary, Virat Hindustan Sangam, and a social influencer, who is close to Subramanian Swamy: “This is the Modi-Shah style. They have run the organisation and the government like this. It has now extended to the elections. All the other prominent leaders in the party have been sidelined. Sometimes, this can turn out counter-productive.”

Under the circumstances, Shetty said, reaching the 300-plus target for the BJP “is a huge task”, one that the party may be hard-pressed to accomplish.

Observers say that the ruling party leaders have focused particularly on the Hindi-speaking states, and for good reason. In the Lok Sabha, the BJP has 170 of the 218 seats from the Hindi heartland states.

There are no high-profile campaign programmes of other national leaders like party president J.P. Nadda, other than a few road shows, while Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has been more involved in managing his own constituency, Lucknow.

To be sure, some local BJP units like the Chandigarh one have called for the inclusion of Bhojpuri stars like Manoj Tiwari and Ravi Kishan, in addition to Rajnath Singh and Nadda.

Political commentator and policy analyst Sanjaya Baru says: “The Modi-Shah way of election campaigning is the way they run the party and the government. It’s a two-man show. I can sense a disquiet among the others in the party, who are hardly campaigning. After all, there are former chief ministers and BJP party presidents who don’t have much of a role to play. They cannot be too happy with such a situation.”

BJP spokesman Nalin Kohli, however, rubbished Kejriwal’s statement and played down the campaign numbers, which suggest that the two biggies in the BJP are hogging the limelight. “It is but natural that PM Modi is the biggest star campaigner because it is his government, leadership and achievements that point to a third term for the party,” he said.

He added, however, that many BJP leaders, including chief ministers and Union ministers, are pretty much part of the election campaign. “A campaign has several layers: large rallies, road shows, small, focused meetings, personal contract programmes and all leaders are involved in their own way. It is wrong to suggest that only the prime minister and the home minister are campaigning.”

As for Kejriwal’s statement on the war of succession, Kohli commented that the Delhi chief minister “had no credibility and this is evident from the fact that he frequently issues contradictory statements”.

He also pointed out that Kejriwal has an alleged assault on his hands. AAP Rajya Sabha MP and former Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) chairperson Swati Maliwal has stated in an FIR that she was physically assaulted by a member of the chief minister’s staff at his official residence on May 14.

More political twists and turns are likely enliven the poll campaign for another couple of weeks.

Ranjit Bhushan

Ranjit Bhushan is a senior journalist who has worked with leading newspapers and magazines in his career spanning more than three decades. He writes on current affairs, politics, and environmental issues.