Will BJP address the elephant in the room?

The election commission announcing the election schedule for the five states going to the polls in November

The Opposition Alliance’s caste census pitch has raked up an issue that threatens to rip apart the poll narrative the BJP has skillfully and diligently stitched in the past.

The countdown has begun: the death-knell sounded. 

With the elections to the five states being announced, political parties are in a huddle because this sure is a litmus test for major players. 

As of now, none of them can breathe easy: if the BJP has to struggle to retain its grip in states like Madhya Pradesh, it would do what it takes to win Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh among others. Whether that happens or not is a long shot but the race is on. 

 More than gaining power, this election is about sending a strong message to the electorate. 

 For the BJP, the stakes are high because a setback in this battle will have a bearing on the outcome of the general elections in 2024. 

 If the states vote against the BJP it would put a question mark on the Modi charisma despite the argument that voting pattern for the Centre and the states need not necessarily be along similar lines; local candidates and local factors come into play; and more importantly the who will rule the state question needs to be answered.

These, surely, are valid points but the BJP intends to liberally use Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charisma to win the impending state elections. For the record, Prime Minister Modi had started campaigning in crucial states even before elections were formally announced. 

Unlike the state elections where victory for BJP may be elusive, in the general elections of 2024, the challenge is one of numbers. 

While the BJP seems confident of a win and securing a third term for Prime Minister Modi, its worry is one of numbers: Will the BJP cross 300? Or will it return with a simple majority? Will it form the government on its own or will it have to bank on allies? Will it come back weakened or in full strength? 

There are no easy answers except to say that the upbeat mood that the BJP is currently displaying can go for a toss if the state election results do not go the BJP way. Party insiders concede that the going is tough and the road ahead full of potholes, as it were.  

 Equally, it is true that the BJP has enough ammunition and fire power. 

For starters, it will flag the proposed inauguration of the Ram temple demonstrating its jo kahte hain woh karte hain spirit to the electorate. 

Riding piggyback on this would be the success of the G-20 summit and the space missions. 

Nitty gritty apart, the India looking up spirit is enough to resonate with aspirational Indians who even in their worst moments cannot deny that Prime Minister Modi has elevated India’s stature internationally. He has emerged as a leader, who when he speaks, the world listens.  

 As for the success of G-20 summit and space missions, PM Modi’s rhetoric will come handy to hard-sell the point that never before has the country seen Heads of States of over two dozen countries converge on its soil; and that through its successful space missions, India has not only reached the moon but also conquered the sun, so to say. 

For the uninitiated, India has successfully launched a “sun mission”, a week after an unmanned landing on the moon in September this year. 

This may be good optics but as things appear, the outcome is far from certain; the writing on the wall, quite a scramble. 

Thanks to Bihar Chief Minister  Nitish Kumar’s move to release the result of caste census in his home state where he heads the JD(U)-RJD government, the  Opposition alliance I.N.D.I.A. has hit the BJP where it hurt the most. 

Till Nitish Kumar’s deft move, the BJP was quite comfortable uniting Hindus under a communal umbrella, somewhat blurring caste divisions. Riding high on the Hindutva narrative, the saffron party seemed smug, till Nitish Kumar played the spoiler. 

With a single stroke, he has raked up an issue that threatens to rip apart the poll narrative the BJP has skilfully and diligently stitched in the past. If the Opposition alliance is able to make caste the central issue, which it seems to be successfully doing so far, then it can send the BJP in panic mode. 

Alarm bells have started ringing. Credence is lent to this by the fact that demands and claims for a nation-wide caste census have come up putting the BJP in a damned if we do, damned if we don’t situation. 

The BJP does hold sway over many marginalised castes and for it to oppose a nationwide census would not augur well. 

On the other hand, if it gives it a push, the major chunk of the upper castes, who, too, form part of its vote bank are likely to be alienated. So far, the BJP was smug in uniting both the marginalised and upper castes with the communal glue of Hindutva. 

At another level, the chaiwala image, which is Modi’s USP, could suffer a setback. 

Prime Minister Modi has used every possible opportunity to flag that he is a backward (caste) chaiwala who has made it to the top. With the caste-cauldron opening up, it seems he will have to abandon that spiel: at least for now. 

 The way it looks, the caste census clamour is an elephant in the room which the BJP will have to combat. 

 Electorally, it is giving the saffron Party the jitters. 

The forthcoming elections apart, the opposition alliance has in the recent past made the BJP run for cover. 

A little over a month ago when by-polls  across six states were held, the I.N.D.I.A alliance won four of the seven seats. 

Once again it was the message rather than the win: that the alliance has the capacity to challenge the BJP in its stronghold: the shocker being the win in Ghosi in Uttar Pradesh where the Samajwadi Party candidate was backed by the INDIA alliance. 

State Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, it is well known, holds sway over Uttar Pradesh and he along with his deputies had campaigned in the run-up to the elections. 

Fast forward to October this year when the National Conference and the Congress jointly swept the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Kargil election. 

Both parties are part of the INDIA alliance. Together, they won 22 out of 26 seats which former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said should serve as a  “wake up call” for the BJP.  

To save face, the BJP claimed that it has doubled its strength: from one seat in 2018 to two this time around. 

Irrespective, BJP’s nervousness is palpable. Even while it rubbished the alliance, it seems to be in panic- mode. 

For starters, the acronym sent the jitters. This is evident from the fact that within weeks of the alliance calling itself I.N.D.I.A, the Modi government renamed India as Bharat. In the dinner invites that were sent out to G-20 heads of States, Draupadi Murmu was described as President of Bharat instead of the customary President of India. 

In less than two weeks, a special session of Parliament was convened in which a half-baked Women’s Reservation Bill was passed: half-baked because it remains a dream which will be fulfilled after the delimitation exercise, which as things stand has a rather hazy timeline. 

Against this backdrop, the lethal caste census is nothing short of a time bomb ticking away.