Narendra Modi Vs Rahul Gandhi In Lok Sabha Reveals BJP's Pitch For 2024

The PM lists schemes to uplift the poor and downtrodden as topmost achievements on Rahul Gandhi’s charges of crony capitalism.

Narendra Modi Vs Rahul Gandhi In Lok Sabha Reveals BJP's Pitch For 2024

The motion of thanks to the presidential address during the budget session turned into a war of words between the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi against the backdrop of the Adani-Hindenburg saga.

A charged-up Rahul Gandhi, fresh from his 3,600 km yatra, alleged that Gautam Adani’s proximity to the PM was the main propellor of his growth—from the 609th spot in the world’s richest club in 2014 to second spot in 2022. The PM, in an aggressive response, highlighted his government’s programmes to improve the ease of living of the people at the bottom of the pyramid and how he enjoys the trust of India’s poor. 

The slug-fest and disruptions in both the houses, 400 days before the general elections, has set the tone for nine state elections in 2023 and the grand finale in 2024. Whose narrative will sell with the voters of the country is what will determine who wins 2024. This war is being fought in the court of the public. Over the last nine years, the political atmosphere has been highly polarised in the country, voters preferences and opinions have hardened, and neutral/swing voters hold the key. 

RaGa Gains Centre Stage

While critics of Gandhi counter that he doesn’t seem to have learned much from the Bharat Jodo Yatra, still wasting his energy in targeting the teflon-coated Modi, his speech puts Congress in the centre stage and establishes the grand old party as the main challenger to the BJP.

Parties like Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and K Chandrasekhar Rao’s Bharat Rashtra Samithi, among others, have been challenging the Congress party’s claim to be the pole or principal opponent of the BJP for some time now. 

It also in a way re-establishes Gandhi as the undisputed leader of the Congress, even after a string of failures. Rahul attempted a repeat of his “suit boot ki sarkar” jibe, which sort of put the Modi government on the back-foot in 2015. PM Modi had flaunted the personalised suit with his full name 'Narendra Damodardas Modi' engraved on it, in his Hyderabad House interaction with Barack Obama. The suit was gifted by a Gujarati NRI businessman and was reported to cost Rs 10 lakh. The suit was later auctioned and proceeds donated to the PM Relief Fund. 

Since then, Modi has been very conscious of his humble roots and pro-poor image. This is why Gandhi’s second attempt to target Modi with “Chowkidaar chor hai” slogan in 2019 elections didn’t work. In fact, it backfired. And that’s why critics were baffled with Gandhi's third attempt at targeting Modi. As we observe above, the attack had a much bigger purpose. 

And The BJP Is Happy With It

BJP also seems to be happy with Gandhi taking centre stage as it believes he is no match for Modi in a presidential contest. Modi leads Gandhi in the best suited to be India’s PM by 39% percentage points, 53% versus 14%, as per India Today-Mood of the Nation survey in January 2023.

For the highest section of voters, 37% according to Axis My India post-poll survey, the PM's face is the most important consideration, where a Gandhi vs Modi contest gives an edge to the saffron party, its strategists believe. 

It is in BJP’s interests to go into 2024 with a clear competitor and that, too, one about which it knows in and out. Of 186 one-to-one contests between the BJP and the Congress, BJP won 171 seats in 2019 general elections, a strike rate of 92%. The more alternatives available to the voters creates problems for the BJP in a way that it has to allocate resources to tackle other parties/leaders apart from the Congress as well. This also creates a question difficult to answer, “Who is my real competitor?”

Modi Turns Gandhi's Charges Upside Down

World over, crony capitalism is a very difficult charge to prove. Lack of evidence, substance, ends up making the allegations merely rhetoric. Like the Rafale allegations, this is not understood by the common man.

Gandhi charged the PM and BJP government of helping the rich at the cost of the poor. These charges don’t stick with the poor unless you are able to prove that they are not getting the benefits due to them. 

Modi, the good orator he is, has spun Rahul Gandhi’s charge by demonstrating that he indeed is the champion of the poor and downtrodden. How election after election, the poor have reposed their faith in him.

He said, “Lives of the poor have become better after 2014. It's for the first time that electricity has arrived in the colonies of downtrodden people. They are getting piped drinking water. Those people are now living in pucca houses.”

Right from the PM Awas Yojana to Ujjwala Yojana to Ayushman Yojana to PM Kisan Nidhi to PM Garib Kalyan Yojana, Modi listed schemes, which have brought a positive change in the lives of people. PM Modi said that the mandate of the people is his security cover and this can't be breached with the lies of the Opposition.

As per CSDS, the support for BJP from poor socio-economic class voters has more than doubled from 16% in 2009 to 36% in 2019. Similarly, the support from lower socio-economic class voters has increased from 19% in 2009 to 36% in 2019. Half of this gain has accrued to the BJP at the cost of Congress and the other half at the cost of regional parties.

Narendra Modi Vs Rahul Gandhi In Lok Sabha Reveals BJP's Pitch For 2024
Narendra Modi Vs Rahul Gandhi In Lok Sabha Reveals BJP's Pitch For 2024

2024 Pitch: 10 Years Of NDA Vs 10 Years Of UPA

The speech hinted that the key plank of BJP in 2024 will be the comparison of the 10-year tenure of Manmohan Singh versus 10 years of Narendra Modi. The BJP is likely to pitch how Modi, despite challenges of economic slowdown, once-in-a-century pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine war, has made India the bright star on the global front. How India is today a Vishwaguru respected by world powers, how DBT has eliminated middlemen and poor are getting their dues without any cuts, etc.

The Economic Survey presented before the Budget in a way set the agenda for re-election very clearly. It highlighted the achievements of the government on the socio-economic front. Social sector expenditure increased to Rs 21.3 lakh crore in FY23 from Rs. 9.1 lakh crore in FY16. Budgeted expenditure on the health sector touched 2.1% of GDP in FY23 against 1.6% in FY21. 

According to the 2022 report of the UNDP on Multidimensional Poverty Index, 41.5 crore people exited poverty in India between 2005-06 and 2019-20. Free food grains to about 81.4 crore beneficiaries were provided under the National Food Security Act for one year. About 11.3 crore farmers were covered under PM Kisan in its April-July 2022-23 payment cycle, the Economic survey said. 

Voter memory is very short. He/she needs to be constantly reminded of what the government has done for them. How does its performance compare with previous governments? Are people well-off or worse-off compared to earlier? Shivraj Singh Chouhan, in the 2018 Madhya Pradesh elections, had coined a campaign “Sarkar sarkar mein fark hai”. Yogi Adityanath ran a similar campaign in the 2022 Uttar Pradesh elections, “Fark saaf hai”. 

After establishing their track record, the political parties then present their vision/road map for the future in their manifesto. The BJP has in bits and pieces showcased its vision for the Amrit Kaal, 2047, 100 years of India’s Independence. 

Karnataka—Its First Test

The first big test of the Modi government is the Karnataka election due sometime in April-May of this year. While it is a state election, where local factors could dominate, BJP is likely to contest the election on national issues and its achievements at the national level. It is likely to make it a Modi+Bommai vs Siddaramaiah+DK Shivkumar election. Can it win on a national plank, where its government is facing decent anti-incumbency? Will this formula work? 

To sum up, Gandhi is attempting to make a dent in Modi’s USP of being a champion of the poor, a gareeb ka beta. This path is not going to be easy for the Congress as Modi has been able to create a heart-to-heart, direct connection with the poor through his schemes. The 25-crore laabhaarthi (beneficiaries) are one of his strongest backers. 

Rahul Gandhi needs to back allegations with proof, otherwise there are high chances of this backfiring like “Chowkidaar Chor Hai” campaign. The other obvious route is to attempt to localise a national election in which his Bharat Jodo Yatra could play a key role.

Amitabh Tiwari is a political commentator, strategist, and consultant advising political parties and leaders. He was previously a corporate and investment banker.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of BQ Prime or its editorial team.