Home Insights Why Narrative Changing Rapidly: General Election 2024 – IMPRI Impact And Policy...

Why Narrative Changing Rapidly: General Election 2024 – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute

12
0
Why narrative changing rapidly: General Election 2024

Arun Kumar

Modi had set a narrative to get to “400 paar” based on his achievements. He has abandoned it midway through the 18th Lok Sabha elections because his feedback must be that there is anti-incumbency. But it has only managed to confuse his supporters and galvanise the opposition.

In March 2024, there seemed to be a wave in favour of the ruling party at the Union level in India, largely due to Narendra Modi’s popularity.

The media amplified his slogans “Ab ki baar, chaar sau par” (at this coin toss, four hundred we will cross), “Modi ki guarantee” and “Vishwaguru”.

He asserted that there was unprecedented respect for India in the world capitals. The G20 presidentship (by rotation) was mentioned in this context. It was argued that India is the fastest-growing major economy and Big Capital wants to come to India.

The ruling party claims that all this has been achieved in spite of the pandemic and the Ukraine war which other economies have not been able to cope with as well. So, India is presented as doing well under Modi’s leadership, both internally and externally.

The media amplified Modi’s slogans “Ab ki baar, chaar sau par” (at this coin toss, four hundred we will cross), “Modi ki guarantee” and “Vishwaguru”.

It appeared for a while that the divisive agenda used by the ruling party in earlier times would not be the basis for seeking votes in 2024. But, the narrative has changed after the first round of voting.

The decline in the vote percent compared to the 2019 elections was the trigger. If there was a wave to get the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) 400 seats in the Parliament, the percentage of votes polled should have risen. The trend of decline has persisted in the subsequent rounds of voting.

The public mood

Is the public not swayed by the rosy picture painted by the ruling party and is that why fewer voters are voting? Could it be that the uncommitted public facing economic hardship is swayed more by the opposition’s critique than the ruling party’s spin?

The ruling party, as can be expected, has argued that the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) bloc supporters are not voting since they believe that the ruling party is winning. Finally, heat could be a factor in the decline in the vote percentage.

If the latter two causes were the reason for the low turnout, the ruling party did not have to worry and could have stuck to the original narrative. The sudden change in the narrative suggests that the first two reasons are the likely causes.

Worse, the narrative has changed every few days in the hope that something would work. The opposition is being attacked viciously based on falsehood and setting up straw men.

This is futile since it does not address the concerns of the non-committed public. In the process, directly or indirectly, the ruling party is letting the opposition set the agenda, unlike in earlier times, when it used to set the agenda.

Opposition fight back

It is not that the opposition parties have not put their foot in the mouth several times in the last four weeks. But the ruling party has not been able to derive much traction from that since the opposition rather than be distracted by them continues to successfully raise the issue of the distress of the people.

The ruling party’s changing pronouncements have not addressed the real issues of economic distress faced by a large number of people.

It may be argued that the real issues— mismanagement of the economy, unemployment, price rise, growing inequality, etc., have existed for long. Why is the public responding to them now?

It appeared for a while that the divisive agenda used by the ruling party in earlier times would not be the basis for seeking votes in 2024.

That is because the opposition parties were not mobilising the people on these issues till recently— just before the elections were announced. Since March 2020, when the pandemic was declared, the opposition has mostly taken a back seat.

Their leaders have been silenced either by the misuse of investigation agencies to put many of them behind bars or trap them in cases with a Damocles sword hanging over them. Parties have been split and members of legislative assemblies bought to topple opposition governments.

The message has been that the opposition would be crushed with a heavy hand. If “400 par” becomes a reality in the 2024 elections, the opposition will face an existential crisis.

Like a cornered cat, the opposition parties are now fighting back by mobilising the public which has responded since its pain finds a voice. It needs to be remembered that the poor do not get mobilised on their own— they have to be mobilised. The opposition parties should have done this earlier.

Real issues matter

The opposition’s mobilisation against the ruling party has both strengthened its support and weakened the support base of the ruling party. So, fewer of the ruling party supporters are voting while more of the non-committed voters are coming out to vote.

People’s hardships have piled up rapidly since demonetisation in 2016. In 2017 came the structurally faulty Goods and Services Tax (GST), which damaged the small and micro sectors.

The situation worsened during the pandemic when large numbers suffered grievously and they have not yet recovered from that blow due to price rise and unemployment.

Farmers have been protesting due to inadequate agricultural incomes. In effect, the marginalised sections have been facing increasing hardship and poverty. The data does not capture this because: a) of data-related issues such as the census not being conducted, and b) the aggregate data fails to capture the distress of the marginalised.

The message has been that the opposition would be crushed with a heavy hand. If “400 par” becomes a reality in the 2024 elections, the opposition will face an existential crisis.

So, the data misses the stark contrast between a few doing well and the vast majority suffering. The propaganda that the economy is doing well mocks the hardship of the marginalised sections.

Changing narrative

All this is translating into anti-incumbency and has forced the ruling party to change its narrative. Not finding something that works, the narrative has changed every few days. Like, playing the communal card, saying that the opposition would take away reservation from Scheduled communities and give it to the Muslims, saying the opposition would redistribute wealth by taking away the cattle of farmers and the mangalsutras of women, and peddling the charge that the opposition is being funded by Big Capital.

This last one reflects the desperation since the favourites of the ruling dispensation have been named as financing the opposition. It implies that these big businessmen hold a lot of black money, etc.

Another ploy used was saying that the Congress would put a lock on the Ram Mandir. These bizarre accusations are neither based on facts nor on the content of the manifesto of the INDIA partners.

The change in the public mood is reflected in stock market volatility and decline. The changing narrative is being decoded by the business community as growing uncertainty in the ruling dispensation regarding coming back to power with a big majority. Big business was hoping for more pro-business policies but it is no longer sure of that.

If Modi had stuck to his initial pitch and not changed track to divisive issues or been disingenuous he would have appeared to be a supremely confident statesperson. This would have raised his stature both internally and externally. Today, India’s and Modi’s image has taken a beating.

Because India’s market is seen as lucrative, many nations may keep quiet but India’s international standing has suffered further. In the 1950s and 1960s, India was poor but respected for its global moral and principled stance.

Modi also desires international recognition as a Vishwaguru. But that has eluded him since India has a low rank in most international indices— whether it be human freedom, democracy, press freedom, religious freedom, peace, hunger, etc.

Conclusion

Modi’s confident narrative before the first round of voting has given way to a constantly changing narrative.

He has sensed that given people’s hardships and the mobilisation by the opposition, his earlier narrative is not working. So, he has gone back to the tested narrative of polarisation and disingenuous slogans.

If Modi had stuck to his initial pitch and not changed track to divisive issues or been disingenuous he would have appeared to be a supremely confident statesperson.

This dents his international image and he is sensitive to that but what good is it if he loses? Polarisation, which widens the social divide, is easier than narrowing the divide by building trust across communities.

The former is what a populist leader does while the latter is what a statesperson does. But Modi has not cared about these niceties whether to get to power or to stay in power in the last 10 years.

Modi had set a new narrative to get to “400 paar” based on his achievements in the last five years. The international community was also impressed by this. He has sacrificed both these because his feedback must be that there is anti-incumbency. But the constantly changing narrative suggests he has not yet found the right one.

Arun Kumar is a Retired Professor of Economics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. He is the author of `Demonetization and Black Economy’ (2018, Penguin Random House). 

The article was first published in The Leaflet as Changing horses midstream: Modi’s muddled message mid-elections on May 16, 2024.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organisation.

Read more at IMPRI:

Coalition Politics and Economic Progress

Surge in Personal Income Tax (PIT) Reflects Increased Incomes and Economic Disparity

Acknowledgment: This article was posted by Aasthaba Jadeja, a visiting researcher at IMPRI.

Previous articleProfessor Asher’s Insights Into Aspirational And Data-Driven Policy – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute
Next articleUnderstanding The Smart Cities Mission: An In-Depth Explanation – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute
IMPRI, a startup research think tank, is a platform for pro-active, independent, non-partisan and policy-based research. It contributes to debates and deliberations for action-based solutions to a host of strategic issues. IMPRI is committed to democracy, mobilization and community building.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here