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Ram Mandir Consecration, INDIA Bloc Vs BJP Face-Off, UCC: How 2024 Will Define Indian Politics For Coming Years

For the first time in 10 years, the Opposition parties under the banner of INDIA coalition are in a position to put a united front against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But is that going to enough?

Photo: PTI/Shailendra Bhojak
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A month after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the ‘semi-final’, Indian politics is now in the final contest as parties gear up for the 2024 general elections. Even as the 28-party bloc INDIA works out internal contradictions and seat-sharing, the BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already started to set the tone.

Modi chose Ayodhya to deliver his year-end message, inaugurating a slew of developmental projects and projecting the holy city as a symbol of a resurgent India. 

“Today’s Bharat is moving forward, embracing both the ancient and the modern. There was a time when Ram Lalla was living in a tent in Ayodhya. Besides Ram Lalla, 4 crore poor people in the country have also got pucca homes. Today, while Bharat is beautifying its pilgrimage sites, on the other hand, our country is also shining in the world of digital technology. Today, along with the reconstruction of Kashi Vishwanath Dham, more than 30,000 panchayat buildings are also being constructed in the country. Today, not only the redevelopment of Kedarnath Dham has been undertaken, but also more than 315 new medical colleges have been set up in the country. Today, not only the construction of Mahakal Mahalok has taken place, but also more than 2 lakh tanks have been built to provide water to every home. On the one hand, we are measuring the depths of the Moon, the Sun, and the seas, on the other hand we are bringing back our mythological sculptures in record numbers in Bharat. The mood of today's Bharat is evident in Ayodhya," said Modi, summing up his pitch for ‘New India’. 

The year 2024 will tell whether there are more takers in the country for Modi’s New India or the INDIA coalition’s vision for the country, which ironically remains largely undefined except for the slogans of ‘Jeetega INDIA’ and ‘mohabbat ki dukaan’. With Ram Mandir taking shape and the abrogation of Article 370 etched in stone, the BJP would also look towards its only remaining fundamental ideological plank: the Uniform Civil Code (UCC).

Here we trace how the year 2024 would prove to be decisive for Indian politics for years to come. 

Ram Mandir Consecration 

The consecration ceremony of the Ram Mandir in Uttar Pradesh’s Ayodhya will take place on January 22. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will headline the event and the BJP and the wider Sangh Parivar, which campaigned for the Ram Mandir for decades, are set to make it a nationwide event. The preparations are ongoing. 

While the Opposition has criticised the BJP for politicising a religious event, the movement the consecration ceremony marks the culmination of was never apolitical. Whether the barbs exchanged between the Congress and the BJP for decades over the Ram Mandir, the demolition of Babri Masjid that proved to be a defining moment of modern Indian history, or the shooting of kar-sevaks during Mulayam Singh Yadav's chief ministership, politics and religion were never separate in Ayodhya. 

With the Ram Mandir inauguration around the corner, the Opposition now faces a catch-22 situation: whether to dismiss the consecration ceremony and cede space of the Hindu polity further to BJP or embrace it and risk falling for ‘soft Hindutva’ and alienating Muslim voters who carry the generational trauma of the Babri Masjid demolition and the preceding and later rioting. 

The pomp and show in Ayodhya and elsewhere would also mark the de-facto beginning of the 2024 election campaign for the BJP. But can the Ram Mandir’s fervour swing the fence-sitters towards the BJP once again like in the 1980-90s to negate the consolidation being attempted by the INDIA bloc? Lucknow-based political observer Kaviraj says it’s not as certain as the BJP would want to project.

“Even if the fervour of the inauguration of the Ram Mandir, which has already started, consolidates the BJP vote-bank, that still leaves the non-BJP voters for the INDIA coalition to consolidate. There is no certainty that the BJP will be able to attract non-BJP voters or fence-sitters even with renewed fervour. The Hindu voters not aligned with the BJP may not go with the BJP as the party has already done everything to reach its present vote share of 37-40 per cent and it may not be able to surpass that even with the Ram Mandir push,” says Kaviraj, Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Lucknow. 

While Kaviraj tells Outlook that the BJP may not win the number game, Vikas Pathak noted in The Indian Express that the Ram Mandir push is part of the BJP’s ‘inclusive’ outreach. With the airport named after Rishi Valmiki and the inclusion of Shabri in Ayodhya's new iconography, the BJP is pushing for an inclusive ‘New India’.

“Significantly, even as the Ram Temple underlines a powerful cultural symbolism, especially because of the long legal dispute following which the Temple came up through a Supreme Court judgment, the choice of the name of Valmiki – considered the first author of Ramayana, the epic of Lord Ram – for the airport is significant as a section of the Scheduled Castes (SC) revere Valmiki and identify their community with his name. The symbolism thus also has an aspect of the Dalit outreach, linking the Ram Temple movement with an egalitarian social pitch,” noted Pathak.

Rahul Gandhi's ‘Bharat Nyay Yatra’

A year after the Kanniyakumari-to-Kashmir ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’, Congress scion Rahul Gandhi is set to have a Mumbai-to-Manipur ‘Bharat Nyay Yatra’ from January 14.

The west-to-east yatra will coincide with the BJP’s push for the Ram Mandir fervour and will give Congress a platform to offer a direct contrast to the BJP-Sangh Parivar’s narrative. Whether that works in its favour is not a given. The electoral gains of the Congress over the past year from the Bharat Jodo Yatra have, after all, limited. 

Barely weeks ahead of the 2024 polls and amid the Ram Mandir fervour, the yatra also pitches for a Modi versus Rahul contest, writes Sayantan Ghosh for CNN-News18, adding that symbology may not make up for the organisational flaws.

“This move signifies the party’s commitment to framing the political discourse around Rahul versus PM Modi, anchored in the broader clash of Hindutva ideology versus the party’s perceived secular stance...The real battleground lies in organisational fortification. The Congress, during the Bharat Jodo Yatra, downplayed electoral gains, emphasising its organisational objectives. Yet, the current proximity to the Lok Sabha elections raises questions about the yatra’s electoral intent. At this juncture, the party must recognise the imperative of meticulous election planning, robust booth-level strategies, and a united front against the formidable machinery and leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP),” writes Ghosh. 

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Writing in The Express, Manoj CG notes that the Congress is at rock bottom and the party faces harsh realities in the year ahead. He writes, “Never before had the grand old party of Indian politics been in the Opposition at the national level for such a long time. It had also never seen such an electoral low in the Hindi belt — or, in other words, never been out of sync with the public mood in the heartland so dramatically — in its long history.”

INDIA Vs BJP In 2024 General Elections

The highlight of Indian politics will, of course, be the 2024 general elections in April-May. While the Opposition parties are in a position to put up a united front against the BJP for the first time in 10 years, the question is whether it would be enough to stop the BJP juggernaut. 

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While the internal contradictions of the INDIA bloc are often flagged, the BJP is not as strong as one might see it. Unlike INDIA bloc where several parties have well-established vote-banks and Lok Sabha presence, the BJP practically does not have an ally with MPs in double-digits. If the BJP’s seats go down in the Opposition unity, while the party will still likely be the single-largest party, it might not cross the majority-mark of 272 by itself. But then elections are not just about numbers. 

Modi is looking forward to something unseen since the days of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru: a third consecutive Lok Sabha victory. But Nehru was the first Prime Minister of India who presided over a country with little Opposition. Now, INDIA stands against Modi. But Modi and the BJP are on a strong footing. Writing in India Today, Raj Chengappa and Anilesh S Mahajan noted that ‘Modi chemistry’ matters much more than the numbers for the BJP. Citing a survey, they write: “Modi’s popularity continues to hover above 50 per cent, as does the rating of his government’s performance. He can still be the single most important factor in a third win for the BJP, as there is no alternative—in personality or narrative—to dislodge him from his lofty perch. Experts, though, warn the ruling party to guard against complacency, or arrogance, which could force missteps in the run-up to the general election.”

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At least in North India, the ‘Modi Chemistry’ also appears to have overcome the ‘Mandal 2.0’ politics helmed by Congress and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. The Other Backward Classes (OBC)-centric pitch of the Opposition did not work in the face of the BJP's Hindutva-development pitch in the Hindi heartland. 

“With Nitish the first to unbottle that genie, the Congress was quick to latch on to its potential and pitch Mandal 2.0 as the lead narrative of the Opposition campaign going into 2024. The limits of this plank stood exposed in the recent elections, with the OBCs voting massively in favour of the BJP in the three northern states. Modi’s emphasis on directing his welfare schemes to a broad spectrum of socio-economic groups and laser focus on performance and delivery seem to have transcended caste considerations among voters,” noted Chengappa and Mahajan. 

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Jammu and Kashmir Elections

With the Supreme Court’s deadline of September 30, 2024 for assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, electoral democracy is set to return in the erstwhile state. The once-special state, and now a union territory (UT), has been without an elected assembly since 2018 when the then-Governor Satya Pal Malik dissolved the assembly six months after the then-Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti resigned after the junior coalition partner BJP withdrew support. 

The assembly elections were last held in J&K in December 2014, following which the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and BJP formed the government in 2015. The government collapsed in 2018. Following the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019 and the downgrading of J&K from a state to UT, electoral politics in the state has largely been in limbo. There have been indications that the assembly elections may take place along with the parliamentary elections.

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State Assembly Elections 

It is understood that the four states of Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, and Odisha would go to polls along with the parliamentary elections. The line between the local and national may get blurred as voters make their choices. While regional parties at the helm in three states —YSR-Congress (YSR-C) in Andhra, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Odisha, Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) in Sikkim— the BJP rules Arunachal. 

Later in the year, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, and Haryana will go to polls. The BJP will clash with the Congress and regional parties in all three states.

In Haryana, the farmer agitation and the wrestlers’ protest have made the road tough for the BJP. The party faces the heat from the influential Jat community. In Jharkhand, the BJP is expected to rake up corruption allegations against CM Hemant Soren whereas Soren and the ruling bloc are likely to run on a nativist plank and raise the issues of tribal identity in the state. In Maharashtra, where the BJP rules along with rebellious factions of Shiv Sena and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Maratha quota agitation is again setting the pitch for identity politics ahead of the polls. 

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BJP’s Push For Ideological Agenda

With the consecration of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya and the scrapping of Article 370, only one fundamental ideological plank of the BJP remains unaddressed: the Uniform Civil Code (UCC). The process is already in motion. 

The UCC, with the idea that civil laws should be the same for all irrespective of personal identities, along with issues like rules for the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) may lead to yet another round of polarisation this year. 

Some BJP-ruled states have already pitched for UCC, with Uttarakhand being the front-runner where the first draft of the UCC is expected to be presented later this month. With weeks ahead of the national elections, the floating of the draft of UCC is likely to be a boost for the BJP's ideological narrative. 

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Narratives aside, there are indications that the BJP may go for state-level UCCs instead of one at a national level. 

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