As the new decade dawns, an important question with regards to the Indian political landscape is doing the rounds: will this be the decade of the Bharatiya Janata Party?
The BJP, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, stormed the political scene of the county in 2014 general elections riding on corruption charges and anti-incumbency against the Congress-led UPA-2.
The BJP won state after state during the period 2014 to 2019 on the back of its development plank. It formed governments along with its allies in 11 states, while losing power in 4 during this period.
Today, the BJP has 303 MPs in the Lok Sabha, 93 in the Rajya Sabha and 1,374 MLAs across various states in India. It has its own chief minister in 12 states, while it rules another 5 states with its allies.
There has never been a decade in Indian politics that the BJP has fully dominated. During the decade 2001-10, the BJP lost power in 2004 and the Congress, along with its allies, dominated the latter part.
During 2011-2020, the BJP dominated Indian political scene during the second half.
However, the BJP juggernaut is now on a roll. In the 2021 state elections, the party is giving a serious threat to Trinamool Congress supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, while it is fighting to retain Assam.
Even hardcore supporters of the Congress and other regional parties feel that they have no chance to win even in the 2024 general elections.
PM Modi’s popularity is high despite the ongoing farmer protests and the economic distress caused by the pandemic. This decade could well belong to the BJP and there are many factors working in favour of the party.
The BJP today is a very ambitious party with a clear goal of ruling at the Centre and in majority of the states. The men at the helm of the BJP -- Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP president JP Nadda -- are 24x7 politicians, who never take a break and are always in the election campaign mode.
The party takes every election very seriously, irrespective of whether it is a gram panchayat or a state level or a national level poll.
Party bigwigs campaign even for local body polls. They are not afraid of a backlash from the media in case of an electoral loss. The party always gives its best with the clear intent of wanting to emerge victorious.
The BJP claims to have a strong network of 18 crore members. Even if one discounts this claim, the actual foot soldiers of the party are volunteers of its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). These selfless workers campaign relentlessly for the sake of ideology and are the BJP’s biggest asset.
The RSS has always stood for a casteless society. It, along with BJP, has successfully managed to unify the Hindu voters to a large extent, cutting across caste and class lines. Hindus account for roughly 80% of the country's population and even if the party succeeds in garnering support from half of this population, it would not lose any election at the national level.
Through a clearly crafted strategy, the BJP has managed to paint the Congress and many other regional parties with the same brush and convinced many that these parties are indulging in minority appeasement politics. This has led to a Hindu awakening of sorts.
The 'One Nation' project of the party fuses a more unitary, Hindu nationalist conception of the Indian identity which forms the ideological core of the BJP.
It has been able to bind people of the majority states into one identity, that of Indianness, which was missing earlier.
A weakened Congress is helping the BJP spread its wings even further. The current leadership of the Congress does not evoke any confidence. The party is going through an existential crisis and a section has revolted against the Gandhi family, the dynasts who continue to hold the Congress in their iron, and somewhat throttling, grip.
Rahul Gandhi’s ‘yes and no’ kind of politics does not augur well for the party.
Many regional parties are also witnessing a churn as leadership is being passed on to the younger generation. Several of these leaders, born with a silver spoon, lack the charisma of their elders and are unwilling to slog hard on the ground. The absence of leaders from the scene during the migrant crisis, in the midst of the raging pandemic, is a case in point.
The Congress as well as the regional parties in their current form are struggling to take on the might of the BJP’s relentless electoral machine.
However, the BJP is likely to face challenges as well, while it works towards dominating this decade. The party has been unsuccessful in making inroads into South India: without this, it will struggle to be called as a party with pan India appeal. However, the BJP will not be satisfied by its current victories and dominance and will not sit on its laurels. It will continue to find ways to get a toehold into southern India and spread its influence and power down South as well.
The party has a good track record while contesting state elections as the main opposition, but it does not have a similar record while defending its territory as an incumbent.
It needs to replicate the successful Gujarat model to other states where it is in power.
Somewhere during the middle of the decade, Narendra Modi could retire, if the unsaid rule of retirement age of 75 years in the BJP is applied to him as well.
What shape will the BJP take after Modi hangs up his boots? Is there a succession plan in place? Could the party face groupism or will the RSS ensure a smooth transition?
All of these exciting events to watch out for in this new decade, which, it appears, could well belong to the BJP.