On 22nd January 2024, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the controversial Hindu Temple, the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, present in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Despite being incomplete, the temple was inaugurated with a grand ceremony with many Bollywood celebrities, diplomats, politicians, and tycoons being part of it. The obvious explanation for this rush is the Indian general elections expected to be held in April or May 2024.
Modi wants to guarantee that BJP wins a third term. In preparation for the upcoming 2024 general elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is strategically positioning itself for a potential landslide victory, focusing on consolidating support among the Hindu masses across the nation.
The political maneuver is part of a broader strategy to leverage religious sentiments and forge a strong connection with the electorate.
In the 2014 general elections, the BJP adopted the Hindu nationalist themes that were deployed in a targeted manner. During the election campaigns, Modi criticized the Congress Party for promising the Muslims special treatment. The agenda that Modi presented in his election campaigns was to end the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir and build the Ram Temple. These points significantly targeted the Hindu population in India which is 80% and in majority which led to Modi securing himself as the Prime Minister in 2014. Following this agenda with a few more additions, Narendra Modi secured himself as the Prime Minister of India again in 2019.
After coming to power, Modi continued to implement his party agenda of having Hindu primacy in India. His first step to please his Hindu nationalist’s support was in 2019, which was the revoking of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. Same year, the Modi government passed the “Citizenship Amendment Act” to further marginalize Muslims. The critics saw this act as a violation of the secular foundation of India.
The CAA gave the non-Muslim minorities a faster way towards citizenship whereas it did not refer to the Muslims. Such actions of Modi made him popular among the Hindu nationalists in India. But certain challenges are emerging for Modi to secure its third victory in the 2024 general elections.
During his election campaigns, Modi also advocated to increase employment and end corruption in the country. However, he failed to deliver in these areas. Initially, the economy rate increased, making India the fastest-growing economy in the world. But a few initiatives by the Modi government such as demonetization and the imposition of Goods and Services Tax (GST) led to a rapid downfall in the economy that came down from 9 percent in 2016 to merely 4.5 percent in 2019, the lowest in 6 years. Similarly, the unemployment rate continues to rise.
With an increasing population, the Modi government is still struggling to provide enough employment to the people. Another domain that was on the agenda of Modi’s election campaign was to fight corruption. But his promise of “Na Khaunga Na Khaney don ga”, has failed to fulfill the agenda. Despite all the facts, there are high chance that Modi will gain a third consecutive victory in the upcoming general elections.
One of the significant accomplishments that the BJP proudly touts is the fulfillment of its promise to revoke Article 370, a move that garnered widespread attention and approval, especially among the Hindu community.
Following this, the inauguration of the Ram Temple stands out as a pivotal milestone in the party’s political narrative. The temple, erected on the site where the Babri Masjid once stood, symbolizes a key element carefully woven into the BJP’s election strategy.
The Ram Temple inauguration is not merely a religious event; it is a political masterstroke aimed at building and solidifying a religious public sentiment in favor of the BJP. The historical context of the temple, replacing the Babri Masjid, has the potential to evoke strong emotions and align the electorate with the party’s ideology. This move is strategically designed to create a narrative that resonates with the cultural and religious values of a significant section of the Indian population.
Political scientist Asim Ali, who has extensively analyzed election campaigns in India, asserts that the BJP has adeptly played on Hindutva sentiments, emphasizing Hindu nationalism, to secure the majority vote. The party’s success in incorporating key religious and cultural milestones into its political narrative reflects a nuanced understanding of the electorate’s pulse.
As the 2024 elections approach, the BJP’s emphasis on religious symbolism and the strategic utilization of Hindutva sentiments underscores a meticulous campaign strategy. It remains to be seen how these elements will shape the electoral landscape and contribute to the party’s overarching goal of achieving a resounding victory. The BJP will certainly attain a landslide victory in the 2024 general elections, but many questions are raised regarding secularism in India.
The author is a Research Associate at Air University Islamabad.