As India prepares for its next general elections scheduled to be held in early 2024, all eyes are on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and whether he will secure a third consecutive term. Riding high on his continued popularity, Modi remains the frontrunner for 2024. However, he faces some emerging challenges that could complicate his re-election bid.
Narendra Modi still remains quite popular among large sections of voters. His personal approval ratings continue to be much higher than his rivals, typically around 55% as per surveys. He is by far the most popular national figure in Indian politics today, projecting a strong, decisive image that appeals to many voters.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under Modi’s leadership has expanded its national footprint extensively. The BJP now rules alone or with allies in 17 states, which represents the party’s strongest ever performance in the states. This gives the party an advantage in terms of state election machinery and resources for national elections.
Despite anti-incumbency sentiments after ten years in power, Modi led the BJP to big state election victories in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand this year. Winning India’s largest state decisively has bolstered BJP’s confidence for the national elections.
Modi is aided by a weak and fractured opposition. The primary opposition party, the Indian National Congress, has been struggling with weak leadership, infighting within party ranks, and an inability to mount a serious nationwide challenge to the BJP. Key regional parties like Mamata Banerjee’s TMC and Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP have grown in strength, but do not yet have true pan-India appeal. A divided opposition helps Modi’s prospects.
On the economic front, despite turbulence in the global economy following the pandemic and the Ukraine war, India has done reasonably well in terms of recovering growth. GDP growth for 2022-23 is expected to be around 7%. Unemployment has also declined after peaking during the pandemic. Inflation remains a worry, but the BJP still enjoys credibility among voters for its handling of the economy.
Modi’s welfare schemes targeting the poor such as direct benefit transfers, subsidized food grains, and cooking gas cylinder distribution have helped cement his popularity in large swathes of rural India as well as the urban poor. Even with some fade in lustre, these schemes remain important from an electoral perspective.
However, despite these advantages, Modi faces some significant challenges and risks:
The biggest economic challenge is high inflation, which is biting into household budgets. Price rise in essentials like food and fuel affect the poor the most. Tackling inflation will be crucial for electoral prospects.
Job creation, an area that Modi had made big promises on, has been slow and employment disruption caused by the pandemic has been significant. The lack of enough good quality jobs for India’s youth is an issue.
Another bug-bear for the ruling front is the rising rural and agrarian distress in parts of India. Protests by farmers against agriculture laws shows rural unrest. Any missteps around procurement prices could aggravate this.
BJP’s recent overt push towards staunch Hindu nationalism risks alienating minority voters, especially muslims. Controversial issues like hijab bans, restrictions around religious conversions and inter-faith marriages have created an atmosphere of intolerance as per critics.
While foreign policy traditionally does not play a big role in Indian elections, security failures to prevent terror attacks, and any failure to stand up to Pakistan or China could undermine Modi’s muscular image.
Anti-incumbency mood tends to gradually build up against parties in power for too long. Local governance and corruption issues could catalyze public anger.
One of the key issues for the BJP has been in its equation with allies. The party is likely to fall short of a majority on its own in 2024 polls and needs allies. Any fractures in the NDA coalition will greatly weaken chances.
Finally, the BJP also suffers from the lack of a second rung and state-level leaders to match Modi’s aura. Several key BJP leaders are aging, ailing or have passed away. While this may be only a minor factor in a national election, it would still make a difference as the PM himself will find it difficult to drive the election campaign in all the states of India.
The opposition is expected to be more united in 2024 compared to 2019. They have learned that fragmented campaigns only help BJP. Any mahagathbandhan of regional satraps aligned against Modi will make polls harder.
Overall, while Modi remains the frontrunner to win 2024 based on his personal appeal, BJP’s electoral dominance and a weak opposition, the election outcome still hinges on several factors:
- Delivering economic development and jobs will be top priority. Any stumbles here could derail BJP’s reelection.
- Keeping social cohesion intact is paramount. Sectarian tensions, violence and discrimination controversies will help opposition.
- Retaining allies and partners will give NDA crucial numbers since BJP on its own may fall short.
- A lot will depend on the nature of the opposition alliance. A coordinated anti-Modi front will make polls competitive.
- The PM’s own energy levels and governance focus will need to continue without complacency creeping in. Any lapses will be seized by rivals.
- Benefits from welfarism have to be sustained by plugging holes in delivery and targeting. Anti-incumbency has to be deflected.
- Jockeying for leadership positions within BJP as the next generation moves up the ranks has to be managed deftly by Modi and Shah.
Thus, while Prime Minister Modi clearly has an edge given the opposition’s disarray, his own popularity and his party’s electoral successes, victory in 2024 is not guaranteed. Avoiding major mistakes and keeping confidence of both voters and allies will be essential. But with his dominant position in Indian politics today, the odds still favor Narendra Modi returning to power with the BJP and its NDA allies forming the next government after 2024.