India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses party supporters at the BJP Headquarters during a celebration following the party's win in Assembly elections of Uttar Pradesh and others states, in New Delhi on Thursday. Image Credit: ANI

His skill as an orator is a soft-power capital that India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has banked on since his days as the Gujarat chief minister and of course in the later years as the prime minister of India.

And over the last eight years, since he entered the office of the highest public servant in the world’s largest democracy, Narendra Modi has made it a habit to address party workers and supporters on every single evening of a major election win, at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi. March 10, 2022, was no different.

Having won four of the five states where elections were held recently — results for which were declared on Thursday — Modi’s address to jubilant party workers was as much a formality as it was celebratory.

However, unlike all the victory speeches that he had delivered since his party’s thumping win in the 2014 General Elections, Thursday’s speech was way different in its verve, tenor and content.

Not only were his words steeped in the confidence and bravado of a victor, but were also an attempted trend-setter of sorts to chalk out the agenda — not just for his own party, but to a large extent even for the opposition as well!

The Modi twin-charger

Modi's speech on Thursday can broadly be divided into two parts — while one was a clear attempt at keeping the fabled BJP cadre-base energised to the core, the other was a very tactful way of placating an opposition entity for any emerging political compulsion out of the 2024 General Elections.

And collectively, with this twin-charger, Modi has yet again proved that no matter what the circumstances are, no matter who the opponent is and irrespective of the arena, for some time to come, the template for a national narrative within India’s political sphere will largely be emerging out of this seasoned Gujarati’s playbook!

So what exactly did he say in his nearly 40-minute speech at the palatial BJP red-sandstone headquarters on Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg in New Delhi on Thursday evening?

In a very clever, but extremely well-timed allusion to the past, Modi said that after his party’s thumping win in the 2019 General Elections, some political pundits had apparently said that the win was a foregone conclusion from the day BJP won the Uttar Pradesh (UP) state elections in 2017.

“So, I hope the same experts will be wise enough to predict today that with this UP win in 2022, the fate of 2024 has already been decided,” Modi said to a thunderous applause from BJP party workers and supporters.

Prime-time television debate

Now, apart from the very obvious attempt to keep the BJP grass-roots workforce energised, this comment from the prime minister himself will have set the agenda for a bigger national political debate. In the days and months ahead, reams of newsprint and hours of prime-time television debate will for sure be revolving on this one question: ‘Is 2024 a done deal?’

Irrespective of whether you are speaking for or against the idea of BJP’s win in 2024 being a done deal, you will effectively be debating an issue the motion for which has been set by none other than the PM himself.

In other words, even without himself being an active participant in this debate hereafter, the ruling party’s foremost leader has set the terms for a national discourse for the opposition to chase!

A true-blue politician

If this was the more obvious aspect of Modi’s words on the victory podium, then what was much more intriguing was his veiled message to Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and its supremo Arvind Kejriwal.

Without taking even an ounce of the credit away from AAP for what was truly a spectacular electoral success in Punjab, Modi said that he and his party workers would still be digging their heels deep in the state because “Punjab being a border state has its obvious sensitivities and we will be there to help and keep a watch ...” he said. That is the hallmark of Modi, the true-blue politician.

He knows that given AAP’s stupendous results in Punjab, Kejriwal has every possibility to emerge as the new power-centre within the opposition forces in the immediate future.

Should 2024 throw up a fractured verdict, a realignment of ‘friends’ and ‘foes’ within the opposition ranks itself cannot be ruled out.

Keeping such equations in mind, Modi’s outreach for AAP in Punjab is an open-ended call: While apparently it may seem to be a forewarning to keep the nascent government in Punjab on its toes, given AAP’s obvious handicap in terms of administrative inexperience, it can also be seen and interpreted as a rather patronising push to stand by AAP as a ‘friend’ in need.

‘You may be close to the voters’ hearts today, but Punjab, as an integral and sensitive Indian entity, is close to the prime minister’s heart,’ seems to be Modi’s intended sub-text — a masterstroke, one thought.

Playing catch-up

While BJP has delivered the goods at the hustings with fair aplomb in these polls, Modi’s speech is indicative of his phenomenal growth in stature as a stalwart national leader whose outreach and ability to set the direction and terms of a national political discourse is something that the opposition in India will have to catch up with — and fast enough — should there be any semblance of a fight in 2024.