Prime Minister Narendra Modi 20190226
Almost 13 months before the next general election in India, prime minister Narendra Modi is in pole position Image Credit: Supplied

As he spoke in the upper house of India’s parliament earlier this month, replying to opposition’s attack on him and his links with industrialist Gautam Adani, Prime Minister Modi set the tone for the 2024 Lok Sabha battle.

“The nation is watching how an individual is strongly facing many”, he thundered. “They (Opposition parties) don’t have enough slogans and have to change their slogans. I am living for the country”.

That sentiment was echoed by Home Minister Amit Shah, who told the news agency ANI that there was no competition to Narendra Modi and that the people of India were solidly behind him.

Whether is this the usual political bluster before elections will only be proven when people come and cast their votes. But the fact is, it IS advantage Modi for 2024 at the moment. A divided, directionless opposition is still struggling to find a common platform.

Modi versus the rest

It suits the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to have this narrative of one leader (Modi) taking on the fight of a long list of opposition leaders. Modi versus the rest.

Let us look at where things stand today. Rahul Gandhi just had a pretty successful Bharat Jodo Yatra, which has boosted the morale of the Congress cadre and helped transform the image of Rahul himself, from a reluctant leader, into a politician who is being taken more seriously.

Whether this translates into votes for the Congress is not yet known.

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Prime Minister Modi has already set the tone for the 2024 Lok Sabha battle

But look at the politics of the opposition around the yatra. Several key parties stayed away, wary of seeming to support a Congress lead opposition front.

At the grand finale of the yatra in Srinagar last month, only 8 out of the 23 opposition parties who were invited to attend, showed up. The 8 included the CPI, DMK, National Conference, PDP, and JMM.

While big players like Mamata Banerjee, Akhilesh Yadav and even the JDU and the RJD, stayed away. The CPM, which has an alliance with the Congress in Tripura, also stayed away.

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A divided opposition

Meanwhile parties like the BRS (the erstwhile TRS) lead by Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao, as well as Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP, want to push ahead for an opposition front without the Congress, which has muddied the opposition waters even more.

The Congress, high on the Bharat Jodo Yatra, is also not making any bones about its ambitions, despite suffering a series of electoral defeats, including the recent rout in Gujarat.

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India's Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi at a public meeting in Srinagar, Kashmir amid heavy snowfall as he concluded the 'Bharat Jodo Yatra' (Unite India March) last month

Senior Congress leader and close Rahul aide, Jairam Ramesh, recently said that those parties who believe an anti BJP front is possible without the Congress, are living in a “fool’s paradise”.

No one should make the mistake of writing off the Congress, he asserted. Yet, given the string of defeats it has faced, is the Congress ready to compromise with smaller parties? Unlikely.

It is this disunity in the opposition ranks, and a clear jostling for who should be the face of an anti BJP alliance, that gives Narendra Modi and the ruling BJP an advantage straight off.

The BJP hopes that by making 2024 a battle about Modi against opposition leaders who are ganging up against him, they can tide over any anti incumbency and real issues like unemployment.

The BJP will also hammer home the point that schemes launched by the centre are essentially Modi’s schemes for the country’s citizens, especially the poor and women. The Modi card is the BJP’s trump card yet again. And they may just succeed.