Watch Nidhi Razdan: India Elections get underway — Why Modi is BJP’s trump card Video Credit: Gulf News

On the day that this column appears in ‘Gulf News’, India will have started the world’s largest democratic exercise with phase one of the general elections. The 7 phase polls will finish with counting on the 4th of June.

Narendra Modi is widely tipped to win another term but will this battle be tougher than the BJP would like to admit? In public, the Prime Minister set a target of 370 seats for the BJP alone, up 67 seats from last time.

And for the NDA alliance, the target is an ambitious 400 plus. But while the Modi factor is an important one in a possible third term for the BJP, bread and butter issues are beginning to tell and could make this election a tougher fight.

Less than a month before the first vote was cast, a pre poll survey done by CSDS-Lokniti found that while the NDA had a good 12 point overall lead over the opposition INDIA alliance, growing unhappiness over unemployment and inflation was now a major issue.

These contradictions are what make India’s elections so complex and layered. What is interesting that compared to 2019, the number of people satisfied with the NDA government has come down, even though it is still significant. So in 2019, while 65% of respondents said they were “somewhat” or “fully” satisfied with the government, in 2024, that number has come down to 57%. The share of those “somewhat” or “fully” dissatisfied has increased from 30% to 39%.

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Modi’s welfare schemes

On jobs, the survey showed that 62% said getting jobs had become more difficult with 65% of these in cities. More than 70% of those surveyed said prices had gone up in the last 5 years.

On the other hand, “Ayodhya Ram Mandir” was chosen by many as this government’s “most admired work”. Especially among NDA voters, one in three chose the construction of the temple as the “most admired work of Mr. Modi”.

So what does this tell us about the Modi magic and the winning abilities of the BJP? One, that Modi himself is at the core of the BJP’s success. The party may be facing anti incumbency at local levels, but Mr. Modi is still the most popular political leader. In the CSDS-Lokniti survey, 48% of respondents backed Modi for Prime Minister, with Rahul Gandhi far behind at 27%.

While Modi’s welfare schemes targeting the poor and women have been a major reason for the BJP’s success in 2019, economic distress is hurting ordinary Indians. But while dissatisfaction with the BJP may be growing but it does not appear to have reached a point where it will hurt the party electorally.

The survey shows that those who are more economically marginalised as well as minorities are not too happy with this government.

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One more chance

Emotional issues like the Ram Temple have also clearly been a huge booster for the BJP ahead of the polls. I did find it interesting however that an overwhelming majority of respondents in the survey said India belongs to all religions. 79% said India must remain a country where people following different religions can live and practice their faith freely.

Overall, while anxiety over jobs and prices may be growing among voters, Narendra Modi’s leadership is a key trump card for the BJP along with Hindutva and the centre’s development work over the last ten years.

How this election plays out will also depend on how the opposition plays its cards. But the playing field is not a fair one. The BJP has more money power than multiple parties combined, it has the support of a supine mainstream media and agencies like the Enforcement Directorate or the ED have been used to jail opponents like Arvind Kejriwal.

We will also have to see whether the electoral bonds scandal makes an impact with voters or whether they are willing to look the other way and give Modi one more chance.