Sonia Gandhi, former Congress President and mother to the current one, in response to a question on Prime Minister Modi’s invincibility, has remarked that people assumed the Atal Bihari Vajpayee was invincible in 2004 as well but the UPA managed to secure a win.
UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi on if she thinks PM Narendra Modi is invincible: Not at all. Don’t forget 2004. Vajpayee Ji was invincible, but we won pic.twitter.com/0teDBtQ24G
— ANI UP (@ANINewsUP) April 11, 2019
While the Opposition would be looking back to 2004 to give themselves hope, they are acutely aware that there are intrinsic differences between the BJP of today and the party under the late Vajpayee.
The Vajpayee regime for all its positive aspects was not half as ruthless as the BJP under the Modi-Shah duo. Under the able leadership of Amit Shah, the BJP has developed a well oiled machine that has established its authority all over India and is continuing to expand. The kind of expansion of the BJP that we are witnessing today simply didn’t happen under Vajpayee.
From the very outset, the Modi-Shah duo set out to establish a BJP hegemony over Indian polity, a hegemony it has largely succeeded in creating while suffering a few hiccups along the way.
The policies of the Vajpayee government contributed to its fall as well. The government went ahead with its policy of disinvestment at a time when the Indian electorate was not very sympathetic towards it. As a consequence, there was significant disenchantment with the ruling dispensation. In contrast, Narendra Modi has adopted several populist policies to ensure that every section of the electorate remains in the fold.
The BJP under Vajpayee did not try to break the Establishment monopoly over the mainstream media as well. On the other hand, Narendra Modi over the past 5 years has succeeded in engineering a situation where the mainstream media is not as heavily slanted towards Congress as it used to be.
Most importantly, there were no social media back in 2004. Therefore, the establishment had a near monopoly on narratives. Now, the mainstream media stands discredited and Narendra Modu has a huge presence on social media. With the rise of social media, a massive cultural shift has occurred within the country. There has been a great Hindu awakening that wouldn’t have been possible during the Vajpayee years. And needless to say, it favours Narendra Modi.
The Congress party itself has undergone a remarkable shift since its victory Sonia Gandhi, for all her faults, was an extremely able president of the Congress party. Her son is anything but. Sonia Gandhi in 2004 had the same ruthlessness that Amit Shah has now. Moreover, the second term of Manmohan Singh’s tenure sealed the fate of the Congress party. The series of scams that unfolded during the period damaged Congress’ credibility beyond repair. And the party is now in terminal decline.
Thus, we have a situation where the leadership of the BJP is far more ruthless than it was in 2004 and the leadership of the Congress party appears to be totally unaware of Indian ground realities and has as its President perhaps the most incompetent high profile politician.
Also, in 2004 the battle between the BJP and the Congress was largely ideological. In 2019, as it was in 2014, the battle is extremely personal. The Lok Sabha elections of 2019 revolve around personalities. And when one party has Narendra Modi on its side while the other has the likes of Rahul Gandhi and Tejashwi Yadav, it’s not very hard to imagine which party has the edge.
The BJP of today is a completely different beast than it was in 2004. Narendra Modi is no Vajpayee and the Opposition is well aware of that. The astute politician that she is, Sonia Gandhi surely knows that even if the Opposition somehow succeeds in defeating the BJP, the Congress will nowhere nearly have the power that it had back in 2004. She may be putting on a brave face but deep inside, she is aware that the prospect of her party returning to power looks extremely dim.
Too many things have changed between 2004 and 2019. The Indian polity is much more polarized today than it was 15 years ago. Until such a time when more Hindutva political parties arrive on the frame, such polarization will only benefit the BJP. Although the Congress party has been trying hard to present a more ‘Hindu’ face, it’s often a case of one step forward and two steps back.
While the defeat of 2004 is forever etched into the memory of BJP voters as well, India of 2019 is not the country it was in 2004. Therefore, chances of a monumental collapse, and it would require a monumental collapse for the BJP here on, are extremely minimal.