I.N.D.I. Alliance’s three September blunders may haunt it till 2024 elections

September 16,2023

We have barely reached the middle of September, and the I.N.D.I. Alliance has already made at least three blunders which it may find onerous to live down in the approaching election season. Mistakes prove expensive when your political opponents invest their resources in amplifying them; blunders can prove electorally fatal.

At a time Prime Minister Narendra Modi is setting the nation’s collective imagination alight with voyages to the sun, moon, and the deep seas, the Opposition is scoring self-goals by fingering the religious majority, sneering at the Prime Minister and hundreds of millions like him who are not Western enough, and boycotting a very influential section of the media.

It makes one wonder whether Bharat’s main Opposition alliance lacks basic political wisdom; or it can see something which others can’t; or its intent is to lose the match to stay in the game. Perhaps ensuring what increasingly seems like a foregone BJP victory in the 2024 general elections gives the gaggle of dynastic and one-personality parties immunity against prosecution by agencies like the Enforcement Directorate or the Central Bureau of Investigation?

Who knows what is happening behind the scenes. But the last week or two has seen actions by the Congress-led alliance which defy political common sense.

It started with its southern ally DMK scion Udhayanidhi Stalin exhorting the annihilation of the Sanatan Dharma itself, a pretty straightforward call for genocide. Later, he tried to tone it down by saying that he meant the obliteration of caste injustices, but by then the master’s call had caught on, and DMK leaders like A Raja were publicly making the same genocidal noises.

This is nothing new in Tamil Nadu. Hindu hate in the guise of fighting Brahminism has been normalised since the ’60s and ’70s by Periyar’s Dravidian movement to the extent that deities were hit with slippers or desecrated with faeces. This Hindu-hate brought rich dividends for parties like the DMK.

But something was different this time. The nationwide outrage to Udhayanidhi’s comment, even from within Tamil Nadu, was immediate and intense. The state has been witnessing the first stir of a Hindutva revival under the young leadership of BJP’s Annamalai. Voter segments which were statue-cold about their own ideology out of fear or indifference are slowly leaping to life.

The attacks on Sanatan Dharma with tacit or vocal support from prominent I.N.D.I. Alliance constituents like the Congress and the TMC give Modi a whip to lash his rivals ahead of 2024 elections and galvanise Hindus. But this time, the genocidal utterances could mobilise a silent Hindu vote even in Tamil Nadu, exactly what the BJP wants.

The second blunder came during the G20 summit in New Delhi. While the world admired India’s organising power and talked about its impressive economic rise, the Congress was busy mocking PM Modi over holding a glass in the correct ‘Western’ way. It started after US President Joe Biden was heard telling a joke about holding the wine glass with a particular hand. Congress leaders and social media handles started portraying it as Biden ribbing Modi about holding the glass wrong (which wasn’t the case).

What the Congress fails to realise is that by mocking Modi over Western etiquette, it is mocking hundreds of millions of Indians who either do not know Western aristocratic manners or do not care. It also insults the massive surge of nationalism which seeks to cleanse the mass psyche of precisely this kind of colonial slavery. It insults ordinary Indians most of whom do not use a wine glass or goblet, let alone be bothered about which hand to hold these with. Such elitism has cost Congress its dominance in Indian politics, but it has not learnt any lesson from its debacles.

Lastly, the boycott list of journalists that the alliance has brought out on Thursday is an inexplicable act of petty vengeance devoid of any political smartness. It robs the Congress and its allies of the biggest plank they have been using against Narendra Modi to their electorate and to their patrons overseas: that Modi is a fascist who muzzles free speech.

After putting the target on the backs of 14 journalists, how will Rahul Gandhi tell his foreign friends or impressionable audience that his party stands for free speech and “mohabbat ki dukaan” (shop of love)?

Also, with this move, the I.N.D.I. Alliance cedes enormous amount of media space to the BJP. The 14 anchors together make up a fairly large viewership, both in English and Hindi segments. The Congress and its friends will go unrepresented there instead of taking on those they deem biased and pesky anchors and winning the communication war. Even if an anchor acts hostile towards certain spokespersons, party social media units nowadays slice and dice the spokespersons lines into short, potentially viral videos and send it hurtling through social networks like WhatsApp.

So, in three profound and long-term ways, the Opposition alliance has harmed itself by shortsightedness and vengefulness. That too in a span of a fortnight. The result of its September actions will continue to unfold over the next six or eight months. It may already be too late to fix the damage.