Election Results 2023: Semis on December 3 Will Be a Test for the ‘4Ms’ Before 2024 Finals – News18

Exit poll projections have created an air of anticipation by throwing up a few twists.

It is true that, in the past, individual exit polls have missed the mark. But when their projections have been aggregated, they have been reasonably helpful in giving us an idea of the prevailing mood among voters.

And so the math suggests that the Congress’s hopes of a clean sweep may suffer a setback. A majority of the polls show that the Congress could find itself pipped to the post in the Hindi heartland states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

Even in Chhattisgarh, where the Congress is very dominant presently, it will be given a run for its money courtesy a BJP late surge.

Fortunately, for the Congress, the exit polls tell us that voters in Telangana are more charitably disposed towards it. The Congress is expected to secure a comfortable majority over KCR’s Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS).

At this stage, approximately five months short of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP will be happy to split the honours (2-2) with the Congress.

Remember, the party has been on the ropes in Madhya Pradesh where it has been in power for 17 years or so. Incumbent Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has had a spotty record. Readers will recall that Chouhan had lost the elections to the Congress’s Kamal Nath in 2018. Chouhan owes his continued run in office to satrap Jyotiraditya Scindia and his coterie of MLAs who defected from the Congress to the BJP, pulling down the Nath government in 2019. The defection gave the BJP the extra seats it needed to form a government for a third time under Chouhan.

In neighbouring Rajasthan, the BJP has long been rudderless, riven as it was by factionalism. In the absence of a strong BJP challenger, the Congress, led by Ashok Gehlot, looked set to return to power. If it does, it will break an almost three-decade-long trend of voters booting out incumbents every five years.

But a bold gambit by the BJP’s most bankable face, Narendra Modi, and master strategist Amit Shah has galvanised the BJP cadre in both the states.

Modi and Shah marched a platoon of BJP union ministers and MPs into the breach. Some of the BJP central commanders have been made to contest the elections from their Lok Sabha bastions and others have been called upon to rally the cadre at organisational level.

Exit poll projections seem to suggest the tactic may have paid off.

But this purported semi-final is much more than just about building tactical momentum ahead of the big one in 2024.

Instead, it is a proving ground for the 4Ms – a clutch of strategies that parties plan to deploy for the grand finale in 2024.

First, let’s talk about M1 or the Modi factor. With the Prime Minister seeking votes in his name and the BJP not projecting any local CM faces, this election has turned into a referendum on brand Modi’s credibility. ‘Modi ki Guarantee’ is the BJP’s vote mobilizing slogan in this election. The unusual decision by Modi to put himself on the ticket for a round of state elections is a response to the Opposition which has repeatedly proclaimed that the people are tired of his allegedly false promises.

The PM in his wisdom has decided to put this to the test. If the BJP performs as per exit poll projections in the three Hindi-heartland states, it will cement Modi’s position as the principle differentiator between his party and the Opposition. The BJP will almost certainly design its entire 2024 campaign messaging around Modi’s reliability. The INDIA bloc that lacks a mascot who has pan-national acceptability would be loath to getting embroiled in a presidential-style election again.

Now, let’s look at M2 or the Mandal (OBC) Card. The Opposition is counting heavily on winning votes by promising a caste census. The Opposition hopes that a caste survey would help it hand out sops, euphemistically dubbed “haq” (right) linked to the real “abaadi” (population) of the Backward Classes. Rahul Gandhi and his alliance cohorts believe that the quota or Mandal card will counter the BJP’s Hindutva card. The BJP, as we know, has successfully used Hindu religion – Bharat’s supra identity – to transcend the caste divide and build a consolidated vote bank.

To cement its rainbow coalition of disparate castes beyond its traditional upper caste core base, the BJP has additionally relied on targeted welfare schemes. Several OBC castes have benefited from the patronage and vote for the BJP religiously. The Opposition’s caste card could ignite the fires of competitive caste-based identity politics and potentially lure OBC voters away from the BJP. If the Congress were to win the Hindi heartland, the caste census card would be deemed to have played a significant role. It would then be aggressively deployed for 2024. It goes without saying that other INDIA bloc parties, some of who are exclusively caste-based parties, will be watching closely on December 3.

Now, onto M3 or the Mahila vote. Women voter participation continues to surge. In MP, for instance, 18.3 lakh women voters cast their ballots, 2% more than last time. In Rajasthan, they have also pipped the men to the ballot.

The BJP was the first to spot the trend and has for years cultivated women ‘labharthee’ (beneficiaries) to take it from strength to strength. Almost every welfare scheme unveiled by the BJP at the central or state level has a female component.

Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh makes it a point to address women as “laadli behenas” (adored sisters), a play on several ‘laadli behena’ welfare schemes. Responding to the Opposition for pulling him up for not enthusiastically championing the caste census, the Prime Minister has cleverly proclaimed that, for him, the foremost ‘caste’ in India is that of women. Gender, of course, is a primary identity and cuts across all castes.

If the BJP doesn’t do well in this so-called semi-final on account of losing the woman vote, it may lead to a massive strategic reassessment ahead of the 2024 finals.

Handing 33% of its total tickets to women may be the least of the measures the BJP is likely to contemplate to retain its popularity among its thus far steadfast women supporters.

Last, but not the least, is M4 or the BJP’s Majority mobilization strategy. Is the Hindutva card still working? The BJP has gained tremendously by the Prime Minister’s ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’ image. In the Hindi heartland, the BJP never tires of reminding voters that it is the sole guardian of the Hindu faith. But after having delivered on its promise to construct the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, many political observers believe that the religion card might have lost its emotive appeal.

The BJP, of course, doesn’t think so. It believes that Hindus are discriminated against. That they are denied state resources by Opposition parties intent on appeasing the minority community. The Prime Minister aggressively talked about the Opposition’s selective appeasement in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. The results on December 3 will tell us whether political Hindutva remain electorally potent.

The stage is set.