Haryana is the site of some of the most consequential battles in the long history of India, including that fought at Kurukshetra. The war fought on its plains between the Kauravas and the Pandavas more than three millennia ago is narrated in the Mahabharata, which though among the greatest of world epics is yet to find its deserved place in school curricula. Haryana is also where Panipat is. In countries where the past is treated more respectfully, the town would have been a global tourist destination. For Panipat is where three battles of transformational historical significance were fought around six and four centuries ago. The Battles of Panipat altered the future of India. In the first (1526), Babur defeated Ibrahim Lodi to usher in the Mughal Empire, while in the second (1556), Akbar defeated Hemu, thereby ensuring two more centuries of Mughal rule. The Third Battle of Panipat (1761) was between Ahmed Shah Durrani and Sadashivrao Bhau. Had the latter triumphed, the Marathas would have replaced the Mughals as the rulers of most of India. The Marathas lost the battle but continued to harass their foes, thereby exhausting themselves as well as their adversaries to such an extent that the way was opened for the British to launch their conquest of India. Given such a history, it is Panipat that comes to mind at the already started campaign for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, for the verdict in the forthcoming Lok Sabha contest between Narendra Modi and a combination of his principal opponents will alter India’s history.
From 2014 onwards, as Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has been working on a 15-year plan for the transformation of India, and while the contours of such a change are becoming clearer, only through a third 5-year term can Modi ensure that the change is made to a depth that makes it permanent. Opposing him are those who seek a return to the past, a state of affairs that has steadily been uprooted since 26 May 2014, he took on the responsibility for the administration of India on the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan. Given the incalculable stakes that are involved in the coming national polls, it is small wonder that those intent on replacing Narendra Modi are operating at full throttle in denigrating him and his achievements. Social media in particular is being harnessed by those seeking to confine Modi to a two-term Prime Minister to convey to multiple groups and sub-groups of electors that the nine years of the Modi government were not beneficially transformative but regressive. Or that progress, although present, was woefully inadequate given the needs of the citizenry. Now he is nearing the close of his second term, a period in which the Prime Minister faced daunting headwinds. These include the disruptions caused by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and those of the Ukraine war since 2022. The economic distress caused by such externally created disasters is being sought to be placed entirely on the Prime Minister’s shoulders, as though it were Modi who was responsible for the lab leak at Wuhan that caused the Covid-19 pandemic, and who persuaded Putin to launch an invasion of Ukraine two years later. The chants of the anti-Modi groups are becoming louder that taxes and prices are too high and job growth is too low, and of course, all this is the fault of the PM. Their motto is ABM, Anyone but Modi. Such is the daily lament.
The problem facing the ABM movement is that since Modi became PM in 2014, throughout the country significant improvements have taken place in the matter of housing, nutrition and health. Wherever possible, the schemes responsible for such progress have been renamed and packaged in a way designed to take the credit away from the central to the concerned state government. Action by the ED and the CBI on those with far too much money to explain away is portrayed as a vendetta on political opponents rather than as a war on corruption. Narendra Modi has been in office as Prime Minister for two consecutive terms and counting. Those seeking Modi’s replacement have been travelling within the country and overseas, describing India as having become a despotic fiefdom. A frequent claim is that India is a country where (since Modi took charge of the Union Government) elections that are held have a pre-determined outcome, and where the Election Commission is a cipher. A claim disproved by the many poll results where the BJP has lost, and yet gets repeated, especially abroad, so as to try and create doubts about the reality that is democracy in India.
Given that the Congress Party, whose unacknowledged but actual leader Rahul Gandhi ranks among the most strident proponents of a starkly dystopian view of present-day India, wiped the floor with the BJP in Karnataka just weeks ago, at least a few of those abroad who listened to Rahul’s unchanging, emphatic views on the state of democracy in India may be bewildered. Should an opposition party lose a state to the BJP in the assembly polls coming up later this year, the refrain of opposition leaders that elections in India are a fixed match will resume in force. Should the dreams of the ABM collective come true and, for example, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar secure a promotion to the Prime Ministership in 2024, it is clear that his priority would be to make the whole of India what Bihar has become under his rule. Similarly, the feisty, formidable Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, another prime mover of the “Defeat Modi” collective, would as Prime Minister work to ensure that the realities of present-day West Bengal get reproduced across the rest of the country. A third aspirant for the country’s top job, Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao, is hoping for a patchwork quilt result in the next Lok Sabha, as a result of which he expects to be made the Prime Minister in manner H.D. Deve Gowda was pitchforked into the job in 1996. In the case of Nitish, Mamata or KCR, through their performance as CMs the country would get an insight into the kind of administration that they would bring should they win power nationally. In the case of Rahul Gandhi, the de facto head of the Congress Party, such an assessment is not possible, as he has thus far refrained from holding any ministerial position, in common with his sister Priyanka and his mother Sonia. The hold of the family triumvirate over the Congress Party would ensure that the task of a future Congress Prime Minister would be to return India to the path taken by the three family members who had that responsibility in the past. Given all this, it is obvious that the country would move in a very different direction were the Anyone but Modi movement to succeed in preventing PM Narendra Modi from winning a third term in office in the next Lok Sabha polls.
The problem for his opponents is that Narendra Modi changed the face of Gujarat in 13 years, and he has been doing the same on a national level since 2014. By 2029, the plan is for India to join the US and the PRC in the superpower league. It is that the use of hybrid (online and physical) modes of education would enable the economically disadvantaged to get the quality of education that their active minds deserve. It is that both as a services and a manufacturing base, and as a technology leader, India would rank among the top three in the world. The plan is that by 2029 India would ensure housing and healthcare for its people on the level of a middle income country. The calculation is that five more years of the Modi government are needed to make a transition to a much higher orbit permanent, or else what has been accomplished since 2014 could get reversed. Which is why the 2024 Lok Sabha polls are shaping up to be a contest that would have as decisive an effect on the future of India as the three wars of Panipat did in the past. PM Modi is looking for a hat-trick at the coming parliamentary elections to render impregnable the transformative changes that he has brought and is bringing to the 1.4 billion people of India.