Modi’s election strategy

Muhammad Tahir Iqbal feels Pulwama was the best thing to have happened to the BJP ahead of the elections in India

Modi’s election strategy
Back in 2014, Narendra Modi stood tall on stage speaking vociferously on issues which mattered to the people of India. He pledged to create 20 million jobs, bring black money in 100 days and arrange ruminative prices for farmers.

People voted the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and it emerged as the first single parliamentary majority party in three decades of India’s history.

Now five years have elapsed, and the BJP has not been able to deliver on many of the promises it made to the people of India. Oil and diesel prices kept soaring despite international oil prices plummeting to a historic low. Unemployment rate stands is higher than it has been in the last four decades. Farmers are distressed and protesting, some have also committed suicides. Such is the plight of those whose livelihood depends on agriculture.

Moreover, the blame of changing the terms of the Rafale deal to acquire jets for prices three times higher without following the stipulated procurement procedure pushed the BJP further into the ditch of ignominy. Besides this, the party also spent a huge amount of tax payers’ money on advertising its achievements.

If it has delivered on anything, it is the germination and cultivation of hate against minorities. Attacks on Dalits and Muslims became the norm in India under Modi’s rule. What makes these attacks eerie was the tacit state endorsement, where ministers garlanded the attackers. India became divided along the lines of caste, creed and religion under Modi’s rule.
Polling agency C-Voter says the Indian Prime Minister’s ratings, which dipped to an all-time low in January, have jumped to over 60 percent and are now close to previous highs

Given such a dismal context created by Modi and his cohorts, people became wary of the BJP which did not on many promises, notwithstanding huge coterie of 73 ministers running various departments.

The result was that the BJP lost to Congress in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, all of which it previously governed. It was also disgraced in Telangana and Mizoram. This put the BJP in a very tough position just ahead of general elections.

Then came the Pulwama incident which changed the political landscape altogether. Modi’s ever-decreasing popularity graph started to rise again. The dwindling crowds at his political gatherings began to swell. Swearing and angry ranting against Pakistan seem to have energised the whole lot. Once again, there was vibrancy in Indian politics.

The national political discourse changed from local issues to national security. Nativism has been shoved to the back drawers. Congress is trying to resuscitate issue-based politics but it seems that now it will take time.

Polling agency C-Voter says the Indian Prime Minister’s ratings, which dipped to an all-time low in January, have jumped to over 60 percent and are now close to previous highs.

If anything helped fanned the flames of ultra-nationalism in India, it is the media. Hate imbued with the worst kind of rancour against Pakistan was all that Modi’s government needed, shunning the domestic issues where it was vulnerable in the pre-Pulwama epoch. This works as anti-Pakistan rhetoric sells like hot cakes in India.

Media anchors started inviting ex-army officers on talk shows while they themselves donned military outfits with batons in their hands. They discussed how and where the Indian military could launch strikes on targets in Pakistan.

The furious diatribe of media men synchronised with those of the ruling party members and the common men in the street.

Most stories filed and aired were contradictory and uncorroborated. Anchors and analysts attributed their information to anonymous “government sources,” “forensic experts,” and “intelligence officers.” No independent investigation has as yet been conducted to substantiate the versions propounded by the Indian military sources. Anybody raising questions about the Indian Air Force’ exploit in Balakot is being branded as traitor.

Commenting on the claim of strikes at Balakot, Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Non-proliferation Project at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, who spent 15 years analysing satellite images of weapons sites and systems, says high-resolution images do not show any evidence of bombs damaging any building structures.

Yet, nobody is ready to believe these reports and only want to relish the idea of punishing Pakistan. In this entire melodrama, Modi’s government seems to have stolen the march over the other political parties and now looks ready for another win in the Lok Sabha elections starting from April 11.

Along with these developments, an undercurrent of fear lurks – the fear of another attack. Concerns are being expressed that the BJP will never allow the heightened sentiments to subside. The concern is best expressed by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray. He said, “Mark my words: another Pulwama-type strike will be organised during the Lok Sabha elections to divert peoples’ attention from all problems to patriotism.”

Diverting attention towards Pakistan is likely to benefit the electoral gains of the BJP, but is never going to favour the secular hue of India. If jingoistic approaches permeate the whole social fabric, it will disrupt the democratic polity of the state. Whether domestic issues or nativism play its part or not depend upon how Congress and other opposition parties react to the Modi’s political mantras and bring India out of chauvinistic bent which brought two nuclear states on the brink of war.

The writer is an educationist and historian. He can be contacted on Twitter @TahirIqbal87