The battle lines for 2019 elections have become pretty much clear now. It’s the populist manifesto of the Congress versus the nationalist manifesto of the BJP. Congress has chosen to use its tried and tested strategy of focusing on agrarian crisis, unemployment and inflation which won it the three key states of MP, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh in 2018 assembly elections. BJP is going ahead with focusing on national security by trying to leverage on Pulwama and Balakot.
This juxtaposition approach of the two major national parties in the election assumes significance in many ways. BJP had won the mandate of the people in 2014 on the plank of economic revival, rooting out corruption and nationalism. But the fact that they are not using any of their initiatives such as Demonetization or GST implementation in election campaigns implies the fact that every step they took in governance in the last five years has turned into disastrous failures.
Harping on Pulwama and Balakot and trying to stoke the fear of national security among people is a dangerous path to tread.
Neither PM Modi, HM Rajnath Singh nor DM Nirmala Seetharaman took any responsibility for the Pulwama massacre. Instead they chose to ignore intelligence warnings and implicitly let it happen. When Abhinandan was captured by Pakistan forces, no one in the BJP government spoke about getting him back safely. Pakistan PM Imran Khan’s decision to return Abhinandan to India unconditionally was a political masterstroke that has not only bolstered his image on the international stage and at the same time has flattened Modi’s attempts to project himself as a strong leader.
The fact that Modi, the unabashed lover of paparazzi and razzmatazz neither went to receive Abhinandan nor went to his house to meet him clearly shows that this was not the outcome he was expecting. He may have wanted Abhinandan’s long term captivity in Pakistan or even his death during the aerial engagement with Pakistan air force to project Pakistan as India’s perpetual nemesis and use that premise to claim that only he can protect Indians from their “enemies”.
Imran Khan took the wind out of Modi’s sails with the return of Abhinandan which carries the statement “why be enemies when we can be friends and brothers?” International media has verified and confirmed that no terrorist camps were destroyed at Balakot. US has confirmed that none of the F-16 jets it supplied to Pakistan is missing. Modi’s bubbles of lies regarding both have been busted. His woes have been accentuated by the fact that the army has been expressing it’s distastefulness in being dragged into politics for Modi to get cheap brownie points at their expense.
As a desperate last resort, he has even tried to take ownership of the satellite defense system developed by DRDO (ASAT) by shooting down a live satellite which was derided and trolled on social media. The technology was developed way back in 2012 when UPA was in power, but the then DRDO chief had refused to do a live demo and had mentioned that simulation demo was enough. Modi went to the extent of making him lie that UPA government had refused permission to do a live demo which was called out immediately on social media.
DRDO missions are usually explained to media by its officials and when Modi himself announced it, people quickly realized that he was taking credit for it. NASA has condemned the Indian government for leaving satellite debris in space and endangering its international space station mission. Significantly, people were trolling Modi on social media by saying that when they heard about Modi going to make an important announcement on TV, they rushed to pull out all their money in the banks and were wondering if Modi was going to make 2000 rupee notes invalid, an obvious reference to the disastrous demonetization. People of the country becoming paranoid about their leader speaking to them is a clear indicator of the country’s governance in disarray and its democratic values in danger.
Congress, on the other hand has caught the eye of the storm by announcing the NYAY scheme and putting money directly in the hands of people. Governments doling out money to its citizens could result in economic disaster, but Rahul Gandhi seems to have the backing of leading economists such as Raghuram Rajan. Indian economy was paralyzed by the effects of demonetization and the recovery has been snail paced and torturous. People are struggling without enough money to spend for their needs.
Putting money in their hands will incentivize them to spend thereby creating a small but significant impetus in the market. Moreover, Modi had promised creation of 2 crore jobs per year, but in 2017-18 alone, more than 1 crore jobs have been lost without the creation of new ones. Modi has almost destroyed all government PSUs and new government jobs are all in limbo. No matter who forms the next government, job creation is going to take some time. NYAY scheme is supposedly to fill that time gap and revive the economy at the same time.
The way Rahul Gandhi is positioning himself as the polar opposite of Modi is very interesting. Whereas Modi pulled all the money out of people’s hands through demonetization Rahul is proposing to put money into people’s hands. He has also been avoiding new alliances with regional political parties. His strategy seems to be to bring back the former glory of Congress and win as many seats on its own as it can. This would ensure that in case of a hung Parliament post elections, if a non-BJP government forms it would be with Congress at its center. Congress’ decision to field him from a second constituency in Wayanad seems to be a wise move and its objective seems to be to maximize Congress wins in South India along with vitalizing Congress cadre.
The country is clearly not in awe of Modi’s narratives and rhetoric anymore. People put their trust in him when he first called demonetization as the way to stop black money hoarding and rooting out corruption. That changed to digitizing economy and then to stopping terrorism in J&K. But each one turned out to be a hoax or what is now famously called “jumla”. Without anything of value in governance to highlight, Ayodhya and Ram temple long past its expiry date and fizzling out of beef ban and Sabarimala issue, Modi had nothing to speak about till Pulwama happened and he tried to squeeze more benefit out of it through Balakot.
Though national security is an issue of national importance, India is not at war or on the brink of war with any country. What is paramount for people now are agrarian crisis, unemployment, inflation, education, law and order and everything that constitutes good governance and civil administration. Modi seems to be oblivious to all of these and is showing remarkable lack of empathy and compassion as he urges people to ignore all their sufferings and needs and vote for him in the name of national security.
Rahul Gandhi’s fortunes took a turn for the better when the Rafale deal got exposed as a scam. His “Chowkidar chor hai” (the protector is the thief) hit the bull’s eye and where it could have hurt the most: Modi’s ego and his self construed image of a strong leader. While chowkidar chor hai has stuck to Modi, Rahul has slowly eased the “pappu” (good for nothing) tag off him. Treating him with derision has gradually given way to consternation and apprehension about him in the BJP ranks.
Modi looks haggard and a pale shadow of his chest thumping days in 2014, whereas Rahul looks energised as he walks through crowds of people and tries to connect with them. Talking about national security and chest thumping to project himself as the protector of the country from behind bullet proof glass panels, surrounding himself with layers of Z+ security and reading pre-written scripts from teleprompter in no way gives Modi the aura of a strong leader. So what prevents him from moving among crowds like Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal especially after espousing himself as pradhan sevak and chowkidar of the people? Is it the guilt and fear of repercussions for past misdeeds? The same goes for Amit Shah and other BJP leaders as well.
The days leading to the elections are bearing witness to antics of epic proportions from political leaders aspiring to be candidates. Sitting MP and actress of yesteryears Hema Malini was seen draped in expensive designer saree doing a photo op of her holding a sickle and bundle of grains in a paddy fleld surrounded by real farm workers. The irony is, her travel to the paddy field and back was by a helicopter. It flew right back in the face of Modi’s “sab ka saath sab ka vikas” (Modi with everyone and development for everyone) slogan and clearly showing that development is only for some people.
Congress spokesperson Tom Vadakkan became turncoat and jumped ship to BJP with the hope of getting to contest in the election but got snubbed. Not enough with creating a propaganda movie on Modi, NaMoTV, a propaganda channel has been launched and that too without any broadcasting rights and licenses. More people are getting incensed with the channel being into everybody’s homes as a free channel through the most popular satellite TV service providers. Modi continues to brazenly use every government machinery for his whims and fancies even during election time as EC has been reduced to a muted spectator.
What is worse, five years back people wanted to move on from Congress governance. Five years on, people have been forced to look for hope in Congress again. BJP’s “Congress mukth Bharat” (India free from Congress) slogan has changed to “if Congress can so can we” and “if Congress can’t how can we?”
मक्कारों से सावधान ! pic.twitter.com/eTyYqFxZuD
— कटु वचन (@Katu__Vachan) April 3, 2019
Rather than accepting its mistakes, learning from them and improving its own performance, the government has sought to lay the blame of every act of its misgovernance on past Congress governments and its leaders. Return of Modi government with full majority would be nothing short of a catastrophe for the country. He has already undermined even the judiciary and the Constitution itself on several occasions in the last five years. Another five years in power could possibly mean no more elections in future and the Constitution in danger, more so now with Amit Shah contesting in the election and being portrayed as second-in-command to Modi.
Modi never fulfilled his 2014 poll promise of arresting Robert Vadra on charges of corruption. Rahul Gandhi has ploughed his way back into political limelight by piggybacking on the dubious Rafale deal. Modi staying away from Vadra raises a very important question. In the event of a non-BJP government forming with Congress at its helm, will Rahul get the Rafale deal investigated and get Modi indicted if he is found guilty? Or will he reciprocate Modi’s gesture to stay away from Vadra? After calling out Anil Ambani as Modi’s corrupt friend innumerable times in public, will Rahul get Dassault to cancel their deal with Reliance? Will he resurrect the PSU that Modi has almost destroyed and reverse the policies of Modi government that has stagnated the country’s economic growth? Multitude of questions still remain unanswered.
Elections are for the political class and their survival and sustenance. The country continues to stare at an uncertain future.