As the day of May 23 dawned on all of us, there was a sense of anticipation blanketed in a feeling of nervousness that was evident in everyone that I met. While some hoped for those in power to be de-throned and taught a lesson on how this country’s democracy would not tolerate an attack on its essence, there were others who felt the Bharatiya Janata Party’s return was inevitable. With the day gone now, it would be safe to say that it is going to be the return of the incumbent. It is going to be another five years of the ‘Modi-wave.’
Over the past five years, there have been a lot of flaws with the Modi government, which is not to say that they haven’t delivered some strong measures. Despite these measures, there were a lot of factors at play, that contributed to their victory in the 17th Lok Sabha general elections.
The idea of glorification of Hindutva has been repeatedly implemented by the BJP, thanks to its religious partner, the RSS. In my numerous conversations and own personal experiences, the prevalence of a new sense of pride has come into the picture. A pride that, at times, ends up being too toxic, as is evident from the upsurge in the number of mob-lynchings and acts of violence.
Apart from anecdotal evidence, this parameter has also been seen with the party’s selective pursuit of policy and its institutional persecution of the country’s minorities. For example, the BJP had strongly pushed for the criminalization of the Triple Talaq, instead of just declaring the subsequent divorce void, a step that has been strongly criticized in the legal circles.
Similarly, the party’s opinion on the Citizenship Act of 1955 and the subsequent Citizenship Amendment Bill of 2016 also revealed the government’s stand on religious discrimination. Additionally, with glorification and selection of candidates like Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Yogi Adityanath and Swami Sakshi Ji Maharaj into the mainstream politics, the party has sent a strong message pertaining to its RSS-backed ideology.
This factor, according to me, has played the most significant role in thrusting forward the Bharatiya Janata Party to the frontlines of the race. The media, which is, quite banally now, called the fourth pillar of democracy, contributed immensely to the hyping of the party’s deeds. From repeated coverage of the Pulwama attacks to their lack of will to question those in power with press conferences, to, literally, agreeing to scripted interviews, our news institutions and media houses gave up their duty of protecting the democracy that had birthed them.
Forever, it has been the sole responsibility of the institution of media, to hold those in power accountable. Yet, the failure of our beloved anchors and our precious channels in preserving this idea led to the creation of a narrative by the ruling party, a narrative that painted them in a clean and vote-able picture.
A very simple example of this is the media’s silence on a very important issue. Due to its majority in the Lok Sabha, the BJP managed to pass a range of laws and guidelines in its tenure. Some of these laws, as one should read in this three-part series (part 1, 2 and 3), were not passed quite constitutionally. Alas, our media had chosen to turn a blind eye to this gross misconduct and had instead shown the government’s smallest of deeds as being immensely impactful.
Unlike this year’s nominations, the BJP had fielded some strong and competent candidates in its 2014 run for the parliament. With stalwarts like Nitin Gadkari, whose ministry delivered perfectly on the infrastructure and transport facilities across the country, or Sushma Swaraj, whose contribution towards strengthening foreign relations has been applauded by social media, on its roster, the BJP was set to reap profits of the work done by it till 2019.
Additionally, the second term of the UPA suffered from policy paralysis, due to the absence of a strong majority in the houses. On topics that required extensive discussion, the government was met with a protesting opposition, that refused to vote and hence bring the work of the houses to a halt. In the case of the NDA, although they were met with similar forms of protests and outbursts, for example, by Congress or the TDP or the AIADMK, their majority in the house hardly stopped their proceedings. This helped them in passing more bills and hence gain a popular following.
With the results of the polls almost wrapped up, it would not be too much of a stretch to say that Rahul Gandhi’s defeat in the Congress stronghold of Amethi has been one of the biggest surprises of the day. Additionally, this has also come as a reckoning for the Congress party, a signal for them to get their act together, or continue falling in this cycle of endless loss.
The question, “if not Modi, then who?” has been a prevalent query in political debates, both online as well as offline. The existence of this question shows that the country’s population has continued to deny the presence of a suitable alternative to Modi and the BJP. The portrayal of Rahul Gandhi, as had been done in popular media, has led to him being made the butt of a lot of jokes. When this is combined with the popular hatred that has come to emerge against dynastic politics, the Gandhi-family ruled Indian National Congress does not seem like quite the fan-favourite.
After their loss in the 2014 general elections, the party was expected to clean up its act and present itself as a strong opposition. This has hardly happened. With schemes like Nyay being released too late into the campaign and the Congress’ inability to defend its own manifesto at times, the party seems to have crashed and burned.
Building on point number two on the media’s responsibility, the prevalence of Narendra Modi as BJP’s poster-boy has led to strong sways in favour of the party. His portrayal across media and pop-culture has been one of those rags-to-riches stories, which could be true, but is not correlated to the competency of the individual. This is where the catch is. It is in this correlation that the BJP has successfully managed to publicise Modi.
From extensive PR campaigns, both online and offline, to projecting Mann Ki Baat as a sustainable platform for him to address the public, to simultaneously portraying him as a ‘hip’ leader to attract the first-time voters, the BJP has spared no expense. In my own conversations with people with various backgrounds, the country has agreed to vote for an incompetent candidate in their constituency, if that means contributing towards choosing Modi at the centre.
This creation of a sense of belonging between the electorate and the party in power is public relations 101 and it has helped boost the BJP to the pedestal it finds itself on today.
As the dust settles on these elections, there are only a few things that we, as an educated electorate can do, irrespective of our political inclinations.
Look up to the constitution to preserve it, no matter who you support.
Learn how our democracy is not a gift, but a privilege, and how it is our duty to preserve its essence.
Protect the ideals that this nation stands for, and protect them with your lives.
Most importantly, question! Question those in power, because power corrupts, and it is always us, the weak and defenseless that pay the price of that corruption.