2019 likely to see elections without strong narrative

Even as the general elections are just few months away, no political party has been able to neatly weave its promises in convincing manner. The political attacks also lack sharpness, writes ANIL SINHA

The Lok Sabha polls are only months away and the campaigning is in full swing. But if anything is lacking, it is a coherent narrative. No political party has been able to neatly weave its promises in a convincing manner. The political attacks also lack sharpness and most of it comes down to an unpalatable level. The failure on the part of the ruling party is more visible. The party, which has ruled with full majority in the Lok Sabha, does not seem to have the courage to ask for votes on its performances alone. The Bhartiya Janata Party is not showing the mettle to assert that it will ask for the votes on what it has done during its rule.

Though the Modi government and the BJP has been beating its own drums since it came into the power, now it does not seem to be confident enough to pursue development plank with the same zeal. That is why it has allowed all the older issues to be part of the poll discourse. They range from Ram Temple to Gau Raksha.

The desperation is too obvious not to be noticed. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which has been espousing a virulent form of Hindutva, is getting into huddles very frequently. One of these huddles in Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti complex has already created a controversy. The two-day event organised by the VHP caused a closure of Gandhi Samadhi on June 24-25. The Samadhi has never been closed for more than few hours since its inception. These closures are generally made during the visit of a foreign dignitary for security reasons. The Samadhi is opened to common visitors soon after the dignitary leaves the place. Obviously, Gandhi organisations protested at the Rajghat to express their displeasure at the arbitrary closure. However, the local administration or the central government which manages the monument did not come with apology or clarification only shows the tacit approval to the step. Though the step might have been taken without any political motive, it exhibits the close association of the Hindutva outfit with the government and the urgency with which the organisation is working nowadays. The Rajghat is directly governed by the Culture Ministry of the centre.

Though, the Hindutva forces have started their activities ahead of the polls is not surprising, it is indeed ironical that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has been projecting himself as a champion of development, should depend on it heavily. In a recent function at Ayodhya, former BJP MP Ram Vilas Vedanti declared that the construction of the temple will start without waiting for the court order. He reminded that the Babri mosque was demolished without any court order. The assertion came in the presence of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and the CM supported it by saying that there should be no doubt that a Ram Temple will be constructed at the place.

The BJP and the RSS has accelerated its efforts to polarise the society can be seen in other instances also. A recent debate on Shariat Courts at district level also has their blessings. The All-India Muslim Personal Board does not have legal status has been decided by the Supreme Court. The Board too never claims it. It also denied that there is no move of setting up Shariat Courts at district level is on their agenda. But TV channels debated it zealously with the obvious motive that it should polarize the society. Interestingly, killing of Munna Bajrangi, the notorious don of Uttar Pradesh, in Baghpat jail which happened the same day was not given the required space despite that fact that the incident displays the state of law and order in the state.

The other plank the Prime Minister is banking on is the attack on “the dynasty”. The Emergency Day was celebrated as black day on a huge scale and Prime Minister Modi used it to attack the family.

“The greed of staying in power was such that democracy was sacrificed. Political leaders who were widely respected were put behind bars. It was all done so that one family, the Gandhi family , could benefit,” said the Prime Minister.

Acceleration in pursuing cases against Chidambaram and his family members or Shashi Tharror also substantiate the allegation that the government is misusing the agency for political purposes. The accelerated efforts in cases related to political opponents and dismal performance in punishing likes of Nirav Modi and Vijay Mallya only points to the intention of the government.

All these things show that the narrative of development has lost its charm for the government. Prime Minister Modi and BJP president Amit Shah seems to be working on parallel strategy. This involves polarisation of the society and denigrating the opponent.

The opposition is also faced with the same problem of failing in knitting a sound political narrative. Congress president Rahul Gandhi has been trying his hard to shape a convincing narrative, but others in his party either does not subscribe to it or they are unable to carry forward it with the same zeal. His attack on friendliness of the government towards corporate (suit-boot ki sarkar), the corruption in Rafael Deal, the apathy towards farmers and inaction in fighting unemployment has the potential of creating a strong narrative which could be effective during Lok Sabha and the state polls coming before that.

His attack gets punctured by his disgruntled leaders like Digvijay Singh and Mani Shankar Aiyar. Rahul has sidelined these leaders is a known fact and Aiyar has even been punished for his utterances. However, they are known Congressmen and know the methods of creating troubles. Their ‘secular prologues’ come handy for the BJP and RSS to brand Congress as a pro-Muslim party, the image the party has long been trying to shed off. Here too, the inability of the party is obvious that it could not come out with a sound secular narrative which should be able to counter Hindutva without taking resort to gimmickries of visiting temples.

The Congress has intelligent leaders like Mallikarjun Kharge, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Kapil Sibal who have the required articulation to build up a sound political narrative to counter the BJP, but the party is unable to use them properly.

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been asking, at every function, about what the Congress has done for the country in the past 70 years. A chaiwala like him could become Prime Minister because we preserved democracy,” Kharge told presspersons in Mumbai. “Modi talks about the Emergency that happened 43 years back, there has been an undeclared Emergency in the country since the BJP-led NDA came to power in 2014,” Kharge added.

Keeping in view the repeated attacks on democratic institutions, a narrative around “undeclared emergency” is of utmost importance for the coming polls.

Other players including the Left and the regional parties have failed in articulating people’s grievances and their opposition is only opportunistic. Parties like TDP and the TRS never went against the BJP in any strong way in last three and half years, but they are now attacking it keeping in view the coming polls. The TDP and the BJP are hands in glove can be seen in the disruptions in Parliament. It helps BJP to attack and discredit Congress led Opposition that it is not allowing Parliament to run. The TDP and the TRS are in fact eyeing for Muslim votes and their opposition to BJP will help in it. They are also trying to stimulate regional sentiments by alleging discrimination on the part of the Central government. The TDP deserted the union cabinet on the issue of Special Status to the state only after being part of it for around three and half years. The BJD of Navin Patnaik has a curious mix of opposition and collaboration. He is running the most corporate friendly government in a state which is by far the poorest in terms of human development. The most radical of opposition space is occupied by ultra-Left or pro-people socialists or democrats. The BJD does not have any ideological problem with the BJP but it has to oppose because it has to survive.

The CPM, the CPI and other Left parties are facing the worst phase in their history. Despite their clear opposition to communalism and the corporate-friendly economic policies, they are on the margins of political discourse. Student leaders like Kanahiya Kumar had come out with some refreshing ideas of mass mobilisation, but the Left leadership failed to promote the popular Left narrative. The same is true for senior socialist leader Sharad Yadav. He has come out with a clear stand on economic and social issues, but his party Loktantrik Janata Dal has to strengthen its organisation in a very short period to make impact on the poll equation in Bihar. Lalu’s son Tejaswi has effectively taken control of RJD and his social base also seems to be intact. However, he will have to build up a strong ideological stance to counter JDU leader Nitish Kumar who is simultaneously opposing communalism and sharing power with the BJP.

It seems that people have to wait at least for few days more to see political parties coming out with sound poll narrative or it may not come even before polls. But, ultimately, it is the people who would be the sufferer if a strong poll narrative does not emerge. Issues like unemployment, inequality, farmers’ plight and poor quality of life of millions in the cities and villages needs a strong narrative which should be discussed in the polls across the country.