By Kalyani Shankar
With elections round the corner, the Opposition still seems to be groping for a solid and cohesive poll narrative against the Modi government, while the ruling BJP has identified terror and nationalism as its main theme. The Opposition was concentrating on a basic plank essentially on livelihood issues. It was confident of taking on the government with issues like jobs, agrarian crisis and demonetization etc., that that would determine the outcome of the polls, as it affects the common man. This was the scenario till Pulwama and Balakot happened last month.
Also the Opposition until then was in an advantageous position after the BJP lost three states to the Congress in the Hindi heartland – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in December. The momentum was shifting away from the BJP and towards the Opposition. An upbeat Congress began its campaign with high spirits in the New Year. West Bengal chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her Delhi counterpart Arvind Kejriwal organized two impressive rallies to show off the opposition unity in Kolkata and Delhi. The opposition became aggressive and the BJP until six weeks ago seemed to be only responding to the opposition campaign on the Rafael deal rather than setting the agenda.
There’s no doubt that the unprecedented events of the last month – Pulwama terror and the retaliatory Balakot air strikes, the capture and release of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman by Pakistan have made security and terrorism key poll issues bringing nationalism to the forefront. The opposition has lost the momentum it briefly acquired to put the BJP on the defensive. The saffron party quickly snatched the advantage and began to build up its poll campaign on the twin planks of nationalism and terror. All the earlier issues like building of Ram temple in Ayodhya and Triple Talaaq etc. have been pushed to the backburner. Obviously, the BJP has regained its political narrative for the electoral battle while the opposition is still twiddling its thumbs as to how to bring back the livelihood issues to the forefront, as they cannot criticize the government on the intelligence failure beyond a limit.
The Opposition is not doing a united campaign at the national level. The BJP is taking complete advantage of the disunity in the opposition and appears to have successfully projecting itself as the party best suited to guard the country against terrorism, sponsored by Pakistan. On the ground what is happening is that each opposition party does its own campaign. The Opposition claims that though there is not one single narrative at the national level, the individual parties would campaign on the common theme that the BJP must be removed because of its failure on various fronts including the jobs and farmer’s issues. “Every party has to stick to its own platform,” claims a Left leader.
As for the Congress, the main Opposition party, its President Rahul Gandhi is running a sustained campaign on Rafale deal for the past few months but that is not catching up. Also the Congress fell into the BJP’s trap when it changed its poll narrative to Pulwama and ‘Chowkidar,’ baits instead of focusing on bringing back the real issues. The BJP is happy to dwell on these issues as it diverts the attention from other subjects like jobs and agrarian crisis where the Modi government has not lived up to the expectations. The BJP is going all out with their latest mass campaign — ‘Main Bhi Chowkidar’ and ‘Namumkin ab Mumkin Hai’ slogans showing Modi as the supreme leader who can solve India’s problems.
The BJP hopes to win the elections mainly on the weakness of the opposition whose much- touted ‘Mahagadbandhan’ at the national level still remains an idea and not a reality although there are state- specific coalitions. The second is Modi’s presidential style of campaign. It is Modi versus no opposition face, which would limit the opposition’s chances. Thirdly, it is the failure of the opposition to come up with a credible and effective narrative capitalizing on the government’s weaknesses. The BJP, on the other hand is able to determine its agenda by getting away with its diversionary tactics. Fourthly, the BJP has stitched up alliances in various states even ceding space to the allies, whereas the Congress is still dilly-dallying.
However, the BJP knows it is difficult to sustain the Pulwama and Balakot themes for the next two months though it got a big boost to its campaign in the past few weeks. As time passes, it would get further diluted. Therefore the BJP needs a winning narrative. The opposition too needs an effective counter narrative. All these in an electoral background where there is no “hawa” for or against any party, no highly emotional issues, not much of anti incumbency against Modi and unlike 2014 no “Modi wave.” The results will show who has the right narrative this time — the NDA or the UPA. (IPA Service)