Elections in India, especially since 2014 can be characterized by the overt use of rhetoric. No one in contemporary Indian politics uses rhetoric better and with maximum effect than Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.
It was on the premise of the scathing attack on the UPA and the Congress led by the near-perfect oration skills of Narendra Modi, that the BJP could woo the masses in 2014. But four years later, looks like the same masses have reached a saturation point of listening to a narrative, which not only seems repetitive but also ignores some major concerns of the country.
From Vikaas to Mandir
Narendra Modi was largely seen as the only alternative to UPA, which by 2014 was perceived as an embodiment of a severe policy paralysis. He gave the slogan of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikaas’, of forming a government aimed at working for the masses, inclusive of all castes and communities. But the verdict will be split on this now, as with each and every state election, polarisation on the lines of castes and communities have been the trend.
BJP fielded its Hindutva poster boy, Yogi Adityanath to work in the election campaigns in Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, where he addressed a total of 47 rallies. Upping the ante, Yogi Aditynath went on to accuse other parties of minority appeasement, promised to bring the mantle of renaming cities, a cause his government seems to take seriously in his own state, and invoked to the masses Ram, Ram Mandir and Ram Rajya.
In the din of this, the BJP seems to have forgotten its slogan of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikaas’ and its promise to bring ‘acche din’. True, the Ram mandir had been an issue in Indian politics but to make it the sole driver in the political narrative, may have had a dispersing effect on the diverse electorate of India. The electorate, both urban and rural had voted for the BJP in 2014 in large numbers, in the hope of the fulfilment of its diverse aspirations. The Urban masses had voted BJP for economic development, while the rural for better social and economic mobility.
Not to be left behind
To cover its lost ground and to counter Modi, the Congress reinvented itself on what is been called ‘soft-Hindutva’. Rahul Gandhi kicked off his poll campaign in Madhya Pradesh, by visiting the Omkareshwar Jyotirlinga shrine and paying obeisance to Lord Shiva, and the recent months saw him been declared as a Shiv-bhakt.
The quest for Hindutva, with BJP leading the bandwagon and the Congress trying to catch up has decreased the space for more larger and pressing issues facing the country. At a time when the country is reeling with unemployment and agrarian crisis, the political parties could have done better by not giving their full attention to the mandir issue.
What about the other issues ?
The unprecedented success of the BJP in 2014 elections was a result of the aspirations of a sustaining economic development. Modi was seen as the best alternative who could steer India to greater economic development. The years since can be characterized by bold economic decisions like demonetization and GST. However, today the bulk of the Indian farmer is reeling under acute agrarian distress which was vented out in the long march to New Delhi in November 2018. But no solution seems to be in sight for the farmers anytime soon.
In the poll bound states, Congress in its poll-manifesto promised farm loan waiver in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh within 10 days, if the party is voted into power. But it is much easier -said than done. According to estimates, the respective new governments will have to spend much more than Rs 220 billion in Rajasthan, more than 160 billion in MP and nearly in 30 billion in Chhattisgarh, to waive off the farmers’ loans. Apart from the huge amount that it entails, the feasibility of this scheme becoming a reality for the farmers in such a short span of time does not seem possible.
Also the waiving of farmers’ loans is not the solution to the distress plaguing the agricultural sector. In a policy statement released in 2017, the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) pointed out that the implementation of farm loan waivers across states could hurt the finances of states. It is counter-productive and hardly provides the farmers with any long-term gains. Therefore, the farm loan waiver may help a political party to win an election once, but it is definitely not a long-term solution.
The road ahead
Leaders addressing election rallies, only concerning themselves with personal attacks, rhetoric and narrative has emerged as a trend. They are far removed from the pressing challenges facing the country today, and both the ruling and the opposition parties are guilty of it. But if the results from the assembly elections in the five states are taken into consideration, the Indian electorate now wants to listen to some concrete roadmap on alleviating issues like the economic downturn, unemployment and farmers’ distress.
In scenarios such as these, the talk of a mandir and masjid seem a case of misplaced priorities and the electorate of the Hindi heartland has shown, that it does not mind putting the mandir-masjid issue at the back-burner, while giving precedence to more pressing issues. Among the noises of all the lofty narratives and counter-narratives, the development issues are losing their prominence. It is high time that the political parties understand this and work on them.
Dr Anupama Ghosh is Senior Research Associate and the Internship Co-ordinator at CPPR. She holds a PhD in History from the University of Delhi. She can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @anupama86ghosh