At the BJP National Executive in Delhi last week, the party leadership projected a picture of confidence and determination, at a time when the government is under fire for rising fuel prices and a falling rupee. The upbeat mood in the BJP, it appears, has more to do with the disarray in the Opposition than its own performance. Indeed, the BJP leadership devoted considerable time to criticising the proposed mahagathbandhan.
The Congress and Left came under fire for extending support to the recently arrested activists, who are alleged to be involved with naxals. Lok Sabha 2019 was presented as a battle between the Modi-centric BJP and a Maoist-militant-aligned Congress. In President Amit Shah’s words, it is a “making India” versus a “breaking India” agenda!
The party clearly feels that it is at a big advantage, thanks to the continuing brand value of Narendra Modi, whereas the opposition has no leader. Added to the charisma of Modi is the star power of the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The ‘Ajay Bharat, Atal Bharat’ slogan not only appealed to nationalist sentiments, but evoked memories of a beloved Brahmin leader. This was important, as the party needs to win over upper caste leaders who are upset over the amendment nullifying the apex court’s dilution of the SC/ST Act. By holding the meeting at the Ambedkar Centre, the BJP attempted to balance interest groups.
It also appeared as if the BJP was attempting to create a ‘fear factor’ against the Congress. Even as Rahul Gandhi tweeted pictures of himself standing in front of Kailash Mansarovar, the BJP criticised his party for siding with Maoist sympathisers. The leaders mocked the Opposition mahagathbandhan, warning voters not to be taken in by a rag-tag alliance between ideologically disparate forces. The attempt to put together a pre-election alliance was described as an ‘eyewash’ and a ‘mirage’. Any such alliance would be an inherently unreliable, a mere construct designed to fool the voter. Prime Minister Narendra Modi characterised it as a false alliance: “Netritva ka pata nahi, neeti aspasht, neeyat bhrasht”.
He was referring, perhaps, to the tie-up between the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh. Certainly, the two parties have no concrete programme or vision and nothing in common except the mission to oust the BJP from power. They have opposed each other bitterly for almost 25 years and came together only in the recent by-elections, on the premise that a three-cornered contest can only benefit the BJP.
But the BJP, too, has entered into opportunistic alliances in the past. A fact that seemed to escape HRD minister Prakash Javadekar when he defined the mahagathbandhan as nothing more than a “Modi roko abhiyan (stop Modi campaign)”. In the minds of the voters, this creates the narrative of power-hungry groups with a destructive agenda, trying to derail Modi’s Bullet Train!
The BJP leadership sought to draw a contrast between the negative agenda of the Opposition and Modi’s Vision 2022. The BJP, always adept at marketing dreams, cited macro-economic indicators as promises of prosperity and made no reference to public criticism of soaring fuel prices. It repeated the promises of 2014 and added a few more — an India free of poverty, terrorism and corruption.
The ‘48 months against 48 years’ slogan indicates that the BJP is aware of shortfalls in its performance. It is keen to convey that it has made progress towards achieving the promises of 2014 but, because of the legacy of the UPA years, needs another term to bring its plans to fruition. The harping on the recent hike in minimum support prices (MSP) and resolution on agriculture underlines its apprehensions with respect to the worsening farm crisis.
Overall, the message from the BJP national executive was that it would romp home to victory, in the absence of any strong opposing force. A section of the BJP has warned against over-confidence, pointing out that despite a popular leader, it lost the 2004 election by failing to read the pulse of the voters. Then, as now, the Opposition was scattered and it did not look as if it would ever challenge the NDA government.
Another section points out that the ground realities today are very different. The congress is a lot weaker and the BJP a lot stronger. Bridging any vote deficit will be far easier for the BJP than the congress. But predictive analytics have failed time and again, in recent elections. Politics, after all, is the art of selling the impossible.
(The writer is a senior journalist with 35 years of experience in working with major newspapers and magazines. She is now an independent writer and author.)