The broad contours of what is going to be a long and bitter campaign before the parliamentary election next year are already in sight. Rival politicians have begun to prepare ground for the vital State elections before the crucial Lok Sabha poll next year. The Prime Minister’s itinerary now increasingly includes official events and public rallies in the States headed for the polls.
He intends to address one hundred-odd rallies in the electorally vital northern States before next February. The BJP chief is always in election mode, visiting States, toning up the organisational networks and generally enthusing the party cadres. This is par for the electoral course. After all, elections are the bread and butter of politics, without being fighting fit for the electoral jousts, no politician is worth his starched dhoti-kurta. But the worrying element is the bitterness already on display in the political discourse. If this is only the beginning, one shudders to think what will be the state of exchanges between rival politicians when the real battle on the ground for votes is well and truly underway.
The ball this time might have been set rolling by Rahul Gandhi who, in a meeting with a select group of Muslims, is said to have tried to allay their fears about the much-talked about pro-Hindu tilt in the recent elections to the Gujarat and Karnataka assemblies. Following the meeting, an Urdu daily quoted the Congress President saying that his was a ‘Muslim party’. Though the report was denied, the BJP was quick to latch on to it, claiming that Rahul was out to polarise the polity on religious lines in his anxiety to assuage the feelings of the Muslims following his well-advertised visits to various temples and maths on the campaign trail.
After Defence Minister Nirmala Seetharaman tore into the Congress chief at a specially convened press conference, Modi picked up the thread, slamming the Congress for being a ‘party of Muslim men only’ because it did not care to ban the heinous practice of triple talaq and other anti-women practices. Forced on the back foot by the verbal barrage by the ruling party, the Congress protested its secular credentials, accusing Modi of uttering complete distortions and plain lies. Of course, this is just a trailer of the rich harvest of abuse and invective that the country is set to reap in the run-up the parliamentary poll. There is no talk of development, no compulsion to compare the UPA record in power with that of the NDA, but a downright resort to emotive, nay, divisive issues meant to fuel the identity politics to ever new heights. Rarely are voters in any democracy able to avoid the emotional traps politicians lay for them. Indians cannot be any different.