Editorial: Rewind Rhetoric Marks Communal Campaign

Editorial: Rewind Rhetoric Marks Communal Campaign

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Monday, May 06, 2024, 07:59 PM IST
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Cartoon | Mika

Historical references and communal rhetoric have marked the fraught campaign for the ongoing 2024 general election. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi raked up an 18-year-old speech by former PM Manmohan Singh purportedly suggesting that minorities, particularly Muslims, have the first claim on the nation’s resources, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in all her speeches has invoked the sacrifices made by her family, referencing the assassinations of Indira Gandhi and her father Rajiv Gandhi. Now Lalu Prasad has entered the fray with Modi accusing him of trying to save the culprits of the Godhra train burning in 2002 by appointing a committee when he was railway minister that gave them a clean chit. This, he said, was another example of minority appeasement. Indira Gandhi’s 1974 decision to give the disputed Katchatheevu Island to Sri Lanka was raised ahead of the Tamil Nadu election in the first phase on April 19. The BJP advanced the argument that it was a sell-out of the nation’s interests but failed to gain much traction out of the issue. Now Katchatheevu is all but forgotten as the heat and dust of campaigning moves to the North and East.

The campaign rhetoric has touched a new low and there is very little attempt to showcase the government’s achievements in its decade-long rule. Instead, the PM and senior ministers have launched a no-holds-barred attack on the Opposition, particularly Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee. Modi’s openly communal campaign and his disturbing comments, suggesting that Muslims are infiltrators and baby-producing machines, do not behove his stature as the prime minister of the world’s largest democracy in the process of conducting a humongous electoral exercise that has heretofore always been viewed with awe by nations around the globe. By dubbing the Congress manifesto as being influenced by the Muslim League’s policies, the BJP, which according to many analysts is on a slightly shaky wicket after the first two phases of polling, has fallen back on its tried and trusted template of polarisation. The references to the Congress allegedly planning to redistribute wealth by taking Hindu assets and giving them to Muslims is a blatant falsehood as nowhere does the manifesto of the Grand Old Party mention such a possibility. The fact is BJP leaders’ bragging that a 400-seat majority would enable the party to easily change the Constitution has driven a stake of fear in the minds of OBCs, SCs, STs and Dalits that reservations would be done away with. Rahul Gandhi and other leaders of the INDIA bloc have been harping on this possibility. It is to turn the tables on the Opposition that the BJP has decided to raise the Muslim bogey among the largely Hindu electorate, and accuse the INDIA bloc of planning to cut the quota of Dalits and other marginalised Hindus to hand them over to Muslims. This openly communal campaign which goes against all the tenets of the Election Commission’s Model Code of Conduct has been largely ignored by the poll body, only validating the charge that it is now a toothless institution doing only the government’s bidding. The media too has been largely silent about the blatantly communal nature of the campaign, reinforcing the allegation that it has become a pliant tool of the government rather than the fourth pillar of democracy.

From communal appeals to Lord Ram is but a short step away. Modi’s roadshow in Ayodhya followed by an emotional visit to the Ram Lalla temple in the holy town was apparently prompted by the fear of indifferent BJP karyakartas sabotaging the election there. The saffron party which had banked on the Ram temple euphoria carrying the day appears to have miscalculated because the elaborate Pran Pratishtha ceremony that was presided over by Modi on 22 January has now faded from public memory. The Indian electorate is notoriously fickle, with a very short recall bandwidth. Religion and caste carry only so much weight. Bread-and-butter issues such as joblessness, price rise and health care are still what trouble the people. When parties raise such matters as the Opposition has been doing without fail, voters do listen because their daily lives revolve around them. It is for the INDIA bloc leaders to realise that the communal campaign launched by the BJP is only a diversionary tactic, and counter it with hard facts and figures. Indian voters have proved time and again that they cannot be taken for granted, and parties need to be mindful of their expectations.

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