Is The 'Fear' Factor Displacing The ‘Hope’ Factor In This Election?

Is The 'Fear' Factor Displacing The ‘Hope’ Factor In This Election?

The heatwave blasting all of north and central India appears to have addled the brains of the coolest politicians and turned the contest into a meaningless slugfest

Bhavdeep KangUpdated: Wednesday, May 22, 2024, 11:30 PM IST
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One reason for the fear-mongering could be the absence of a wave, and a palpable voter fatigue | Representative Image/Pixabay

The ‘hope’ factor played a significant role in previous general elections; this time, political parties are whipping up a ‘fear’ factor. Rather than harping on their respective visions for the future, the main contenders are intent on warning voters against the motives and morals of their rivals. The language is egregious, the accusations outrageous and the rumour-mongering ludicrous — with top party leaders setting the tone.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned that the Congress would base all its decisions on religious identity: it would change the Constitution to give reservation to minorities, have a tendency to reserve 15% of the Union Budget for minorities, strip ‘mothers and sisters’ of their mangalsutras and give preference to minorities in sports teams!

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal warned that PM Modi would retire, give Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath his marching orders and pass on his mantle to Home minister Amit Shah. In other words, the Modi-Yogi factor should not influence voting choices, because both were on their way out, and voters would end up being short-changed!

Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi warned that PM Modi would abolish the Constitution and do away with democracy. (Presumably, with the support of a compromised judiciary and media.) To this, he tagged on a laundry list of grievances, from corruption and cronyism to Agniveer and excessive taxation, rounding off with the claim that the PM was running scared and would ‘shed tears onstage’.

The heatwave blasting all of north and central India appears to have addled the brains of the coolest politicians and turned the contest into a meaningless slugfest. Anyone who has read the Congress manifesto knows perfectly well that, while it contains a string of implausible promises, there’s no indication of blatant minorityism. Likewise, rational voters know that Modi swears by the Constitution and other than introducing a Uniform Civil Code — which surveys show has public support — will stay well within the limits of his office.

Kejriwal’s attempt to negate the popularity of Modi and Yogi — his putative successor — and project Shah, who admittedly does not have the same charisma, was clever. Shah’s brand is that of a ruthlessly tough Home minister, which tends to make people a tad uncomfortable. But a little reflection makes this scenario unlikely, because the sangh parivar does not operate on the whims and fancies of single leader.

This brings us to another rumour, that the RSS cadre is disenchanted with the Modi regime and fears the organisation will be rendered redundant if he gets a third term. The cadres are therefore not working for the party. While there has been discontent over the influx of outsiders and the perceived marginalisation of insiders, it’s a long-standing problem, fuelled more by fears of ideological dilution than unmet expectations. The mother ship is intact and stands with Modi.

The stock market is a great generator of rumours. A prominent market strategist had predicted that if the NDA were ousted, Indian markets would crash by at least 25 per cent. So, a somewhat volatile phase in the stock market sparked rumours that the NDA was in trouble and might well get its come-uppance, as in 2004. Thereafter, the markets stabilized and the rumour died.

Why has the level of discourse fallen so low, and why has the Election Commission proved incapable of making politicians mind their language? The ECI has already been castigated by the Calcutta High Court for failing to take action against “slanderous” and “derogatory” ads using religion to target the Trinamool Congress. While this particular ruling is welcome, in other cases it’s not easy to decide what constitutes slander.

One reason for the fear-mongering could be the absence of a wave, and a palpable voter fatigue. As the media has relentlessly pointed out, a majority of those who turned 18 in the last two years have failed to register as voters. In the north, the heatwave has not helped matters.

The objective is to inject some degree of passion into a passionless election. For the Congress, if the promises of elaborate freebies and 30 million government jobs don’t work, perhaps the ‘fear’ factor will. Thus the insistence that Modi and the BJP represent the dual threat of authoritarianism and neoliberalism, and will undermine the very basis of republic by taking away their franchise.

For the BJP, if the mantra of development, ‘Viksit Bharat’ and ‘Amritkaal’ aren’t enough to enthuse the faithful, and the Ram Mandir craze peaked too early, holding up the bogey of minorityism will help consolidate the Hindu vote. This is particularly true of UP, Bihar, and all the states where the minorities have consolidated behind the INDIA alliance, or where, as in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, the incumbent regional party enjoys the full backing of minorities.

For the Aam Aadmi Party, the storied ‘Delhi model’ shows signs of running out of steam, and the lack of public response to Kejriwal’s incarceration is disturbing. He has no choice but to frighten Delhi’s voters with the prospect of a Modi-less, Yogi-less BJP ruled with an iron hand by Shah.

If ‘hope’ doesn’t pull voters into the desired camp, maybe ‘fear’ will push them into it.

Bhavdeep Kang is a senior journalist with 35 years of experience in working with major newspapers and magazines. She is now an independent writer and author

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