It’s 2014 and with about a hundred days to go for polling, campaign season is upon us. However, we are still some distance from clarity on what either of the two largest parties has to offer. Perhaps it is because both sides are trying to cater to a homogenised, media-savvy “voter-consumer” that the contest so far sounds too much like an ad war. There are “war rooms”, banal, flashcard references to the “young vote” and a bitter battle of words that is supposed to stand in for a clear articulation of policy.
The face of the Congress, which has been in power for a decade, and the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, who has ruled his state for 13 years, are both trying to project themselves as outsiders. Both claims sound hollow, to be polite about it.
The Congress is struggling to recover from the loss of its aam aadmi slogan, which had helped it so far in putting forward its Manmohanomics-meets-welfare-economics positions. The “aam aadmi”, a term loose enough and yet specific enough for a wide range of persons to identify with it, had come to signify a utilitarian test for whatever works. With the AAP now part of the discourse, the Congress clearly has an aam aadmi problem.
The BJP, ever since 1980, has resisted calls to turn itself over to the regular Western idea of a rightwing party — free-market, nationalist, Thatcherite. Now, it finds itself very much under RSS control and freighted with the latter’s ideological baggage. So it is difficult for the BJP to model itself on Western rightwing parties like the Tories or the Christian Democrats. It has chosen, instead, to invest in the “khaas aadmi”. One might say it has a khaas aadmi problem.
In political campaigns in India, “the people”, the second and third words respectively in the preamble of the Constitution, have been the centre of an energetic tussle. The past several decades have seen the need for a moniker that justifies actions and around which ideas can be built, whether its “the people”, “makkal” (Tamil), “jana”, “gana” or “lok”. With the invasion of politics by the management-walas, especially in the Eighties and Nineties, it became even more important for parties to brand such terms more forcefully. So the “garibi hatao” slogan had to find and directly address its subject.
The Congress, which had initially had the garib aadmi at the heart of discussions, moved on to the well-branded aam aadmi. With “aam aadmi”, a thought-out departure from “garib aadmi”, the Congress set its sights on a broader …continued »