The 2019 Lok Sabha election is bereft of basic issues faced by the common man. The nature of political discourse engineered by the BJP has been given credibility by some key players in the electronic media.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s thematic refrain is to use India’s alleged muscular response in Balakot for electoral gains. The reasons, including the attendant intelligence failure, for the tragic death of over 40 CRPF jawans at Pulwama can await electoral outcomes. Those questioning Balakot and requiring proof of downing an F-16 have been denounced as anti-national. Anyone seeking answers has been called “pro-Pakistan”. All outlandish statements on Balakot must be accepted and supported. We all must cheer Modi for having taught Pakistan a lesson.
The “godi” media feeds into this campaign. Pakistan is being used as a punching bag for Modi to retain power. Attempts are afoot to make the Balakot strike a symbol of national pride. All other issues of national concern are brushed aside. This emotive issue cuts across castes. It might help Modi reach out to those for whom caste and other forms of identity matter. But when it comes to the security of the state and national pride, such equations do not matter. The response to Pakistan in Balakot is intended for domestic political dividends. The first-time voters are prime targets of this campaign.
The same strategy was used by the BJP in Assam and the Northeast. The talk of infiltrators is equally emotive. The constant use of the NRC by Amit Shah seeks to create a divide between “us” and “them”. Shah’s statement that the NRC will be applied throughout the country targets those elements who are considered outsiders. Such statements have a dual impact. One, they breathe hatred and division and two, instill fear in the minds of those targeted.
In fact, this concept of infiltrators is also being applied in states. Given this, alleged infiltrators in Maharashtra are obliged to learn Marathi. Those depriving local residents of jobs are also perceived to be infiltrators. Outsiders become infiltrators. This disturbs the peace. Identity politics becomes the norm and tears asunder the constitutional values we have cherished for years. Demographic changes should help foster societal amalgamation. Societal segregation and ghettoisation, in fact, feed into identity politics. These dangerous trends make people insecure. Ghettoisation of communities builds permanent walls within society. It will take years to break them down.
The BJP’s electoral strategy in Kashmir can be viewed through the same prism. Those seeking to maintain the special status of Kashmir are seen to be opposing national integration. The battle between “us” and the “rest” is now raging. The “us” is a huge majority and the “rest” find themselves confined. The pelting of stones by children is not seen as a breakdown of confidence in the state but as something that is remote-control operated. The hidden hand from outside is allegedly disturbing peace and the strong man is seeking to secure it.
All this suggests that the 2019 Lok Sabha election is without a rational discourse. The only feel good factor is the strike at Balakot. It is in this sense that the election has become a conflict between Modi and others. Modi no longer represents one who promised to transform India. He no longer talks about the change that has been brought about in the last five years because he has nothing to show for it. The achievements of scientists — of sending a mission to the moon, the anti-satellite missile tests, the levels of excellence achieved in certain quarters — are all achievements of Modi. Modi appropriates successes of Indians as his own. He is all pervasive. The Election Commission dares not question his conduct and that of Amit Shah. Almost all other institutions do his bidding.
He has sought to use both the state machinery and enormous money power to infiltrate the minds of all Indians. There is no visual space in this country which does not showcase him. The headlines and ads in newspapers, his omnipresence in the electronic media, his nauseating interviews, and his jibes at opposition leaders are seen as highlights of this national discourse.
The poor must rise above the state of their hopelessly mundane existence. They must laud Modi for having saved India by striking at Balakot. Those running small businesses must rise above their declining fortunes and associate themselves with a leader who all the world leaders hug and who dared Pakistan. No one can question the failings of this government in the last five years. It seems that Balakot has more symbolic relevance than Pokharan-I and Pokharan-II. It seems to have done India proud, much more than the breakup of Pakistan in 1971. All of India must be thankful to a man who taught Pakistan a lesson. Yet terror rages on and our jawans continue to die. Balakot has changed nothing on the ground.
The issue of “Hindu terror” raised in the course of this election is again fed into this campaign. The candidature of Sadhvi Pragya and its justification contains the message that anyone who alleges a terrorist act must associate it only with the “other”. This communal tinge to the discourse is the running thread throughout this election.
Democratic India deserves better. Balakot is projected as a metaphor for triumph. What we need and need desperately is the triumph of democracy in which false discourses do not matter, but people do.
— This article first appeared in the May 3, 2019 print edition under the title ‘A false discourse’
The writer, a former Union minister, is a senior Congress leader