The Lok Sabha election is becoming an interesting war of narratives. Political parties have used a variety of propaganda strategies and media management tricks, besides manifestos and rallies, to frame their narratives. Political analysts are of the view that such narratives play an important role in shaping the electoral fortunes of the parties.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has tried to frame the conversation around national security issues, especially the strikes on terrorist camps in Pakistan. Issues related to the terrorist attack in Pulwama have also played an important role in making people generally receptive to national security issues. In times when insecurity has sway over the social psyche, such narratives provide a sense of confidence — promises for security may, therefore, attract a section of the Indian public and voters.
In contrast, development, which was the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance’s main plank in the 2014 election, has become a sub-narrative in the current election. In response to the ruling party’s efforts, the Congress, under Rahul Gandhi, has come up with the Nyay-based narrative. It has criticised policies of the Narendra Modi government for causing unemployment and failing to tackle rural distress. The Congress has made several promises to address these problems. The Nyay narrative is based on hard economic and social realities, while the BJP’s narrative of national security is based on emotive issues centred around nationalism and national identity.
The AIADMK, Trinamool Congress, Telugu Desam, Telangana Rashtriya Samiti and other regional political parties have developed state-centric narratives. The narrative of caste has not been pushed by the national and regional parties, but it has influenced the formation of caste-based and social alliances by political parties. In fact, caste narratives have emerged as an important trope in the 2019 election. The SP-BSP alliance, through rallies and various propaganda techniques, is pushing caste as an important electoral issue in their zones of influence.
In her recent speech in Mainpuri, Mayawati talked about Mulayam Singh Yadav as the “real OBC” (pichdha) and Narendra Modi as a “fake OBC” and “kagzi pichdha”. The SP-BSP alliance rests on the coming together of two caste-based social groups — OBCs and Dalits. In his speeches and tweets, Akhilesh Yadav has been trying to use caste as a mobilisational tactic to counter BJP’s nationalism-based narrative. His remarks like “dudhwala versus chaiwala” are targeted at the Yadavs. Akhilesh has also talked of Dalit-Pichda unity — the Bahujan. This strategy aims to turn the battle of 2019 as one between the Dalit-OBC combine and the BJP’s Hindutva and hyper-nationalism.
As we know, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Aadityanath, who is one of the BJP’s star campaigners, has tried to set the narrative of communal mobilisation through his statements on Ali and Bajrang Bali. In fact, Mayawati turned the UP chief minister’s slogan on its head by arguing that Bajrang Bali belongs to the Dalit and Vanchit community. Ali and Bajrang Bali are both ours, she said.
Similarly, in Bihar, aarakshan (reservation) has become a powerful element for RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav. Yadav has been reminding OBCs and Dalits of the value of reservation, while warning them that the BJP could take away this important instrument of empowerment. In some of his speeches and tweets, he has positioned reservation as an important instrument available to backwards and Dalits. He has also coined slogans like “Jai Arakshan” and tried to reignite the memory of Mandal and position it against the Hindutva rhetoric.
Regional parties in South India are putting the BJP on the defensive for using the Hindutva narrative as its main poll plank. While national security, with the development claim as the sub plot, is the BJP’s main narrative, the party has not left the caste question untouched. It has also been forming social alliances at the grass roots with various caste-based political parties in the North and regional parties in the South.
This article first appeared in the April 30, 2019 print edition under the title ‘Caste vs Hindutva’
(The writer is director, G B Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad)