Is the prime minister’s Mann ki Baat so much of a success that it can influence election outcomes? The BJP’s opponents in Bihar seem to think so. What else can explain their anxiety about the PM’s monthly radio programme, which they have aired before the Election Commission (EC)? It’s unlikely that the EC will accede to the demand for a ban on the programme through the state’s election. The Opposition argues that allowing the PM to use “official mass media” will give his alliance an “unfair advantage”. But Mann ki Baat is about the PM sharing his thoughts with the nation. It is both unfair and silly to insist that he maintain silence when a state goes to polls.
The EC has rejected similar demands in the past on the ground that day-to-day governance can’t be held up in the name of elections. Sure, Mann ki Baat is not an essential activity of the government, but it’s a legitimate exercise by the PM to explain his vision of governance. However, the EC can intervene — and it must — if it is turned into a poll outreach programme. The EC has given clear guidelines on what constitutes a violation of the poll code. Surely the PM will be mindful of the dignity of his office and not reduce himself to a mere party campaigner.
The Opposition’s case also belies a naive view of voters. People are intelligent enough to sift through pre-poll promises. Trust them to spot poll jumla and reject “hawabaazi”. The history of Indian elections reveals that polls are not necessarily won with vapid promises. People factor in the numerous variables at play, from governance records, stability of the party/ coalition and poll promises to communal affiliations. They endorse promises that seem credible and reject the pretenders. Bihar is unlikely to be an exception.