The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) enjoys an upper hand in the ongoing elections. This is because it has been ruling the country for the last five years. It is also in power in several states. Money has been flowing into its coffers like the Ganga in spate. The Congress comes nowhere near the BJP in terms of financial resources. The BJP has also been using agencies like the Income Tax Department, the Enforcement Directorate and the Police to deprive the Congress of any possible financial source. The Prime Minister has been openly stating that he would close down the Congress ATMs in Madhya Pradesh.
All those who believe in transparency and a healthy political system would like the present system of elections to be cleansed. Any step in that direction would be welcomed. While Narendra Modi speaks about the Congress ATMs, why does he forget his own party’s ATMs that allow its sundry leaders to cris-cross the country in chartered helicopters and aircraft?
It was not for no reason that it was believed that Modi went in for demonetisation only to deprive the Opposition of money in the UP Assembly elections due at that time. The new, ultramodern party office the BJP has got constructed in New Delhi stands as a tribute to its financial prowess. Recently, it acquired more land in the area for future expansion of its infrastructure. The point I wanted to make was that the BJP was in a commanding position when the Election Commission ordered the general elections. It even succeeded in making the defence of India an electoral issue. One has every reason to believe that the failure of the intelligence to avert Pulwama and the attack on Balakot were all aimed at winning the elections when the party had nothing else to show off.
The downing of an Indian Air Force MIG aircraft by the Pakistanis and the capture of its pilot in a retaliatory strike gave a different picture of the limited engagement. Pakistan has also successfully used a visit by the international media to Balakot to prove that the Indian strike did not hit the terrorist camp as claimed by India. We have, unfortunately, been unable to show any evidence of the strikes on Pakistan except for the craters formed in some places. With all the night-vision capabilities and satellite technology, it should not have been difficult to show proof that India indeed gunned down an F-16 Pakistani aircraft. It is also difficult to believe that Modi would have shown restraint while making such claims.
In short, the BJP sought to set the agenda for the elections. On April 11, I saw hoardings in Delhi with Modi’s picture claiming that India is great power in space that the world recognises. So vote for the BJP. That was the message. He used an old technology India developed to destroy a satellite. It was our own satellite hit by our own missile. Also, we have only Modi’s word on this.
We all know how dependable Modi has been. He is the one who is so convinced that India had aircraft technology when the forefathers of the Wright Brothers were not even born. Given the advantages the BJP has in these elections, everyone expected the party to come out with its election manifesto immediately after the elections were announced. No, it did not do so. It published it just a few days before the first phase of the polling happened on April 11. Why did it take such a long time?
The answer is obvious. It waited for the Congress to release its manifesto so that it can tweak its own manifesto. This is the party which wants to finish the Congress! Finally, what kind of manifesto has the party released? Before that one must recall what Amit Shah had once said about some electoral promises the party had made. The party president, who is known as Modi’s Sancho Panza, claimed that the promises were just election jhumla. What he conveniently forgot is that the promises helped the party turn the tables against the Congress and other parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party in 2014. Take two simple promises it made. One was that every citizen would get Rs 15 lakh each when all the Indian money stashed away in foreign banks was brought back to India. The total amount was in trillions. Another promise was that two crore more jobs would be created every year.
In short, 10 crore persons should have got jobs during the last five years. Since such employees are all over the country, the BJP would have been assured of at least 20 crore votes. The employees who got the jobs and their spouses would surely have voted for the party. Reports suggest that the number of employed people has fallen, not risen, during the last five years. Of course, Modi and Co. would say that the new employees are in the unorganised sector. Probably, they are all busy making pakoras and becoming entrepreneurs!
Already, people have exercised their franchise in one-sixth of the constituencies. The Prime Minister who is the star campaigner of the party has been using words like Pakistan, terrorism, mandir, masjid, Hindu, non-Hindu, anti-nationals, revenge, the martyrdom of soldiers, etc in his speeches. He does not say anything about how the party implemented its promises given in its manifesto in 2014. Now, what does the BJP highlight in the manifesto? It is obvious that the party has gone back to its core agenda. One is building a mandir at Ayodhya. Why make this promise again when Hinduism has survived and grown without a “magnificent” temple at Ayodhya. By the way, the most magnificent temple in Delhi now is Akshardham, built without much controversy.
The party knows that the Supreme Court is seized of the issue and it cannot take any unilateral decision except in defiance of the Constitutional provisions in vogue. Its promise of a temple is like a post-dated cheque drawn on a bank which is under liquidation, to paraphrase Gandhiji. Another agenda of the party which it has re-emphasised in the manifesto is introducing a uniform civil code. There is the consensus that in a secular nation, every citizen should be guided by the same laws regarding marriage, registration of death and births and property transactions.
A uniform civil code should benefit all. Muslims are vilified on the ground that Muslim men can have four wives. The fact is that there are fewer Muslims who have more than one wife than there are Hindus who have more partners, not necessarily spouses.
Christians are unable to adopt children as they can only be guardians. Only Scheduled Castes who profess Hinduism as their religion are entitled to reservation. This is a blatant violation of the right to equality. Similarly, Hindu families enjoy some property-related rights which Christian and Muslim families are deprived of. If all this is modified and everyone is brought under a uniform civil code, nobody would protest so long as they can profess any faith and observe its rituals and practices. Yet, what did the BJP government do during the last five years to introduce such a code? The answer is, Absolutely nothing.
Why should the voters believe that if Modi is given another chance, he will introduce a uniform civil code? Similarly, it promises one-third reservation for women in Assemblies and Parliament. Once one of the Houses of Parliament had passed such a law. However, it could not be passed in the other House. Nothing prevented the BJP from enacting a law in this regard. It is not that they could not. It wanted the votes of the Upper Castes. So it enacted a law to introduce 10 per cent reservation for the poor among the Upper Castes. Anil Ambani would have become a poor person, entitled to a reservation if his elder brother Mukesh Ambani had not bailed out his younger brother from a court case.
Otherwise, he would have been declared a pauper. That is not the issue here. How much time did the government take to enact the new law on a reservation? Everything was done in a hurry. In one week, the law was passed by both Houses and signed by the President of India. Why could not it enact a bill to provide reservation to women in Parliament and state legislatures? The BJP seems to be keen to make India another Pakistan. It would do well to know that women enjoy reservation in Pakistan’s parliament. If anything it shows that the BJP is not at all sincere about women’s reservation.
If women enjoy reservation in municipal and Panchayat bodies, it is because of the late Rajiv Gandhi who got the Panchayati Raj law enacted. The BJP says one thing and does another. One of the campaigns against the Congress was its reluctance to appoint an Ombudsman-kind of an institution to fight corruption. The fast by Anna Hazare, orchestrated by the BJP, is well-known. It helped turn many young people against the Congress.
Finally, the law for setting up the Lok Pal was enacted by the UPA government. Before it could appoint a Lok Pal, elections were called. Modi could have appointed the Lok Pal on Day 1 but he waited and waited till the last days of the government to appoint someone as Lok Pal.
Sabarimala is a major issue in Kerala. The BJP is one party which hopes to capitalise on it. What does the Manifesto say on Sabarimala? Does it say that a law would be enacted to prevent menstruating women from entering the Sabarimala temple? It would have antagonised the womenfolk and even the men who consider menstruation as a biological process needed for procreation. Instead, it says traditions would be protected. There were traditions in the country under which some people were not allowed to walk on public roads as at Vaikom in Kerala. Does it mean that it would uphold all such traditions? The sum and substance of its stance on Sabarimala are that it has no definite stand.
It would say anything and everything to get some upper caste votes in Kerala. In short, the manifesto has no value. It is just to hoodwink the voters. It promises to spend huge sums of money on public welfare. The promises are like the ones it made in 2014. As Venkatesh Ramakrishnan of The Hindu group mentioned at a public function where Sam Pitroda was the speaker, the contrast between the cover pages of the Congress and the BJP manifestoes is at once striking. The cover of the Congress manifesto shows thousands of people sitting together, probably attending a party meeting. The BJP manifesto has the picture of one man — Narendra Modi — on the cover. It speaks volumes about the state of the party. And it is curious that this one-man party accuses the Congress of promoting one-family rule.
What Narendra Modi does not realise is that the people of India would judge him not on the basis of the promises he has made but on the basis of the promises he has fulfilled. In the last election, he won a massive victory with just one-third of the polled votes. Modi should be eternally thankful to the Opposition parties which have not been able to unite against the forces threatening to bring asunder the Constitutional values like secularism and democracy which helped this country achieve a rightful place in the comity of nations.
If for any reason, the BJP is able to win enough seats to return to power, Modi will have to be thankful, not to his party workers but to all the splitters of the anti-BJP votes. The question essentially is whether Modi can overcome the anti-incumbency vote and return to power because the Congress and the rest of the Opposition are at loggerheads in UP, Delhi, Haryana and many other states.
In comparison, the Congress manifesto is well thought out and drafted by young people like the daughter of a close friend. Unlike the BJP’s, it is more actionable. How truly it is said that an empty vessel makes more sound than a filled one. Modi and his manifesto are like that empty vessel, “full of sound and fury signifying nothing”.(Published on 15th April 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 16)