The country is entering a mini-general election mode. Five States are going for Assembly polls in less than two months. The parties are scrambling to put their acts together. These elections have an added significance as the results will have a bearing on the general elections a few months from now. It will have a major impact on the morale of party workers. Though poll manifestoes and the final strategy are still being worked out, it is almost certain that the elections are going to be fought more on emotive issues like religion, caste and parochial feelings than people’s real issues.
It was the Mandir issue that catapulted BJP to power in the last leg of last millennium; it was the slogan of ‘ mandir yeham banayenge’ (Temple will be built here) which reverberated through the length and breadth of North India that helped the saffron party to revive its fortunes. Once the BJP understood the ‘invincibility’ of religious slogans, it has not looked back. The party continues to rely on the ‘religious plank’, along with jumlas, to come to power, both at the Centre and the States.
What surprises is the Congress party’s copying the saffron strategy to fight the elections. It was people’s agenda that was reflected in slogans like ‘ garibi hatao’ which were made popular by Indira Gandhi. Even the slogan ‘ Congress ki haath aam aadmi ki saath’ (Congress’s hand is with common people) had a bearing on the people’s causes. Now the party seems to be slowly coming out of its traditional Nehruvian secularism to win over Hindu votes, a sine qua non for coming to power in Centre and most states in the Hindi heartland.
This change in strategy is getting reflected in the States where election schedule has been announced. In Madhya Pradesh, Congress president Rahul Gandhi is projected as Ram Bhakt, Shiv Bhakt and in some places as Narmada Bhakt. The party’s top leaders are also singing the same tune promising cow shelters if the Congress is voted back to power. The Congress party, instead of trying to browbeat the hardcore Hindutva of the BJP with its soft Hindutva, would do well sticking to people’s agenda which has always been its forte. Vote bank politics in the name of religion and caste might help reap immediate benefits. But, people will be the long-term losers while leaders make short-term gains.
The focus should be on bringing all those opposing the Hindutva agenda of the BJP on one platform. The emphasis should be on pitting people’s agenda against Hindutva agenda. The common people are struggling with rising fuel prices, loss of jobs, burgeoning unemployment, problems of farmers who are unable to make ends meet due to crop failures and mounting debt, lack of basic health facilities, and a plethora of other issues. In this crisis situation, Opposition parties should set aside their self-interest and come together to take on the ruling BJP which has no love lost for the suffering classes. Unfortunately, the Opposition does not seem to have learnt lessons from the past. They still bicker over the number of seats, unmindful of the bottomless pit waiting for them in case of a defeat.(Published on 15th October 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 42)