The ruling party has derailed election narrative. With just a few weeks left for the general elections to begin, people’s crucial issues have been sidelined. Pulwama attack, subsequent air strike ín Balakot and the release of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman from Pakistan have taken the centerstage. There are no two opinions on the armed forces’ admirable and daring job of penetrating Pakistan’s territory to bomb a terrorist hide-out; Abhinandan’s brave act of shooting down a Pakistani jet and his subsequent return to India too deserve praise. The credit for all these goes entirely to the armed forces. Any attempt to misappropriate credit by the government or any party will not cover it in glory. However, the electoral dynamics and narratives have undergone a drastic change in the last few weeks. Pakistan-related issues have upstaged all other issues in the electoral discourse of the ruling party.
Even though Opposition leaders were lying low for a few days after these events, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah went to the town to claim credit for the air strike and release of Abhinandan. Pulwama-related events continue to cloud every other topic. Issues of unemployment, farmers’ distress, closure up of lakhs of small and medium industries, mounting bank debts, fleeing of businessmen to foreign countries with ‘looted’ money, Rafale controversy…. All these have been swept under the carpet. The election narrative has seen a tectonic change. The BJP, smarting under the Opposition attack on its failures in many areas, has grabbed the Pulwama and Balakot issues as godsend. It keeps raising them at every public rally and press conference.
It would be a great disservice to the people if issues vital to their existence are not discussed during electioneering. Credit-taking and chest-beating can wait, but solution to people’s issues for survival cannot. Most surveys in the recent past have pegged unemployment as the most explosive issue plaguing the nation. It can upset the NDA’s electoral applecart. Transferring a couple of thousand rupees to the bank accounts of farmers may warm the cockles of a few hearts, but farmers’ distress is waiting to explode. The nation has seen several farmers’ mega marches to the national Capital and other cities.
As job opportunities in the organized sector are shrinking, it is the unorganized sector, small and medium industries which are working as the backbone of a burgeoning work force. But we have seen these sectors crumbling because of policies taken according to the whims and fancies of some individuals, rather than based on sound economic principles. The issue of black money, which Mr Modi raised at every election rally in 2014, and his promise to deposit Rs. 15 lakhs in everyone’s bank account, have vanished in thin air; the BJP does not make even feeble voices on the subject.
The ruling party is on the backfoot on all these issues. It was apparently looking for an issue that will divert public attention. Pulwama and the subsequent events that touched the heart of every citizen came handy. Resorting to such emotive issues for electoral gains, sparing other major issues, might help reap short-term benefits. It might help to add a few seats to the ruling party’s kitty as the senior BJP leader B. S. Yeddyurappa claimed. But, such short-cuts to victory will cost a lot in the long run.
(Published on 18th March 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 12)