Modi: Let’s talk national security, Cong:That’s an-Nyay

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement that India had tested an anti-satellite missile system has brought back the spotlight to national security, an issue that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) believes will work to its advantage in the upcoming general elections.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement that India had tested an anti-satellite missile system has brought back the spotlight to national security, an issue that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) believes will work to its advantage in the upcoming general elections.

Within hours of the PM’s ‘message to the nation’ on the morning of March 27, 2019 the BJP had used all possible channels of communication, from social media posts to relentless media briefings, to hail Modi's leadership for allowing Indian scientists to carry out 'Mission Shakti' as the test was called. The BJP claimed “the previous dispensation of UPA had not allowed” them to happen and asserted, as is their wont, that the “nation is in safe hands”.

But that was after the announcement. Before the PM spoke, there was speculation galore. TV channels went berserk. Anchors and experts wondered aloud on air whether that the announcement could be linked to a major socio-economic decision to counter the probable electoral impact of ‘NYAY’, the Minimum Income Guarantee (MIG) announcement made by Congress President Rahul Gandhi. Or had the government carried out some major security-related operation against Pakistan, arrested a major terrorist?

After making the nation wait for a good half-an-hour or more, the PM announced at around 12.20 pm that India had joined an elite club of nations (US, Russia and China being the others) who have anti-satellite capabilities.

Not surprisingly, the Opposition smelt a rat. Rahul Gandhi while tweeting his congratulations to the scientists at the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) also wished the PM a happy World Theatre Day. Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi was acerbic as well: “Hope more space shootings and Star Wars are not planned in the next six weeks, nor more State of Nation addresses. Neither fear, nor frustration nor desperation nor seeing of the electoral writing on wall should lead to such events and such timing.”

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) asked the Election Commission whether it permitted the ruling party to “politically colour” the achievements of Indian scientists during election season.

Clearly the Opposition saw through the BJP's attempt to change the narrative back to national security – which had kicked-in after the Pulwama attack but was somewhat set aside after Gandhi's announcement of Rs 6,000 per month payout to the poor under the MIG scheme.

It is a foregone conclusion that if the election narrative remains rooted in national security, the BJP, which has been projecting PM Modi as a “strong and decisive” leader citing the post-Pulwama aerial strike in Balakot and the Uri surgical strikes across the border, would stand to benefit.

The Congress had spent a brief two days steering the election narrative in the direction it favours with its announcement of NYAY. The scheme allowed the Congress to speak of agrarian distress and joblessness and made it possible for it to highlight the fixes it has come up with to remedy what it sees as major areas of disenchantment with the government.

Other Opposition parties too would be happy to see an election in which arithmetic matters more than emotion as they have sewn numerically-strong caste alliances.

By jeering the PM and the BJP, the Opposition seems to have acted exactly as the BJP would have wanted them to. Condemning the Opposition remarks as mean, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the “the lower they go, the stronger we emerge.” BJP Chief Amit Shah took pot shots at Gandhi for dubbing the “success of scientists” as “drama”. 

The BJP has rubbished allegations of a political motive behind the move asking whether scientists should have waited for elections to be over to complete the test. Jaitely said India had successfully test-fired its intermediate-range ballistic missile Agni-V in 2012 and Indian scientists had said that they could develop anti-satellite or ASAT capabilities, but were not allowed to do so by the previous Congress-led government.

Despite the BJP’s assertions and the script having veered back to national security, the PM’s announcement is a muted admission that his government’s Balakot bravado has faded from people’s minds.

The questions on the minds of political watchers now will be: Can the Congress can manage to hold on to some of the narrative space it has captured from the BJP and what will the BJP do next if its renewed national security pitch also fails to hold the attention of the populace for long.

Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi? Who will win the battle royale of the Lok Sabha Elections 2019


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Modi: Let’s talk national security, Cong:That’s an-Nyay

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