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BJP’s distorted and polarising narratives will continue

BJP’s distorted and polarising narratives will continue

Communal polarisation is all that the BJP has in its arsenal to deter the voters from voting on the basis of caste, community, and the reputation of the local candidate

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Last Updated : 26 April 2024, 05:24 IST
Last Updated : 26 April 2024, 05:24 IST
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Suddenly in the run-up to the second round of voting, the Congress with hardly any prospect of forming the next government is being projected by Modi as a party that could come to power and seize the properties of unsuspecting voters.

Building on the familiar tagline of the Life Insurance Corporation of India’s Jeevan Anand policy, he has coined the slogan ‘Congress ki loot — zindagi ke saath bhi aur zindagi ke baad bhi (the Congress loots people during their lifetime and even after their death).’ This is, of course, hype.

What has the BJP worried is the apathy of the voters in the first phase of polling, which has seen a 4 per cent fall compared to 2019. It indicates that the Hindu voters are not sufficiently moved by issues such as the Ram Temple, Article 370, and Viksit Bharat (Developed India), or by Modi’s charisma, to brave the summer heat to vote.

If the low voter turnout is due to rising day temperatures, then things are likely to get worse as India moves into mid-summer. The polling schedule is long-drawn — lasting a record 44 days. As day temperatures rise so might voter apathy and fatigue. Normally, the general elections are over by the first week of May.

To some extent Modi is himself to blame for the delay in the onset of the elections. While every government inaugurates new projects before elections, the Modi government’s inauguration spree was unprecedented. In the first 75 days of 2024 before the onset of the Model Code of Conduct, the prime minister inaugurated or laid foundation stones of infrastructure projects spanning national highways, railway and allied infrastructure, power generation and transmission, airports and upgrading government-owned seaports. He also flagged off 10 Vande Bharat trains in one day, and laid the foundation of 51 Gati Shakti multi-model cargo terminals and 100 national highway projects across 13 states.

Opposition parties have also alleged that the poll schedule has been stretched to accommodate the prime minister so that he can campaign longer on government expenditure in every eight to 10 seats in the bigger states and in the Opposition-ruled states where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hopes to make a mark.

Those who planned the election schedule seem to have underestimated the consequences of stretching the polling process: day temperatures will keep going up till the last day of polling on June 1; election fatigue will grow as the election progresses; and those who face polling in the later phases will see their election expenses rise.

To counter voter apathy and election fatigue the parties in the fray will have to keep providing fresh reiterations of key themes and constantly re-invent old narratives to keep the voters engaged. This is what Modi and the BJP are doing.

The distortion of the Congress manifesto began 24-hours after the first phase of polling was over, and after Modi spent the night of April 19 at Nagpur. The Nagpur mandarins are likely to have briefed him about the ground situation and the danger of voter apathy. It is possible that its ideological mentors advised the BJP that its core supporters have little patience with pep talks about development. Nothing rallies them as effectively as an anti-minority narrative. The Ram mandir is done and dusted. The party’s core support base and the Hindutva cadre of its mother organisation want more.

This is the context of his dog-whistle references to the minorities — “those who produce more children” will be given wealth ‘looted’ from the Hindus, or about opposition parties taking away jobs from quotas reserved for the SC/STs and OBCs to redistribute to their ‘vote banks’. The reference to a government seizure of the gold mangalsutras of women, Modi hopes will get women out to vote for him and against those whom he suggests, with a nod and wink, propose to do this.

Other campaigners in the BJP have been quick to build on this anti-Muslim narrative. A day after Modi’s rhetoric in Banswara on April 21, Home Minister Amit Shah declared in Chhattisgarh that the Congress was eyeing the wealth held by Hindu monasteries and temples. Two days later Modi himself criticised job reservation for Muslims and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh went a step further by ‘interpreting’ the Congress manifesto to suggest that the party would apply Muslim reservation even to jobs in the armed forces.

The potency of such poison is far greater than the promise of development. Communal polarisation is all that the BJP has in its arsenal to deter the voters from voting on the basis of caste, community, and the reputation of the local candidate, which is what they seem to have done in the first phase of polling on April 19.

The Congress is the primary target of the BJP in states where it is in direct contest with it, especially in the cow-belt states of North India. That is why most of the statements about minority ‘appeasement’ are being made in these states. The Congress is an easy target because of the number of naïve loudmouths and know-alls it shelters — Sam Pitroda is a prime example. His choice of the news platform for an uncalled-for and badly timed interview and his political naïveté about how his statements might be twisted, shows him to be a political greenhorn that the BJP can have for breakfast.

It has already made a meal of his ‘appreciation’ for ‘inheritance tax’ about which he was not even asked a question. This narrative suits the BJP in the north Indian states that remain considerably feudal, dependent on agriculture and facing a crisis because of continuous partitioning of land. Imagine their fear if they start believing that half of their inherited property will go to the government.

However, as the election proceeds, the BJP will continue casting about for a new polarising narrative to keep the voter emotionally charged. Hopefully, the Opposition, especially the Congress, will not be foolish enough to provide grist for the polarising rumour mills of the BJP, whose low political cunning it simply cannot match.

(Bharat Bhushan is a Delhi-based journalist.)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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