There are two key takeaways from the first round of polling for parliament that ended on April 11. One, the BJP is really desperate for votes, and thus jittery. Two, there is no wave in favour of the BJP or Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The BJP’s desperation is evident in the speeches of the party’s top brass. Its campaign is leaving nothing out — Hindutva, temple, vikas (development), cow, the PM’s persona and his vital 56 inch stats, biopics, new TV channels for propaganda, income tax raids on opposition leaders, boasts of having broken Pakistan’s back, and the latest addition, Pulwama.
Supplications by its politicians on the 2019 campaign trail make it difficult to understand if they are seeking votes or alms. For, they are exhorting us to vote in the name of Ram, Bajrangbali, and even the country’s martyrs — a strategy we often notice outside shrines. But, that’s the BJP for you. It will stop at nothing to influence voters, even if it means defying norms — like in the case of NaMo TV, remarks on the Indian security forces — or blatantly pursuing a communal agenda.
Strip it of all the unnecessary verbiage, the BJP’s campaign now sounds like a call for Hindu Rashtra from where all ‘infiltrators except Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs’ would be thrown out. And a country whose only reason for existence is complete annihilation of Pakistan. It is now appealing to the basic instincts of bigots and playing on our imagined and real fears of a hostile neighbour.
In her bestseller Gone Girl that was later turned into a blockbuster film, Gillian Flynn coined a memorable phrase to define the human instinct to feast on a calamity. She called it ‘tragedy vampirism.’ If you want an example of this phenomenon, look no further than the BJP’s attempt to seek votes in the name of soldiers martyred in the terror attack in Pulwama.
At an election rally in Maharashtra, the prime minister himself, exhorted first-time voters to dedicate their ballot to Pulwama’s martyrs. On the side-lines, other senior leaders have been dragging Pakistan and Pulwama into the election discourse on one pretext or the other. Earlier, Yogi Adityanath, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, forgot the difference between a private militia and a nation’s army when he referred to the Indian army as Modi’s sena (army). The monk who is a full time politician once lorded over a gang of thugs that called its Hindu Yuva Vahini whose main task was to take on the Muslims. So, Adityanath could be forgiven for nursing notions of a private army. But, the pejorative description was used by other BJP leaders too, including the Modi government’s law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, implying the BJP is making a concerted effort to take credit for the army’s valour and seek votes for their sacrifices.
Why would the PM go to the extent of seeking votes in the name of martyrs? The explanation can be found in Modi’s electoral history of turning emotive issues, public tragedies and disasters into party’s poll slogans. In 2002-03, the BJP had gained from raising the pitch on the Godhara incident, by keeping the tragedy alive in the public mindset. Modi had, similarly, reiterated his ‘go-getter’ persona by talking up his government’s rescue and rehabilitation efforts after the earthquake in Bhuj.
All these strategies, incidentally, come out of the BJP’s closet every time the election becomes too close to call, when the BJP needs the comforting cushion of polarisation in the name of religion and nationalism. They are its red-herrings intended to divert attention from the real issues of life — education, health, employment and social security. That the BJP is back to its game of communalism, Pakistan and Pulwama is a clear indication that its other strategies are not working on the ground. It shows the party’s desperation to find an issue that would guarantee a simple majority.
Broad trends from the first phase suggest Pulwama and polarisation are not working. In south India, where the BJP is a marginal player, these issues never resonated on the ground, except in pockets of Karnataka. But even in states like UP and Bihar, the BJP’s rhetoric doesn’t seem to be working. The caste arithmetic of Jats-Muslims-SC and Yadavs in western Uttar Pradesh and the Muslim-Yadav combination in Bihar is posing a stiff challenge to the BJP’s brand of nationalism, implying the end of Modi wave and failure of the three Ps of BJP’s politics —Pulwama, polarisation and Pakistan.