India Shining verses India Cheated
Syed Ali Mujtaba
'India shining' and 'feel good factor' are the slogans of the BJP led NDA, in the coming Lok Sabha elections. India shining" has been coined following recent swing in the economy which registered 8.5 growth rates in last quarter of the previous year. BJP's success in three out of the four state assembly election too is drummed up as "feel good factor." The party says it’s going to the polls on developmental issues, running a successful coalition government, providing stability to the country and the able leadership of Prime Minister Vajpayee.
The question is whether these poll planks will generate pro-incumbency wave in favour of BJP led National Democratic Alliance?
Congress too has stepped up its attack on BJP's publicity blitz by launching "India Cheated" campaign. The party accuses BJP of trying to "cover up its glaring failures" and says that its "feel good balloon" will be punctured at the Lok Sabha polls. Congress is highlighting, that for the first time country is witnessing a negative employment growth and unemployment has crossed 10-crore mark. Congress also debunks NDA's claim of high GDP growth rate saying during the NDA’s five years of rule, the growth rate was just five per cent, and it was only in the last quarter of the year that it read as 8.5 per cent. Congress terms BJP's claim of returning to power as day dreaming and says that the party had reached its peak in 1999 and the anti-incumbency factor will unseat it from the power this time.
It is seen that political plank has generated big wave in favour of one or other political party for two decades since 1970’s in India. One may recall that in 1971 election Congress gained land slide victory on liberation of Bangladesh as its poll plank. It was anti emergency wave that decimated Congress in 1977 elections. “Bring Indira back" wave slogan swept the polls for Congress in 1979 national election. Then in 1984, it was assassination of Indira Gandhi that generated sympathy wave for Congress. ‘National Front’ came to power in 1989 campaigning against Congress on "Bofors gun deal scam.” The 1992 election was riding BJP's ‘rath yatra’ campaign on Ayodhya but the election swung last minute in favour of Congress due to Rajiv Gandhi's assassination.
The election scene has drastically changed since 1996 Lok Sabha polls. , The BJP even firing all its cylinders could not gain absolute majority and collapsed within 13 days of power. Then, a rag- tag ‘Third Front’ government chugged the country for next two years. The general election in 1998 again gave BJP a truncated majority but this time it was able to run a government for 13 months with help of coalition partners. The pulling out of AIADMK party from the BJP led coalition forced another general election in 1999 which again threw the same verdict. This time the BJP toned down its political agenda, evolved a common minimum programme and shelved the contentious issues to lead a NDA government to run its full course of power.
What is seen is that the poll planks which use to swing elections one way or other have melted since 1996 general elections. It’s better electoral management, formidable alliances that have become the decisive factors for the success of party in Indian elections.
Now when the political monsoon has once again arrived in India there are many issues which are hotly debated. These poll planks pop up during every election and fade after the ballots are being cast. Corruption is one such issue that dominates during the electioneering. While, the ruling government try to sell its clean image, opposition rakes up corruption deeds of the party in power. The general perception is corruption cut across party lines and every political party is caught in its cesspool. The issue as such has lost all its sheen to move the masses.
Then spectre of terrorism is let loose at every election. Earlier the issue was raised in context of Punjab and now it is done with reference to Jammu and Kashmir and Northeast insurgency. Surprisingly, the left extremist violence which is there since independence has never become a national poll plank in the country. In context of terrorism, hatred against Pakistan is whipped up for aiding and abetting cross- border terrorism against India.
Pakistan bashing is also done to generate popular support by raising the spectre of neighbouring country’s inadvertent adventurism against India. India’s security hinges on taming Pakistan is the poll plank of almost every political party during electioneering. Construction of "Ram Mandir" at Ayodhya is another issue that’s milked at every political festivity. The BJP had a phenomenal rise in mid eighties due to this singular issue. However, after its cadre destroyed the ‘Babari Masjid’ on 6th December 1992, the party is unable to generate much political euphoria by selling god. Even though BJP is making political noises about construction of temple calling it party’s top political agenda, the issue no more remains an electoral trump-card for the party.
Then there are some minority related poll planks which are drummed up by BJP to mobilise majority votes. Enforcement of uniform civil code, brining anti conversion bill, ban on cow slaughter, ban on polygamy, and abrogation of minority character to AMU are some issues that dominate its electioneering. While the BJP canvases in its favour to placate the majority votes, Congress campaign against it to lure the minority votes. However, none of these issues seems to have the punch to electrify the masses.
There are also some patriotic planks like foreign origin of Congress president Sonia Gandhi that is raised to evoke national pride. Similarly the abrogation of article 370 of the constitution (which gives special treatment to Jammu and Kashmir) is aired to whip up patriotic emotions. Then spectre of illegal migration from Bangladesh is raised to warn that country’s demographic profile is in jeopardy due to this phenomenon. However, these issues hardly translate into decisive votes.
This time, the new found rapprochement with Pakistan has toned down many poll planks which once formed BJP's core propaganda package. Vajpayee's promise to Musharraf has led to scaling down of anti Pakistan, cross border terrorism and Kashmir propaganda by the BJP. Some say that Prime Minister's commitment to Pakistan has taken out the sails from the BJP's boat. Alas electorates this time may miss out Advani’s carefully worded anti- Pakistan statements which use to be the highlight of his campaigning.
The NDA is saying that it would campaign this time lauding the achievements of its rule. Kashmir which used to be the war cry of the BJP is sold as a state returning to normalcy due its policies. The party is lauding its achievements of holding talks with the separatists and says is ready to talk even to the militants. The NDA is also endorsing J&K government's healing touch policy of freeing and rehabilitating the militants. Likewise it’s hammering other achievements of NDA during its rule is being drummed. The question remains how much positive campaigning will generate pro-incumbency wave in favour of NDA that remains to be seen?
The big debate is "India is Shining" or "India Cheated" campaigns. Some argue that India is on a roll, its economy is growing, industrialisation is taking place, agriculture is giving good return and every one is feeling good. Those who talk about "India cheated" say country still lacks basic amenities and remains water and power starved. More than a quarter of population is living below the poverty line, unemployment is on rise, prices of essential commodities have sky rocketing, social tension has increased, atrocities against the women and minorities are on rise. India is cheated by its own politicians who have contributed nothing than gloom and pessimism every where. The debate remains inconclusive.
The election this time is unique because no political party have any ace up its sleeves to turn the election around in its favour. This may be perhaps the first election where both the political parties and electorates know that not be the poll planks but the political alignment that would decide who is going to rule India.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is journalist currently working in Chenai, India. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org