Managed Discourse, Strategized Election

Prof. Satyakam Borthakur:

This parliamentary election is providing a glimpse into the country’s future politics. It is proving that elections are no more a fight for political ethics or dependent on the wishes of the people. Rather, it is more a strategic battle, where the people’s wishes can be sidetracked and diverted in the desired direction by a political party. It appears that sections of Indian media have come under the sway of ruling BJP which is getting better opportunities to push its agenda. But it is to be noted that this country of 130 crore people has only about 33 crore newspaper readers. On the other hand, electronic media is gradually losing its reliability among discerning viewers because of the unethical spins given to news. The BJP is miles ahead when it comes to strategic planning and handling of issues. If we look into the discourse on Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), this strategic astuteness is apparent. The timing in tabling the bill in Parliament shows a clear electoral focus with intention to manipulate different electorates. CAB was passed in Lok Sabha with its backers knowing quite well it will not clear the Rajya Sabha hurdle. They could have managed its final passage had they been really serious about it in terms of ideological or national interest. But they didn’t do that, for their purpose was already served. Voters’ memory in Assam is anyway short, so this issue could be put on the back-burner till after election. On the other hand, CAB will serve to bait the Hindu Bengali voters in Assam as well as West Bengal. Even if the core Assamese electorate remains unforgiving and punishes parties for foisting CAB on their State, they can be neutralized by the creation and playing up other electorates to welcome foreigners from the neighboring country. CAB or NRC will not create any problems for BJP in this election. But the performance of some of its MPs in Parliament has been another matter. It can be confidently said that five sitting BJP MPs from Assam would not have been re-elected had they been allowed to contest, which is why the saffron party dumped them despite the risk of dissidence and sabotage. In compromising with the BJP, the AGP has done its electoral prospects little good. Walking back into the BJP’s embrace after the public histrionics over CAB is being seen as the price AGP is willing to pay for securing the candidature of the brother of its working president, but the AGP’s chances of winning even one of the three seats it is contesting seem remote. As for the Congress, it hardly seems to be in a position to capitalize electorally in Assam. Voters in this state are still in search of a better alternative.

In the national scenario, the picture remains unclear. Media propaganda apart, I believe the BJP has lost its grips in the Hindi Belt, but the outcome will depend on whether the silent majority exercises a strong mandate to bring about change (unless stymied by electoral manipulation). There has been some consolidation of anti-BJP forces, while firebrand youth leaders like Gujarat Patidar leader Hardik Patel has joined the Congress and Kanhaiya Kumar is debuting as a Left candidate. How far this consolidation delivers in the voting machines remains to be seen, but it is clear that there is massive opposition on the ground to the present ruling dispensation’s pro-capitalist economic policies, particularly among the farmers, as well as its aggressive saffron agenda that has kept the minorities under pressure. In spite of all these factors, there is less chance of any non-BJP government with absolute majority at the Centre this time. The alternative ‘truths’ being peddled, the planned indecency in political discourse and demolition of democratic ethical foundations have created an environment where anything can happen. To the discredit of media, it has done little in focusing on major issues in last five years, so it is hardly in a position now to reliably predict which way the election will go. In many constituencies, small issues could impact the result significantly, so we may be in for a surprise. As for the post-poll scenario, other surprises may be thrown up. Suppose the Congress decides to support someone like JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar in the NDA combine, then who knows how the alliances may fracture and re-align? But the Congress can hardly draw any comfort from the fact that it would need to convince new generation voters a lot to switch in a major way from 68 years old Narendra Modi to 48 years old Rahul Gandhi or his younger sister Priyanka. This is the big challenge for the Opposition — that it is capable and willing to deliver on voters’ desire for change.


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