• Friday, May 24, 2019
  • Last Update : 11:48 pm

An acrimonious election

  • Published at 12:52 am May 15th, 2019
Every citizen has a voice
Every citizen has a voice / REUTERS

The real issues have largely been obscured by the Indian media

Lok Sabha elections in India have often, in the past, been accompanied by incidents. This one is no different. 

Each election also has a certain political character of its own. This election has one too. 

It has turned out to be about whether Narendra Modi will be able to secure another term or not.

It’s not really a mature election debate though, but that’s how it has been painted in the public discourse by the Indian media. Real issues have largely been obscured. 

The BJP strategy is desperate -- win at any cost. Hardly any agendas of the last election campaign in 2014 are being repeated by the party, because there is nothing much to talk about.

The Indian economy is not doing well, especially in the critical area of job creation and other trickle-down effects for the commoners -- despite the-called impressive GDP growth. 

The GDP growth is generally claimed by the Indian government to be more than 7%, and even close to 8% barring the disastrous demonetization phase.

However, economists are divided about this figure, and many have expressed their doubt with regards to its accuracy. 

One common allegation regarding Modi and his cohorts is that they make fake claims, and are unfairly biased towards business conglomerates who support the saffron party.

The allegations are relentless by the opposition and liberal intelligentsia, and gradually, it has caught traction in Indian public discourse.

BJP’s reply to this has been deflective -- invocation of nationalism, Hindu-Muslim divide, conflict with Pakistan, and vilification of past leaders from Gandhi-Nehru clan.

These may energize the hardcore followers of the saffron, but it’s not clear whether they have created a stir in favour of Modi as they did in 2014, when Modi had presented himself as a flag-bearer for development. 

This time, there is nothing much to talk about regarding development as the government did not deliver anything significant.

However, the BJP has somewhat been able to revive the NDA alliance by re-allying with Nitish Kumar in Bihar and, lately, resolving differences with their estranged Maharashtra ally Shiv Sena and roping in AIADMK in Tamil Nadu.

But they also lost an important ally like Chandrababu Naidu of TDP. It’s not clear though, how useful the AIADMK would be with all its anti-incumbency issues and the absence of a charismatic leader like Jayalalithaa.

The opposition has been quite assertive and aggressive in attacking the performance and behaviour of the BJP leadership.

Congress is leading the UPA alliance. There is no clear Third Front this time, but there are important local alliances -- the SP-BSP-RLD in Uttar Pradesh has as many as 80 Lok Sabha seats.

Exclusion of Congress from this alliance in UP, especially in the context of Priyanka Gandhi’s active and impactful campaign for the party in the state, doesn’t seem to be a good thing for the opposition. Congress may also do much better than last time in other Hindi belt states and perhaps in Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Karnataka. 

The fall of Congress from the status of a major party in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa is a substantial loss for the party, and will affect the final tally -- the numbers were so low last time that even doubling it this time won’t be good enough. 

The BJP is hoping that the losses it will face in UP due to SP-BSP alliance will be offset by its gain in West Bengal and Orissa.

However, it doesn’t look too promising for them, which sets the stage for a competitive election this time around.

If the BJP-led NDA fails to secure the half-way mark, the UPA and other regional parties and alliances might try to come together to form a coalition. 

Rahul Gandhi has announced a new project for the poor called NYAY. In this re-distributive scheme, he pledges a certain amount of direct cash per month to the socio-economically backward youth.

Will it do the trick for him this time the way the pro-poor MGNAREGA scheme did for UPA in 2009 election? 

This election, apart from the Modi question, will also be marked by its competitive nature, and the aggressive and often abusive language and tone that the political leaders use against each other. 

Anything or anyone who does not fit its Hindutva narrative is anti-national in the eyes of the BJP and Sangh Parivar.

In reply, the opposition has also become quite disrespectful of the PM, cabinet ministers, and many other BJP leaders. 

With all these developments in this protracted month and a half long seven-phased election exercise of the largest democracy of the world, the actual outcome is anybody’s guess. Opinion polls in India aren’t always credible.

However, political stability in India is also important for the regional stability of South Asia and even the Indian Ocean region. 

A smooth democratic continuity and upholding of democratic values in India are the expectations of sane minds across the region. 

Sarwar Jahan Chowdhury is an opinion contributor to Dhaka Tribune.