Whatever is the approach of politics, politics has to have concerns with the problem of ends; the goals of the just society; the governing means should be in such a manner as to realise the good society. The key concern of politics is with power, the way it is shared through recognition and representation and how growth and change is affected with the change in government. This is not to undermine that each election has its own peculiarity and a manufactured notion on which people do cast their votes.
After the Pulwama attack on the CRPF soldiers, the preparation for the Lok Sabha elections in the country had gained momentum. It was ironical to watch that when the nation was grieving over the death of more than 40 soldiers, the political parties were busy in galvanising votes by raising discourses on nationalism. In the entire episode, all of a sudden, the nationalistic sentiments took the center stage and questions of ‘vikash’ (development) and current social realities took a side seat. Logic and rationality were discarded by many and the anchors of the T.V channels were all set to go to war sitting in their studios.
The so-called fourth pillar of democracy, which is often seen silent and dead to comment on all the pertinent prevailing issues such as employment, education, health services, lynching’s, atrocities, women safety, issues related to corruption etc. that can be packed in a nutshell called development, suddenly got deep relief as if they were eagerly waiting for such a day for a long time. The temporal pitch was set by the nationalist media and other war mongering commentators, resulting in an air strike in the territory of PoK. It was only after the arrest of ‘Abhinandan’ by the Pakistan army, the screams and blood pressure of the hyper-nationalist media went low. But BJP used this episode to replace their 2014 election agenda of development with that of nationalism and the environment was made fertile for the electoral gimmicks from different political parties.
It is important to note that there has been a pattern in the way BJP had portrayed their Prime Ministerial candidate in 2014 elections and 2019 elections. Despite five years of mis-governance or rather de-governance by jeopardising developmental policies through implementing policies such as demonetisation, attacking public institutions such as health, education, bureaucracy and being involved in Rafale scam, the party has been able to avoid direct questioning from the public through different means. How has the government wiped off their hands from being accountable to the public?
To get nuances, it is essential to go back to the trajectory and the approach that BJP has adopted to win 2014 election. There was a common trend in which BJP had campaigned for 2014 election and the way it has been campaigning for 2019 election. Four taglines were designed, specifically focusing and providing moral cover to the corrupt leader. The leader declared himself as a ‘fakir’. The essence of a fakir lies in giving up all his bodily and materialistic pleasures for the good of other. He is to be considered as a man of high moral values, who is self-less.
From ‘fakir’ in a rally in Benaras, he declared himself as ‘Ganga mai ka beta’ (son of holy river Ganga). In Hindu religion, river Ganga is seen as a holy river, the water of these river is used for rituals in temples as a certain notion of purity is attached with it. People have faith and they believe that anyone who bathes in the river Ganga, washes off all his sins. Claiming to be the son of river Ganga he posed as a pure person, who has no relation to Gujarat riots, corruption or criminal cases.
Later on, he went to call himself a ‘chaiwala’ (tea-seller), a laborious and hard-working ordinary man who finds pleasure in the service of others. As someone who is not privileged to have family lineage in politics and yet with all the struggles and hard work, could become a leader of the masses. Thus a man who practised simple living but high thinking.
And finally, he declares himself a ‘chowkidar’ (watchman). A watchman keeps awake to look after the house in the presence or absence of the owner. He claims that no person will dare to steal and escape as he is a watchman with a 56 inch of chest. The individual self of Modi has declared himself as one and only worthy man and everyone else as corrupt and criminal.
The reason for citing all these cases is to argue that either to be a ‘fakir’ or to be a ‘ganga mai ka beta’ or ‘chaiwala’ or to be a ‘chowkidar’ people need not be educated and yet be the Prime Minister. This is what precisely Modi has done in all these years of his governance which has been supported by the media through image creation. Since the majority of population in the country are uneducated, he has tried to reach these target groups through the self-creation of an illusory image, which he is of course not in real life. And perhaps, once he declares himself as ‘fakir’, ‘ganga mai ka beta’, ‘chaiwala’ and ‘chowkidar’, he smoothly moves away from the questions of development. Through such distractions and image creation he avoids any confrontations with the questions of unemployment, health, education, demonetisation, GST, women safety, social justice etc.
Therefore, one can notice that to escape from the basic questions, such as, why there is a rise in unemployment among the youth, why there has been farmers’ unrest in the country, why students across universities have been agitating, who is responsible for the death of hundreds of children in the Gorakhpur hospital tragedy, what was the outcome of demonetisation, Modi and his party have decided to play victim card along with invoking pseudo-nationalism. This is precisely the reason why BJP has not been promising developmental goals with less than a month to go into election. The politics of BJP for 2019 election is nothing but ‘communalism against secularism’ and ‘religious nationalism against development’. In totality, the approach taken by the right wing political party is a shift towards ‘communal democracy’, where differences are not cherished but used by dominant communities to deepen the social hierarchy.
Thus, the shift from developmental politics towards a communal politics and invoking religious nationalism is a calculated move to galvanise hindu voters as they have not got much to show on the development front. Moreover, there has been a constant effort to mislead the public by pitching opposition as antithetical to nationalism and development, which is supported by the media. At the same time, the opposition parties have also failed to question and make the ruling government accountable for their failure to bring ‘achhe din’ to the people.
Omprakash Mahato is a BAPSA activist and PhD scholar in Center for Political Studies (CPS), JNU.