BJP Chasing a Mirage

How closely should communal and/or secular cards being used during the ongoing electoral campaign be linked with their popularity? There is no guarantee that voters give them the same importance that politicians and their parties try to display. Without doubt, popularity of leaders during election-phase is usually judged by crowds they attract, position in various opinion polls and media coverage gained by them. Yet, the final verdict is decided only by votes cast in their favour. Voters’ decision is based on their respective individual analyses, which is also influenced by interpersonal communication among themselves.

Communication revolution has contributed to the Indian voter today becoming more critical than he/she was twenty years ago of what is projected before him/her through the television screen and other means of communication.

Thus, irrespective of how aggressively politicians in the electoral fray target each other, this does not imply that today’s voters can easily be taken for a ride by these political ploys.

Narendra Modi’s success is not going to be decided by his party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s willingness to apologise for Muslims targeted in Gujarat-carnage (2002). It is not going to be decided by voters agreeing to Modi’s claim about Uttar Pradesh (UP) being home to numerous riots during the past decade. Nor should it be expected to be influenced by Modi describing Bihar as a “terrorist haven” and other similar claims.

Of late, during their respective campaigns in UP, Modi and Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Mulayam Singh have tried adding fire in their speeches by blaming each other for inciting communalism in their respective states. The two have certainly succeeded in attracting substantial media coverage. But this does not guarantee either success from UP in Lok Sabha polls. How can whatever is stated by these and other politicians be assumed as correct by their rivals as well as the targeted recipients that are the voters?

In essence, willingly or unwillingly, Modi has exposed the weakness of his own “secularism” by giving too much importance to his rivals’ communal record. Whether he has played this card deliberately or not, one is intrigued as to what message Modi is trying to convey by going overboard in adding communal and terrorist tags to the names of his rivals? What is Modi trying to cash on electorally? Is he trying to convince media and voters that his rivals are more communal and prone to using violence than he is? Sadly, in the process, Modi expects voters to take their political decisions by deliberating on the communal background of politicians and parties in the fray.

Usage of this political card naturally sidelines the importance expected to be given to secular values in India’s multi-religious society.

Without doubt, secularism and communalism are opposite ends of rhetoric as well as other political values put to use in the Indian electoral campaign. Constitutionally and as per political ethics, parties and politicians in the electoral race are expected to highlight their respective secular values. Modi is trying to display his own “secular” credentials by indulging in exposing his rivals’ communal background. Of course, this practice of indulging in negative campaign against rivals is exercised by practically all politicians. But there is a major difference in the impact that this campaign indulged in by various politicians can have on voters. For instance, anti-corruption rhetoric indulged in by new political entrants like Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) can influence voters. Yet, the same cannot be said about Modi’s attempt to expose his rivals’ “communal” and/or “terroristic” inclinations.

The noise made by Modi about his development-agenda can be more easily accepted by voters than this card. The explanation is simple. Indian voters are well aware about anti-Muslim communal violence that raged in Gujarat for several months, when Modi was the state chief minister.

Certainly, Modi has the right to claim that he was not responsible for Gujarat-carnage. Legally and politically, Modi can convince himself and some of his supporters about his not being answerable for Gujarat-carnage. The political legitimacy of this stand of Modi, however, is confined to his own narrow circle, which does not include all his party members. The last point is supported by the BJP chief expressing willingness to apologise for the Gujarat-carnage. The underlying message is that BJP has accepted that irrespective of what Modi claims, the people still hold him and his party as responsible for the Gujarat-carnage. BJP understands that to win polls it has no other option but to bow down before the electorate’s mood.

Voters’ secular-agenda has apparently prompted BJP to try apologising for the communal card used aggressively during the Gujarat-carnage. Modi has not yet understood fully that Indian voters cannot be totally guided by his claims. They cannot be fooled by his claiming to be not as communal as his rivals. In his attempt to thrash at his rivals’ communal background, Modi has invited voters’ criticism of his own secular agenda. Nowadays, political questions have also begun being raised on claims made by Modi about development of Gujarat!

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 April 2014 on page no. 11

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