The BJP may be already putting in place the strategy for winning the 2019 election. Narendra Modi, it may be recalled, had sought “at least ten years to set things right” when he first took over as Prime Minister three years ago. On available evidence, he is all set to get those ten years. The Lok Sabha election may not be due for another two years, but the broad contours of the ruling party’s strategy are already beginning to take shape. Recent events in Uttar Pradesh, a crucial state in the BJP calculus for winning the next election, indicate the thrust of the party’s next campaign.
The BJP won the last election hammering home the point about corruption and non-performance of the UPA government. The party will most likely try and retain power by keeping the Ram Mandir at front and centre of its 2019 campaign, with the targeted delivery of welfare to the poor and a corruption-free NDA government, further underpinning its bid for the second five-year term.
An event last week enforces the impression that the party managers have decided to revive the hitherto dormant Ram Mandir plank. One, the fact that the UP Chief Minister, the saffron-clad Yogi Adityanath, paid a much-publicised visit to the make-shift Ram Lalla temple built by the karseveaks after the demolition of the disputed structure in Ayodhya on 6 December 1992. This was the first time since 2002 that a serving Chief Minister had offered prayers at the Ram Lalla temple.
The second development is no less significant. The revival of the criminal conspiracy and related charges in the Babri demolition case against L.K. Advani, M.M. Joshi and Uma Bharti and a few others by the Supreme Court on the CBI appeal against their acquittal nearly a decade ago by the Allahabad High Court, raised eyebrows. The move was seen as a clever ploy to ensure that Advani was ruled out as the ruling combine’s candidate in the upcoming presidential poll. But it turns out that the game was deeper.
Now, with Modi as Prime Minister and Yogi Adityanath as UP CM, Ram Bhakts would consider the time propitious to fulfil the collective ambition. Proceedings in the special CBI court holding day-to-day hearings in Lucknow would help take the movement to its crescendo on the eve of the next Lok Sabha poll.
The Lucknow trial will naturally edge out all other concerns from the popular mind and allow the Ram temple to dominate the public discourse. Holding the next Lok Sabha election in such an emotionally surcharged atmosphere will prove a boon for the BJP, the party fully identified with the Ram temple
Before anyone cavils at such a strategy, it might be helpful to remember the electoral history of the country. Actual performance of an outgoing administration seemed to have mattered less to the voters than the emotional theme dominant at the time of the election. The Modi government may be doing much better than its predecessors on all objective parameters, but a vast majority of the voters are swayed by emotional issues rather than by the actual performance.
For example, the Vajpayee government had performed much better than most governments before it, yet it lost the 2004 poll, much to the surprise of even the winners. Whether it was the flawed Shining India messaging or anything else, the truth is that no one expected Vajpayee to lose.
Without doubt, the Modi government has done well to hold the price-line in check, ensure targeted delivery of welfare, stopped leakages of public funds, has generally toned up the administration, removed bottlenecks in growth, abrogated obsolete laws, facilitated further flows of foreign funds, stopped the bleeding of public sector banks and introduced digital technology in more and more areas of governance. Yet, without whipping up nationalist passions, as in the case of the liberation of Goa on the eve of the 1962 Lok Sabha poll, or the liberation of Bangladesh on the eve of the 1971 poll, it is hard to sway the electorate across the length and breadth of the vast country.
But the building of the Ram Mandir is one such issue which can evoke partisan passions across the country in a vast swathe of the majority community. Besides, the sections which might not be swayed by this transparently emotional ploy might still vote for the BJP given the woeful state of the Opposition, as also the credible and corruption-free performance of the Modi government. In short, unless some unforeseen events intervene, there seems no stopping the return of the BJP in 2019.
Nonsense over EVMs
Apropos the battle cry of the losers against the electronic voting machines, the most fitting reply came from none other than the makers of the EVMs. M.V. Gowtama, the chairman-cum-managing director of the public sector Bharat Electronics Ltd, a major supplier of the EVMs, hit the nail on the head when asked the other day by newsmen about the credibility of the machines. Given half a chance, all parties would like to design their own EVMs, which will ensure that all the votes went only to them, he said rather bluntly. Adding that they should keep these machines at home and use them only at election-time to win elections.
Those who have now slunk away from the open challenge of the Election Commission to prove the charge of rigged EVMs must pay heed to the angry but true words of the BEL chief. Even if the nonsense about the change of motherboard of EVMs is accepted for a moment, how tens of thousands of machines can be whisked away from sealed warehouses and how such a conspiracy can remain secret defies common sense.
Chip on her dainty shoulder
Not long ago, a young woman reporter inside the Parliament House complex thrust the television mike in the face of then Home Minister, the late Indrajit Gupta, questioning him about the situation in Kashmir. After he had finished reassuring that the situation in Kashmir was well under control, she asked, “By the way, what is your name?” The only mitigating factor in her favour was that she was completely raw and was put on the Parliament beat by the newbie TV channel.
However, a couple of days ago in St Petersburg, Russia, Megyn Kelly could have had no such excuse. One of the most experienced celebrity anchors in the American television industry commanding a multimillion dollar annual salary, Kelly ought to have done her homework before sidling up to Prime Minister Modi and the Russian President Vladimir Putin at the State dinner hosted for leaders attending the international conference. She asked Modi wonderstruck, “Are you on Twitter?” when the Prime Minister complimented her on her Twitter photo holding an umbrella.
Clearly, when Modi, who has the arduous task of managing a huge difficult country, can attend to such minor detail, you would expect a celebrity anchor would bone up on bare facts on dignitaries before brushing shoulders with them in the line of her professional work. The Indian PM is the third most followed leader on Twitter after the Pope and US President Donald Trump. But then Americans are not only insular, but carry a huge chip on their shoulders about not caring a fig about all that happens outside their own little cocoons.