What has been the BJP’s messaging in the campaigning for the current batch of state elections? Are they pushing the nationalism card, or are they relying on the promise of welfare and freebies? Are they pointing to their own achievements, or are they intent on running down the opposition? Which messages dominate the campaign?
The month long five-state assembly elections’ schedule starting from November 7 to November 30 is half-way over. Two phases are done, and two more phases will be held on 25th and 30th of this month. December 3 is the counting day.
In the run-up to the elections in the five states, rallies, road shows and ‘yatras’ are being held. What is being said at the rallies provides a peep into what the BJP thinks will sway the electorate.
This time the BJP has not declared any Chief Ministerial candidate for any of the poll-bound states. On the contrary, Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself is the party’s sole face in this last round of assembly elections before the National poll in 2024. No doubt this is a tactical move. By doing this, the BJP has tried to give these elections a national character, where, BJP’s poll-managers believe, Narendra Modi’s charisma is still unparalleled.
In the circumstances, what Prime Minister Modi is saying to the nearly 16 crore electorate of those five states gives clues about his party’s strategy.
Sometimes, political slogans along with the charisma of some political leaders can be a big influence on voters’ minds. From Indira Gandhi’s election winning ‘Garibi Hatao’ slogan of 1971 to the highly successful branding of the name ‘Narendra Modi’ by his party with the ‘Modi hai to Mumkin Hai’ slogan in 2019, India has journeyed nearly 50 years.
True, sometimes this single-minded focus fails. For instance, while Narendra Modi’s ‘Achchhe Din’ slogan did a miracle in 2014, Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s ‘India Shining’ did not work in 2004 Lok Sabha poll.
But Lok Sabha polls and State polls are different from each other. Voters know that and behave accordingly when they push the EVM buttons. Because of the strong regional nature of these elections, the speeches Narendra Modi has been delivering cover the entire gamut from national issues, current affairs as well as regional issues.
On one side are issues like India’s leadership of the G-20 and India being on track to becoming the world’s third-largest economy, which are certainly present in the prime minister’s speeches. Another track is the reference to the Ram Mandir, Hindutva and minority appeasement. And the third track has been attacking the opposition’s governance, by emphasising the issues of ‘corruption of the opposition’ and the chequered past of the Congress.
Some of the prime minister’s messages have been very positive. He has been emphasizing the BJP government’s achievements in economic development. In the third week of October, PM Narendra Modi claimed in an open letter to the voters of the Madhya Pradesh that the state has seen remarkable development in the last 20 years during BJP rule. He wrote, that in the last 20 years, the state has emerged from a Bimaru state to one that is strong, prosperous and self-sufficient. He said that, while in 2003, there was a shortage of basic facilities like electricity, roads and water, due to the trust the voters had put in the BJP, the state has now emerged as one of the top ten economically well-off states in the country.
That’s not all. He has tried to drive home the message that India’s economic development depends on his continuing as prime minister after the general elections next year. On 14 November, while addressing a rally in Madhya Pradesh he said that he knew that in the Lok Sabha election next year, the people of Madhya Pradesh had made up their minds to vote for the BJP to elect him as the PM, and then he asked the voters to elect BJP government again in Madhya Pradesh. The PM said that India’s manufacturing of mobile phones under the BJP government at the centre had grown by leaps and bounds and accused the Congress of ignoring India’s achievements.
The Economic Times reported that on 8 November, PM Modi, while addressing a rally in Madhya Pradesh said, India is being applauded everywhere. Narendra Modi said when his government assumed power in 2014, India was the 10th largest economy globally. Now India is the 5th largest economy, surpassing the United Kingdom, which had ruled India for two centuries. PM Modi declared his ambition by saying that ‘In my third tenure, I will take the country’s economy to the top position in the world’.
At the same time, he was also mindful of more pressing concerns for the majority of voters. On November 4, PM Modi, while addressing a rally in Chhattisgarh’s Durg district, announced that Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana would be extended for another five years. This scheme provides 5 Kg of free food grains per month to 81 crore Indians. In a similar vein, over the last two weeks, Narendra Modi addressed many rallies in Madhya Pradesh. The venues were mostly in tribal dominated areas like Betul, Shahjapur and Jhabua where the Congress also has a very strong organization. As per media reports, a major part of the PM’s speeches in those rallies were about regional issues. The BJP’s manifestos in the states have promised an abundance of welfare measures.
Nobody in India, of course, can ignore the all-pervasive caste factor. In Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Telangana the Congress has announced that if they came to power, they would introduce a caste census. Narendra Modi has attacked this idea of caste census. According to him, in the name of caste census the Congress is dividing the nation. Yet that didn’t prevent the PM from being pragmatic, with an eye on votes. The Indian Express reported that, on November 11, in Hyderabad, Narendra Modi addressed a meeting organized by the ‘Madiga Reservation Porata Samithi’ (MRPS), one of the biggest constituents of the scheduled caste population of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, where he promised to form a committee dedicated to the empowerment of the Madiga community. The Madiga community has been fighting since 1994 for a special sub-category status within the schedule caste category.
The appeasement card has also been played. In the second week of November, PM Modi addressed a rally in Rajasthan’s Udaipur, where he, referring to the murder of a Hindu tailor Kanhaiya Lal accused Gehlot’s Congress government of sympathizing with the terrorists. He alleged terrorist organizations like the Popular Front of India (PFI) hold rallies without fear in the state as the Congress government is a sympathizer of terrorists.
In short, the messaging has been tailored to various constituencies. National rejuvenation for some, Hindutva for their core supporters, pointers to economic achievements for the elites, freebies to those left behind and also playing the caste card. It’s not so different from every election, except perhaps the emphasis on the prime minister’s charisma and his association with the achievements of the central government, which is expected to pay dividends in next year’s general election.
Suvashis Maitra is a senior journalist. Views are personal and do not represent the stand of this publication.
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