While Narendra Modi was busy shouting from the rooftops about his pseudo-nationalism, there was an altogether different campaign run on the ground by the Congress party. It was euphoric after the recent state elections, and thought it had finally discovered a Midas touch with its focus on unemployment and agrarian distress. But Pulwama and the Balakot air strikes changed the ground realities. For almost three weeks, Congress party seemed to be in a dilemma and struggled with a response. It wasn’t sure whether to support the government as that would have helped Modi claim credit; and questioning it too much was hardly a choice in times of national crisis.
Before the Pulwama attack, the entire campaign of Congress was focused on the Rafale scam and the mishandling of economy which resulted in loss of jobs and livelihood. After realising the changed political environment, it went back to the promise party president Rahul Gandhi had made right before the budget in Chhattisgarh — of ensuring a minimum income guarantee to the poorest among Indians.
It came out with the details of Nyay scheme and announced that 20% of India’s poorest households numbering 50 million would get Rs 6,000 every month. Congress finally rediscovered its lost momentum and Rahul Gandhi went on the offensive, accusing Prime Minister of backing the crony capitalists while giving an impression that Congress always stood with the poor and marginalised.
It’s a given that no election could be a single-issue election and the problem isn’t as why two mainstream parties are speaking of two different issues. The real problem is they are not engaging enough with each other on these issues. The BJP’s think-tank has decided to make national security and rural welfare as the core issues to talk about in this election and they deliberately avoid, as far as possible, getting into specifics of the debate on unemployment figures of farm incomes.
BJP wants to bring other political parties on its own pitch of ultra Hindutva and Pseudo-nationalism. On the other hand, the Congress’ campaign strategists have decided to make pro-poor welfare as their core message and avoid getting into the realm of national security and Pakistan policy. Both sides are deliberately avoiding playing on each other’s favourite turf.
Now what should be an ideal situation for a healthy political discourse to happen on the eve of the most important election? The Congress should have aggressively gone into the national security debate, asked the relevant questions, and taken BJP to a task. It should have explained to people why it maintained a restraint despite the provocation of Mumbai terror attacks; asked why despite the surgical strikes of 29th September 2016, terror attacks and LOC violations from across the border in Kashmir had not ceased; what was the government’s plan if another such attack happened; was India prepared for a long-drawn war with Pakistan or even China.
At the same time, the BJP should have got into the debate on unemployment and agrarian distress. The ruling party suffers with a real crisis of credibility in terms of data of unemployment and job creation. So, it was up to the party to convince the electorate that reports had not been buried; provide credible explanations and details of the sectors where jobs have been created. It should have answered specific questions on why farm protests have been a regular feature under their rule; how low food inflation could help ameliorate the agricultural incomes; and what is its roadmap for other sectors which provide rural non-agricultural employment.
It’s natural that different political parties may have different visions; they campaign on their respective platforms; they disagree and debate; and finally it is left for voters to decide as which ideology suits them most. The party which succeeds in convincing voters in an effective manner gets elected and vested with power to frame laws and execute their policies, subject to constitutional restraints.
Though, these two main political parties keep responding to each other on these issues at a tactical level but when it comes to sending the big messages from the big leaders, and using their propaganda machines, they stick to their own narratives. This has created a rather strange situation and consequently India is currently witnessing two campaigns — and till the twain shall meet, we will neither have a consensus on national security nor on the terms of welfare and economy which ideally should have been the core issues in this election.