Key messages of election 2014
Amidst the cacophony of debates on the forthcoming general election three factors stand out. First Narendra Modi has turned the campaign as a single-issue election. It is Modi against the rest. Second, cameo notwithstanding Arvind Kejriwal has provided some relief to the army of Modi-baiters. Third the election 2014 is about something fresh for the electorate, not the traditionally used handout driven politics. These three factors are not mutually exclusive but interlinked. From the perspective of political communication it remains to be seen which one finally outweighs the rest and who emerges the victor.
Narendra Modi is the single most important person in India today. His supporters chant that for an effective Government, India needs Modi to head it. He has turned the election campaign effectively into a Presidential type where vote for each BJP candidate is projected as a vote for Narendra Modi.
He speaks of 3G – growth, governance and glory for the nation. Only he has articulated an economic agenda while others like Rahul Gandhi of Congress stammer some irrelevant monologues. The regional leaders like Mamata, Jayalalitha, Mayawati, Mulayam, Lalu or Nitish have not thought through the national issues nor do they have any record to back up their ability. Thus Modi-baiters have opted for the high-pitched, rather eccentric, cameo of Arvind Kejriwal. With his antics Kejriwal has very clearly highlighted the fact that election 2014 in India is all about Modi.
This brings us to the second most important person in the election. Kejriwal and his cohorts with their penchant for unconventional politics have been positioned as a savior of sorts for those who hate Narendra Modi. Arun Jaitley had summed it up rightly, ‘Their style is unconventional. They make arguments in an idiom intended to derive maximum publicity. A maverick has a habit of making allegations without substance.’ For media keen to show their freedom find Kejriwal a relief from the rhetoric of Narendra Modi. How long can they live in self-denial unless they have some actor to support their inner feeling? After all media is supposed to be impartial which means painting Modi with as much tar that is available.
The third factor that has taken prominence, though media has yet to acknowledge it, is that people in general have seen through the dole-based politics practised in India. They know well enough how much they are harassed to enroll as beneficiaries of such state sponsored schemes. They also are aware how much of the money allocated is eaten away by the intermediaries – official, or political. More important they know that such doles cannot sustain them for long. With 65 per cent of the electorate being less than 35-year of age, they look for gainful occupation that can support them long instead of some 100-day job. Barring Narendra Modi nobody, including the maverick leader of the fledgling Aam Admi Party, has articulated the need for growth. Probably Modi’s idea of economics cannot cover more than the back of a postage stamp but the fact remains that it appeals to the common men.
Thus the three factors mentioned here above at the outset have one common subset. That is Narendra Modi. But for political analysts more than logic what matters is their personal bias. A curious trend among the influencers in media is that they root for the option that will help perpetuating their own personal gains. Many so-called liberals of today were ardent supporters of NDA 10 years back. Same set of opinion peddlers were staunchly ‘anti-Hindu’ ten years before turning pro-NDA. While they hop from one branch to another with consummate skill, when the likes of Ram Vilas Paswan does the same they take umbrage. What these commentators ignore is the fact that a whole new generation has taken over the centre stage in political discourse.
By sheer number an estimated 52 crore voters, out of 81 crore, are young. Most of them are literate though may not be educated. They are reasonably well aware of the nation, the pockets of development and also the maladies in the system. They have opinions of their own unlike earlier days when a sarpanch or a village muscleman could influence their fathers and grandfathers to cast votes as per their instructions. An example was the assembly election in West Bengal where the ruling Left failed to hang on to their 35-year long rule despite use of both money and muscle. In addition the polling system has become transparent with strict vigil by the Election Commission. The reasonably open system of election has created a foundation that helped an outsider like Narendra Modi or a maverick like Arvind Kejriwal to come to the limelight of election debate. Only age could not propel Rahul Gandhi to this position given his disconnect with the ground realities.
The electioneering so far has delivered several messages. First it has clearly sent a signal that Congress has lost its stature. Their desperation to ride on inexperienced and reclusive Rahul Gandhi is not working. Second in order to overcome the handicap called Rahul Gandhi, Congress is eagerly looking at Arvind Kejriwal to derail Narendra Modi. How much of Kejriwal hype is due to media reluctance to endorse Modi will be seen post election. For now one can see utter discomfort among many who Kejriwal wanted to position as candidates in election 2014. With every passing day, every theatric backfiring the mavericks in Kejriwal’s party are providing ammunition to Modi supporters. This will only increase as election campaign picks up. Third there is increasing discomfort within BJP, especially older Delhi-centric leaders.
In politics today one must have regular contacts with one’s constituency. Gone are the days when a leader could afford to remain distant from the voters yet to win an election. The elder leaders of BJP are uncomfortable with the prospect of failing to win support for their candidatures.
What the chatterati miss is the changed character of electorates in India today. Whether the same will favour Narendra Modi or not can be seen only on 16 May when the election results are out.
The author is a communication consultant