Post Mortem

Why 2019 electioneering stands out

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 4/8/2019 12:45:23 PM IST

 The upcoming 2019 Parliamentary elections will perhaps go down in the annals of India’s electioneering history as unique in more ways than one. While bitter acrimonious attacks – more often personal than ideological – on rival candidates and parties were more pronounced (if not debuted) in 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the ensuing general election seems to be breaking new frontiers. It is taking electioneering to an altogether different theatre – to the space literally.

Coming as it was in the immediate aftermath of the audacious air strike on a terror camp across the international border to the northwest, the electioneering was destined to be rancorous. While the ground for a major showdown between the ruling dispensation and the opposition was laid post 2014 polls result, it was hardly surprising that attacks and counter-attacks between the two opposing camps were getting more and more spiteful.

And with everyone eager to extract most out of the Balakot air strike, it quickly descended into a no-holds barred political mud-slinging. Given the political will and resolve that the ruling dispensation had shown in giving the Indian Air Force the green signal to take out the Jaish-e-Mohammad terror camp deep inside Pakistan’s territory, it was only but natural for it to do all the chest-thumping. And with the kind of reactions the opposition parties were giving, often bordering on the bizarre, if not openly playing into the hands of anti-India forces, it seemed the ruling coalition had the upper hand. So, no wonder, the BJP with its mascot Narendra Modi, signifying a strong political leadership, was coasting along merrily in electioneering as the issue of national security was clearly the dominating theme. Well almost, until the Nyay announcement happened. 

With one political stroke, the beleaguered Congress suddenly seemed to have taken away the sails from the overall narrative on national security, thus dislodging the ruling dispensation from the pole position. Fumbling for an effective response to the Modi Inc’s aggressive pitch for nationalism in the aftermath of Balakot strike, the grand old party seemed to have at last found a perfect strategy to counter the BJP and effectively halt the Modi juggernaut. It was suddenly advantage Congress as its leader Rahul Gandhi promised and spelt out the roadmap for implementing the world’s perhaps most ambitious welfare scheme targeting the poor- 

The Modi Inc was now suddenly found wanting a proper response. From national security, the entire narrative now abruptly swerved towards poverty alleviation as the issue found centre-stage 48 years after then Congress Prime Minister Indira Gandhi made “garibi hatao” her political slogan in the 1971 general election, and which continued to resonate through subsequent Congress governments. 

Depending on which side of the political fence they were in, pundits too became busy analysing Nyay’s efficacy, whether it was implementable, etc. It was considered a masterstroke by many as Congress seemed to have finally served a political ace to its arch-rival. The new narrative breathed new life into the party’s otherwise somewhat lacklustre electioneering as its leaders could not hide their glee at the BJP’s seeming discomfort to come up with an alternative narrative, even as both traditional and social media become abuzz with the new scheme aimed at wooing the country’s poor.

But barely three days later and before the storm generated by the Congress’ much-publicised scheme could subside, news from the outer space quite literally bombarded the electorate. Bracing for the worst as Prime Minister tweeted asking countrymen to hear him out for an important announcement, they were informed that India joined an elite group of countries – fourth “space superpower” (after China, Russia and the US) – to posses and deploy a satellite-killer weapon. Modi addressed the nation to announce the successful test launch of anti-satellite missile by Defence Research and Development Organisation. 

And no sooner was the announcement made that both the traditional and social media were once again abuzz with India’s latest achievement. BJP supporters quickly swarmed the social media with new hash-tag “#SpaceMeinBhiChowkidar” to complement their already “#MeinBhiChowkidar” hash-tag campaign even as the issue grabbed headlines in traditional media. The odds that seemed to be stacked heavily against Modi Inc in the campaigning realm appeared to have once again tilted in its favour. While the reactions of opposition parties were obviously on expected lines as they targeted Modi for making a political announcement with an eye on the ensuing election, these nevertheless reflected their unease as well. 

Of course, till the time of writing this piece, the last word on which way the campaign wind will finally blow was yet to be heard. But, one thing is clear – issues like price rise, roads, clean drinking water, hospitals, schools, etc, which used to form the basis of electioneering in the past, have all but taken a backseat (even issues like communalism, casteism, corruption, regionalism, etc). This perhaps indicates that voters have matured and moved beyond normal development slogans to focus more on nationalism. 

2019 general election thus seems to be largely about optics – nationalism/national security, poverty and now even space, all macro-level issues in stark contrast to micro issues. 

Further, backed by a huge army of tech-savvy social media warriors, the campaign battlefields also witnessed tectonic shift this time around in terms of tools used to engage with political foes and supporters alike. Besides hitting the dusty trail, major political parties and their candidates have taken to social media in a big way. They are also using mobile apps and other latest gadgets to reach out to the masses and their own foot soldiers. All these have taken campaigning to an altogether new level as political battles are being fought virtually.

Thus the ensuing Lok Sabha polls is likely to stand out as unprecedented in the annals of India’s electioneering in more ways than one – both in terms of tools used and issues over which the election is being sought to be fought. Of course, as to who has the final laugh in the battle over ballots will be known in little over a month from now. Till then, happy electioneering folks! 

Anirban Choudhury, (eternalflame2000@gmail.com)

Launched on December 3,1990. Nagaland Post is the first and highest circulated newspaper of Nagaland state. Nagaland Post is also the first newspaper in Nagaland to be published in multi-colour.

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