New Delhi: Every national election requires a new narrative. The one that becomes the hook line that distinguishes a party, whether in the government or in the opposition. In the past, there have been attempts to charter a discourse which is different. The results have been mixed. The much-touted Shining India during Vajpayee’s era proved to be a disaster. Years earlier, the Bofors election that brought VP Singh to power was something that stunned even the opposition. The 2014 Lok Sabha campaign was clearly a Modi wave with an agenda for governance and change.
This time the NDA government realizes it is on the defensive. So far, the Rafale offensive and a barrage of attacks on demonetization, price rice, farmers distress, petrol hike and the like, have pushed the ruling party on the back foot. The more the party and the government clarifies, the more it seems to tie itself into knots. Besides, reports of a huge anti-incumbency wave in the three northern bastions of the BJP — Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh, would be sending a shiver up the government spine as it braces for the 2019 polls.
These Assembly polls are ‘pacers’ for the Lok Sabha elections and even the whiff of an impending Congress victory would be enough to for party workers to galvanize themselves for the Lok Sabha polls barely six months away. Political pundits estimate that even if the Congress secures as little as 100 seats in Madhya Pradesh, it would be viewed as a strong assertion of its potential in the Lok Sabha polls just months away.
So what then is the option for the ruling party? What could be that one differential, one national discourse that could throw the opposition off balance. The obvious answer is Ayodhya and Ram Mandir. The following are the positives as seen by some in the BJP
*The Congress which is now leaning towards a “soft Hindutva” would have to spell out where it stands on the issue.
*The Ayodhya issue has the potential of uniting the majority community in the northern belt with positive electoral consequences for 2019.
* The Ayodhya issue if played out nationally has the potential of catching the opposition by surprise and all the opposition flagged issues could be on the back foot.
The negatives are:
*Babri Masjid and the Ayodhya issue cannot be used as a vote catcher again. It’s a done and dusted issue.
*By encouraging sadhus in UP to jump onto the Ayodhya bandwagon, there is a possibility this could get out of hand. Hardliners want nothing short of evidence of construction started on the temple. They are not happy with just a statue of Lord Ram.
*It could be a gamble — great if it works but a total disaster if it flops!
There is also a suggestion that the BJP could look at a strong nationalist flavor in its appeal—a muscular pro-right image of the party, something that is sought to have been done in recent years. But the idea is to crystalize it and manage a discourse that talks about a robust India where the rule of the majority would be re-emphasized. The issues that are being considered:
*Renaming of roads and cities that have a cultural flavor of the Mughal rule.
*Repeatedly highlight the work done by the services including surgical strikes.
*Create a clear aggressive position vis-a-vis Pakistan. Continue to attack them at all forums.
*Create a main national Indian identity with a distinct Hindu flavor.
Will this work?
In the absence of any narrative that is out of the ordinary for the BJP, there is hope that this pan-nationalist narrative delivered by a powerful communicator like Modi, could well be the game-changer in elections 2019.