In a debate the one who frames the rules wins it (atleast in public perception) irrespective of the merit in his argument. It’s probable that such a person has little logic to back him, yet by spinning the course in his favour, he has half-defeated his opponent as the latter has to play by rules set by him.
For example, if an interview with Bill Clinton focusses only on his extra-marital affair, any viewer cannot escape the impression that he is a sex-maniac. On the contrary, if he is interviewed on various policies during his tenure in office such as foreign affairs, corporate affairs etc the viewer gets a more wholesome perspective about his overall legacy.
This is why media plays a pivotal role in shaping public discourse. And the narrative is set by asking a particular set of questions, and not necessarily by providing their answers. We’ll get back to this a little later after discussing election strategies of various political parties.
Current Election Strategy
Over years, elections in India have been won on basis of votebanks. That is, fragmenting the populace to their most basic identity and seeking en-bloc vote in lieu of special packages for them. Thus Congress plays the game by dividing people and seldom seeks votes for a higher ideal by asking people to rise above their petty considerations.
Without batting an eyelid, Congress seeks upper-caste vote, lower-caste vote, Muslim vote, Christian vote (all supposedly with conflicting group interests) appealing to them as a group and for not a wider cause. Since, this technique of dividing people into sects has been used with varying levels of finesse and success in many states by other parties too.
In UP, Mayawati pulled up a Dalit-Brahmin alliance to successfully storm to power. In Bihar, Nitish Kumar managed to wrest power from Lalu Prasad by breaking his Yadav-Muslim alliance by separating lower-caste Muslims from his votebank. (Lalu supposedly supported elite Muslims more and took the whole Muslim support for granted.) Thus, although these parties are contenders to power at regional level, most remain in alliance with Congress at the national level. They do not challenge Congress at a broader level.
How Socialism & Secularism feed Divisive Politics
Socialism in India is responsible for manufacturing scarcity. Private enterprise by default works on demand-supply chain that’s largely self-correcting. Look no farther than recently privatized enterprises to discern the difference. Under BSNL’s monopoly, we had extremely high call rates with securing a connection itself running into months if not years. Now, one can buy a mobile and seek a connection in as much as an hour. Under License Raj, buying a scooter (only Bajaj and Vespa were commonly available) required advanced booking (by months) before one could own it. Now?
When a resource becomes scarce, people are willing to buy it at higher cost - often through their vote. This is where the perverted notion of Indian secularism chips in. Offering doles to specific communities helps in winning their vote en-bloc. Nobody questions as to why the resource is scarce in the first place and who abetted this condition. Thus what should have been freely available at market price to everybody is purposefully made scarce, and then through subsidized price is offered to specific community in lieu of their vote.
The scarcity created by socialism is masked by secularism as any opposition is quickly labelled as conspiracy by elites / caste Hindus to deny equal opportunity to the poor / minorities. But the more pertinent question remains: Why should opportunity to one section come at the cost of another? Why the benefits given to certain community shouldn’t be extended to others?
The aim of any democracy is to encourage diverse identities while creating conditions that help in assimilation of all groups into one merged identity eventually - the national identity. The Indian policies, on the contrary, encourage narrower identities that become more and more entrenched over time.
One’s caste cannot be changed whereas economic conditions can be. Reservations based on economic conditions ensure assimilation of poorer sections into the mainstream, whereas caste-based one creates permanent fissures in society wherein a particular sect continues to enjoy benefits irrespective of their economic condition while others are deprived of state support merely on accident of their birth.
A system that robs Peter to pay Paul can always rest assured of Paul’s support. Hence the circle that supports current system is complete.
Understanding BJP’s success and failure
BJP ascent to prominence was when it could convince people to raise one step higher from their basic identity and vote for a larger cause. In 1990s, it could convince people to rise above their casteist & regional considerations and vote for a wider Hindu cause. This takes extraordinary energy and clarity for it involves a move against inertia. For this, the idea must be articulated by a leader whose image transcends that of a mere politician.
Consequently, one needs to constantly work to overcome the inertial forces and any lapse can easily bring the affair back to the default state. For BJP to remain successful, it needs to continuously draw the populace’s attention to the larger cause, and lack of energy in pursuing this itself suffices to bring Congress back to power as witnessed in 2004.
India was witnessing the highest growth rates since Independence during NDA regime and yet it faltered. Reason: The benefits hadn’t yet percolated to vast sections of society and they were easily allured by promises of instant benefits by Congress. The poor couldn’t relate to growth rates and other abstract parameters that signalled improved economy as their needs were more immediate and basic. On the contrary, Congress offered what these people could relate to, tangible benefits that provide instant relief.
Consider the case of Karnataka. Despite reasonably good development works (atleast better than previous regimes), BJP failed to retain it because it wasn’t energetic and clear enough to drive the narrative uphill and instead was bogged down with internal factions. As things stood still, through sheer inertia Congress got back effortlessly.
New Message, New Messenger : Modi
Advani in a rare occasion of political incorrectness at the height of Ayodhya movement proclaimed “Secularism in India has become a euphemism of Hindu-bashing”.
Ever since 2004 when BJP led NDA lost power, it has gone downhill with respect to setting the debate. It made the mistake of trying to get “secular certificate” from a media openly hostile to the idea it represents. This proved costly, for notwithstanding Congress led UPA’s scams and scandals, media could easily prove BJP guiltier for advocating “communal” ideas whereas UPA’s gross inefficiency still had a “secular” certificate. Indeed, a certain journalist commenting on BJP’s support to Anna Hazare roughly said “Secular corruption cannot be defeated by communal forces”. (not making this, he’s really a journalist).
Next they say, he hasn’t apologized for 2002 - to which Modi aptly responded by asking if indeed he was involved, would a mere “sorry” do? Shouldn’t that call for harsher punishment?
Next, they argue that Gujarat was always business-oriented, so Modi cannot claim credit for its growth story. Of course, they stumbled across this argument only post 2009-10 before which this wasn’t contested much. So Gujarat also had a history of riots before Modi, almost all of which were under Congress rule, so surely Modi shouldn’t be “credited” with riots either, right? Agreed, without Modi too, Gujarat wouldn’t have been a poor state. But its growth rate is in double digit, something that surely wouldn’t have been the case, without Modi.
With criticism based on facts no longer feasible, given any article (online) based on them are rebutted by a rising number of Modi supporters, media took refuge in fiction. That Modi “appears” dictatorial, or “if” he becomes PM in he will make life hell for minorities etc. So criticism now is based on imaginary fears and not ground realities.
To the accusation that Modi doesn’t indulge in tokenism (wearing skull-caps) and doesn’t do anything for minorities, Modi retorted that he doesn’t do anything for majority either. He works only for six crore Gujaratis and never differentiates between his people.
Secularism, per Modi, means India First.
Whereas Congress uses the bogey “Islam-in-danger” to corner Muslim votes, Modi asks Indians to rise above their sectarian aspirations to vote for development. Note that Congress seeks vote from Muslims on account of their being Muslims, purely communal, whereas Modi asks for vote on basis on collective Indian identity (purely secular) for the idea of development that supersedes all tokenism and provides real relief from punishing poverty that enslaves millions of Indians across all identities.
Those labelling Modi fascist should realize that they’re free to criticize him without even bare minimum civility without inviting any risk. This, despite the fact that Modi is well within his rights to sue media for libel and motivated slander. Yet the past record, if anything, shows the opposite.
Consider another person whose mention, let alone criticism is rarely seen in media circles, despite being in near control of government without accountability.
Modi, by focusing on development, has cornered Congress where it hurts the most. No amount of “secular” whitewash by its media-team is able to erase its poor record.
After long, BJP has a powerful message and a masterful messenger. Power is a prerequisite to respectability. BJP should remember that it was an outcast until it stormed to power. And those opposing it today would be forced to deal with it, if it succeeds. Success for BJP is a wildly important goal - the one goal that has to be achieved, or nothing else it achieves really matters much.