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Sunday Sentiments

  • Modi may win, but BJP's campaign diminished us

    Posted On May 19, 2019

    By Karan Thapar

    Campaigning ended on Friday and today is the last day of voting. As we patiently wait for the results on Thursday – and believe me the next four days will feel excruciatingly long – I want to share a thought with you. It might give you something to think about other than the outcome!

    I’ve no idea who’s going to win the elections but I’m fairly certain who’s lost the campaign. The answer is Narendra Modi. Let me explain why.

    The Prime Minister did not campaign in terms of the achievements of his five years in office. If he spoke of them at all, they were hardly the main part of his speech and, consequently, attracted little attention. Nor did he campaign in terms of the issues that matter to the Indian voter. I’m talking of jobs and unemployment, rural distress, health and education. These did not feature in his performance at the hustings.

    Instead, the Prime Minister spoke at great length and very repetitively about the danger of terrorism and the threat of Pakistan’s evil machinations. His aim was to remind us of India’s vulnerability. He was, therefore, stoking fear, even to the point of creating paranoia. And then he presented himself as the only person who can protect the country. Thus he sold himself as the country’s saviour.

    Now, I ask myself, was this the right election campaign for the world’s largest democracy? For a country that believes next year it will be the planet’s fifth largest economy? For a nation that’s striving to join the United Nations Security Council as a permanent member? Frankly, no.

    Narendra Modi’s campaign may have struck a chord and it might even yield enormous electoral dividends but it’s also diminished us. It didn’t build on our strengths or encourage our aspirations. It played on our insecurities and strummed upon our deep inner fears. It wasn’t designed to make us stand tall and walk boldly. In fact, you could almost say it was intended to make us cower and look for cover behind the 56-inch chest of the incumbent Prime Minister.

    In comparison, Rahul Gandhi’s was not a great campaign. He overdid the Rafale message, without convincing facts to back up his chor claim. It didn’t evoke anything like the interest Congress hoped for though it led many to say it wasn’t in good taste.

    Yet there were two things about Gandhi’s campaign that were undeniable. He found a lot of time for the issues that matter in people’s lives. He may have done so because rural distress and unemployment are also Modi’s weak points but, then, that’s good campaigning. And, as the weeks rolled by, he grew in confidence, fluency and stature. You might still question if he’s a match for Modi but few can doubt his image has vastly improved and his days as Pappu or Shahzade are well and truly behind him.

    The same is also true of the BJP and Congress manifestos. The latter is full of thought-provoking ideas, not just NYAY and job creation but also diluting AFSPA, scrapping sedition and criminal defamation. The BJP manifesto is full of details but it lacks a unifying vision. It reminds me of Luigi Pirandello’s play ‘Six Characters in Search of an Author’!

    And, now, all that’s left is to grit one’s teeth and wait for the hours to slowly pass before we find out our future. I know what I’m hoping for but I fear that may not be the case.


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