Will the prime minister’s message work?
It is aimed at domestic benefits, security and swing votersUpdated: May 08, 2019 20:11 IST
In an interview to this newspaper, Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasised that this is a high-stakes election, meant to determine the future of the country. It was not an election for a “class monitor”. The PM is right. While each election has had its own importance in India’s history, this election is perhaps more important than most because of the competing visions of different players in the battle. And at the centre of it is Mr Modi himself. The outcome will reveal whether the electorate is satisfied with his record in office, or whether there is a degree of disenchantment and anger deep enough to oust him.
Mr Modi’s message can be divided into three distinct categories, meant for three different categories of voters. First, in terms of domestic performance, he reiterated the government’s achievements on welfare, from providing rural housing to gas cylinders, from toilet construction to Ayushman Bharat. These are indeed important contributions; the Bharatiya Janata Party has made them a talking point and it is intended to broaden the party’s class appeal. Mr Modi defended his record on job creation — but this is an area in which legitimate questions could be raised about the government’s policies. Two, the PM has continued to focus on national security. By suggesting that India has decided to inflict costs to sponsoring terror and “in the future” too, terror attacks from Pakistan could well be “detrimental” for its existence, he has redefined Delhi’s redlines and strategic paradigm. Besides its foreign policy implications, politically, this message has enthused the party base and supporters and taken up a notch the emotive content of the party’s messaging. And finally, the PM recast this election as a battle between a strong government and a chaos-ridden coalition which has multiple interests pulling it in different directions. This message is aimed at the swing voters, who may be apprehensive of such an alternative.
The PM has largely been disciplined about his messaging on these themes in this campaign. But there is no doubt that there have also been occasions when he — and other leaders — have engaged in bitter personal allegations, leading to a dip in the nature of discourse. Mr Modi did concede that courtesy should be maintained, but added that he has been a victim of such attacks. In the remaining phases, it would be desirable if all sides — led by the PM — exercise greater restraint. May 23 will tell us if Mr Modi’s message has indeed struck a chord, or whether India seeks change.