Insight Delhi

#Changing Political Narrative

The political narrative in India is changing rapidly with the developments in #Indo-Pakistan relations.  Just a few months back, the #Narendra Modi led BJP-NDA alliance appeared to be down in the dumps as the Lok Sabha elections were approaching. Despite the massive publicity and propaganda drive by the Narendra Modi government, it was becoming clear that the economy had received a massive setback during the last five years. Demonetisation and a hastily and inefficiently implemented Goods and Services framework had dealt a big blow to the job market. Instead of creating two crore jobs a year, as promised in 2014, when the Narendra Modi dispensation assumed power, the job market had shrunk, leading to more and more youth joining the ranks of the unemployed.

            The opposition parties, especially the #Congress, were highlighting the failures of the Narendra Modi government on the economy and jobs fronts and they were finding traction among the voters. A clear indication of this came during the recently held Assembly elections in five states. Despite vigorous campaigning by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other BJP leaders, the ruling party at the Centre was not able to save its governments in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh from defeat. Rural distress, evident from the increased number of farmers’ suicides since Narendra Modi came to power, played a significant role in alienating the voters from the BJP.

            Another factor working against the Narendra Modi dispensation was the opposition move to go in for tactical state level alliances to take on the BJP. Parties like the Congress, the Trinamul Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party and Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party and others recognised that instead of trying to forge an all India alliance, they should try to stitch up #state level fronts. Wisely, the opposition parties did not fall into the trap of naming their Prime Ministerial face before the elections. While there is no doubt that there are many Prime Ministerial aspirants in the opposition, they recognised that a decision on who would head the government would be taken only after the elections.

            The #Pulwama terror attack on #CRPF caravan and the subsequent air raids by Indian Air Force on “terror training camps” deep in Pakistan have changed the political narrative. People are now no longer talking about the failures of the Narendra Modi government on the economic front and the alleged corruption in the Rafale deal. The focus has shifted to the issue of national security. The Narendra Modi dispensation is busy projecting the air raids deep inside Pakistan territory as indicative of a new resolve on India’s part to take on terrorist elements promoted by #Islamabad.

            The question is whether this tempo will last till the elections due in a couple of months and also the costs involved in any prolonged conflict, even if there is no war, with Pakistan.

            The costs of an armed conflict or war with Pakistan will be huge. The economy will suffer major losses and disruptions. This will put paid to the talk of India becoming the second or third largest economy in the world in the near future. The human cost will also be huge. It is not possible to forecast the human and economic damage which either India or Pakistan would suffer because of the conflict.

            The question which arises in the circumstances is whether the world powers will just look on while two #nuclear weapon states start a conflict or war. The answer is clearly NO and all indications are that behind the scenes, efforts are on to defuse the situation and make both India and Pakistan pull back their horses.

            In the run-up to the #Lok Sabha elections, #politicisation of the stand-off between India and Pakistan is only to be expected. The opposition parties have already accused the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of misusing the developments for political advantage. At a meeting in New Delhi on Wednesday, February 27, 2019, 21 opposition parties “expressed deep anguish over the blatant politicisation of the sacrifices made by our armed forces by leaders of the ruling party. National Security must transcend narrow political considerations.”

            The opposition parties pointed out that Prime Minister Narendra Modi “has regrettably, not convened an all party meeting as per the established practice in our democracy.” After the Pulwama incident and the air strikes on terror camps in Pakistan, the government did convene all party meetings but they were not attended by the Prime Minister.

            It is apparent that despite exhortations by the government to the people to face the current crisis unitedly, all attempts will be made by the ruling dispensation to derive political benefits from the developments in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections. It is also likely that the move will get a positive response from some sections of the voting public.

            The opposition parties have their task cut out to build a #counter narrative to win back the people’s favour. As of now, there do not appear to be any concerted moves by the Congress or other opposition parties to build a counter political momentum.