The story of unequal rivals, a militant BJP on the one side and a supine Opposition on the other.
It is unreasonable to expect Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and outgoing Union ministers Rajnath Singh and Maneka Gandhi not to indulge in sabre-rattling because that is the image that the leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party have created for themselves. They play true to their character on the political stage. So we see Mr Modi wagging a finger against Pakistan, or Mr Shah threatening to drive out the “infiltrators” or “illegal immigrants” in the manner one would remove termites, Mr Singh threatening action against anti-nationals, without defining who is an “anti-national”, or Ms Gandhi warning Muslims in her constituency that if they do not vote for her, then they should not come to her seeking help. All this is par for the course. Then there is the trivia about the educational qualifications of outgoing Union textiles minister Smriti Irani and the brickbats flying hither and thither in the social media on the issue, with cameo roles for Mr Modi as well as Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
Mr Modi has set the tone for aggression and that is the BJP’s calling card, as the party believes that aggression is a sign of strength. It would be futile to discuss the merits and demerits of this approach in the middle of an election. Those who decry the unrestrained belligerence of the BJP leaders should continue to raise their voices, though it will possibly have no impact on the ruling party, which will not give up its war dance and war cries. It would be premature to talk of a scenario when Mr Modi will have a second term after May 23, when the results are announced. It will be futile to tell Mr Modi and his associates that they must become sober and leave behind their “josh” of poll invective to govern the country for the next five years. As a matter of fact, many of the ardent followers of Mr Modi want him to continue to ride his war horse because he has managed to create a paranoia of power and glory among a section of the educated middle class. Mr Modi then is trapped in the image he has created himself — of a leader who will go out to war and throw out all opponents. Going by precedent, Mr Modi adopts a mellow position after victory, though he retains the high on victory night, which is natural. His first speech in Parliament in 2014 as Prime Minister was quite different from his stump speeches. It should indeed be the case that he will strike a sober note after May 23 in case he and his party emerge as victors.
In contrast, Messrs Rahul Gandhi, Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav, Mamata Banerjee and N. Chandrababu Naidu have not been sufficiently belligerent against the policies of Mr Modi. They give the impression of being too polite, despite Mr Gandhi’s refrain of “chowkidar chor hai”, which has not become the buzz as did “gali gali mein shor hai... Rajiv Gandhi chor hai” in the fraudulent allegations made in la affaire Bofors in the run-up to the 1989 general election led by Vishwanath Pratap Singh and ably supported by the BJP, the Communists and the right-wing media led by Mr Arun Shourie, who was then editor of the Indian Express. Rafale has not attained the stinging edge that Bofors did, and it cannot be argued that there was evident corruption in the Bofors deal and none in the case of Rafale.
The Opposition and the media have failed to probe the Rafale fighter jet deal with the same zeal that they did in the case of Bofors from 1987 onwards. It should not be assumed that the Opposition and the so-called liberal media have become polite. They have just failed in the propaganda warfare and Mr Modi has managed to get away. The exaggerated claims which amount to lies made by the leaders of the ruling side about the government’s economic performance and its social schemes have not been energetically nailed by the Opposition and the media. They appear to have been distracted by the personality of Mr Modi, and they felt compelled to attack him instead of exposing the chinks in the government’s performance. While the BJP have shown all the ugly “josh”, the Opposition failed in its duty to make its point to the people. The Opposition is not just a divided house, but it has also shown no purpose and energy.
The rules of the political game dictate the victory of the strong and the defeat of the weak. The logic of the scenario demands that the BJP wins and the Opposition gets defeated. But the outcome is neither simple nor predictable. The story of unequal rivals, a militant BJP on the one side and a supine Opposition on the other, is not yet over. The end remains unpredictable. The determined and loud chorus of the Modi cheerleaders and the sniffling and snorting Opposition with its band of wimpy liberals cannot really dictate the script. The voters, it seems, are indeed weighing all their options. It is this factor of undecidedness on the part of the people that is driving the virile BJP into a frenzy, which is reflected in the vituperative rhetoric of Mr Modi and his associates.
The voter is playing poker, and he or she is not revealing all their cards. That puts politicians on tenterhooks, and this drives them into bouts of irrational exuberance on the one hand and clinical depression on the other. The voter is no sadist, but someone grappling with the complexities and frustrations of quotidian reality, and he or she judges the politician from Ground Zero. The voter is also no infallible judge, and he or she does not pretend to be a Solomon. But it is the voter who takes the most difficult decision of choosing the representative to whom is given the keys of power for the next five years.