AA Edit | A long, acrimonious campaign will end today

Hyper-local issues dominate acrimonious 2024 campaign, with Modi's Hindutva push and opposition's local agendas at forefront
One of the longest and most acrimonious election campaigns in recent history is coming to a close with the loudspeakers falling silent on Thursday ahead of the seventh and final phase of voting for the 18th Lok Sabha scheduled on June 1. It would indeed be remarkable if the election produces a result that will allow Prime Minister Narendra Modi a third term, which no Prime Minister other than Jawaharlal Nehru has managed so far. It would also be a repeat of history if the ruling front is sent packing by the people for wrongly reading their mood.

One of the key elements of the campaign none could miss is the shift to the hyper-local from the national which was earlier the norm. While the nation’s security and territorial integrity were key elements of the campaign in 2019, corruption and call for a change dominated the hustings in 2014. But this time, although the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and its leader Prime Minister Narendra Modi started off the campaign with “Modi’s guarantees” and the promise of taking India to the status of the world’s third largest economy should they secure a third term, they dropped that agenda midway and switched to the beaten path of Hindutva.

As for the opposition INDIA bloc, it never had a national narrative or a common minimum programme to begin with, most of its partners including the Congress coming up with their own individual manifestos. That, however, jelled with its character as it is a loose structure with partners having their local issues on top of their respective agendas, because what unified them appears to have been the fear that the misuse of the Central agencies and the penal laws would be taken to the next level should the NDA and Mr Modi get a fresh term. So even the issues they took up, which included rural distress, unemployment and Central government policies and programmes which aggravate wealth inequality in society, were localised and sold in retail. Whether that sales push was effective or not would only become clear come June 4.
Some of the usual acrimonies germane to electioneering apart, the 2024 campaign will nevertheless go down in history for the brazen attempts made by the ruling front, led by none lesser than the Prime Minister, to sell its divisive agenda in violation of the law and the Model Code of Conduct, and the deafening silence of the Election Commission. Instead of reading them the riot act, the poll body chose to maintain status quo. It is not unknown to the EC that this nation is founded on its diversities and attempts to strike at the fault lines in its foundation would weaken and eventually undo its whole structure. Curiously enough, the EC still fought shy of disciplining the real trouble-makers. Instead, it pounced on minor waywardness without fail. The only hope that, therefore, remains at the end of the campaign is that the country which has survived the Partition and Emergency would find its own way to remain peaceful and sensible despite the worst of provocations.

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