[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]G[/dropcap]ive opposition parties a lot of credit. After being decimated in the 2014 general election, it just took them a year to find the Achilles’ heel of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Unable to take on the ruling party on development issues, they successfully shifted the nation’s discourse to social narratives.
…BJP needs to communicate a social narrative that will enable it to form governments in states, govern effectively and deliver on its electoral promises.
Church attacks, killing of a muslim man in Dadri, dalit suicide in campus and women’s entry into temples were brought to the forefront relegating the more important development themes of Modi government into the background. A loose coalition of Marxist historians, leftist student associations and minority organizations that are inimical to the BJP were exploited by opposing political parties to effectively deviate the nation’s discourse from “Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vikas”.
The result was successive electoral defeats in New Delhi and the all important state of Bihar. After winning four state elections, the BJP was caught wrong footed and found wanting when the electoral themes changed from development to social issues. Arvind Kejriwal painted the Delhi election as a vote on the security of minorities. Lalu Prasad Yadav twisted the Bihar election into a “Lower Caste vs Upper Caste” battle by promising to defend caste based quotas while Nitish Kumar made it an “Outsider Vs Bihari Pride”. The result was a resounding electoral defeat of BJP in both states.
[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]T[/dropcap]he BJP was not a force to reckon with in the just concluded five state elections and hence the opposition parties did not see the need for a dominant social narrative. But that will not be the case in the upcoming state elections of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and the southern state of Karnataka in 2018. With almost a year to go, a similar trend akin to Bihar and Delhi has been kick started with raking up of beef, beating up of Dalits and insecurity of muslims. A focused campaign by opposition parties on social issues and social order can certainly derail the BJP and Modi government agenda. It will also considerably diminish the chances of the party winning in upcoming state elections as well as in 2019. Hence it is imperative on the party bigwigs to address the short comings before opposition parties create a social narrative ably assisted by the so called secular media that are adverse to the party as well as to the country.
The “big egos” of Lutyens Delhi has been suggesting for over a year that the Modi government needs superior media management. It’s inane and a fallacy to think that better relations with the press corps will do the trick. Moreover, the impact of mainstream media especially the English media on electorate and elections are an unknown. Arvind Kejriwal, a media creation, was made to think that the Aam Aaadmi Party (AAP) can make a significant impact on the 2014 general election. After a disastrous performance, Kejriwal changed tact to build a ground level organization in New Delhi. Many regional parties like the BSP never address the media but make meaningful impact on electoral outcomes.
Moreover as a strategy, it is extremely difficult to co-opt media houses that have invested and bought into the social narrative of the Congress party for the past sixty eight years– Secularism, Idea of India, Social Justice and more recently on a “Rights” based approach to social policy. Vehement supporters of the government and thinkers in the BJP have been opposing these ideas in every election. They have argued that Secularism is appeasement of minorities, Idea of India is defined on the vagaries of caste and religion that supports group rights while suppressing individual freedom, Social Justice is an alibi to preserve the caste based reservation system in education and government jobs while the Rights based approach to social policy is a breeding ground for corruption and defend the status quo.
[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]I[/dropcap]t is increasingly clear that social narratives cannot be countered with development narratives. And secularism, Idea of India et al have run its course and are unlikely to yield future electoral dividends. To govern effectively at the Center and increase its vote share in states, the BJP must create a new social narrative across the country that will resonate and reverberate amongst India’s young and old electorate alike. Current slogans like “Akhanda Bharat” and “Ek Bharat, Shrestha Bharat” induces more fear than hope in citizens and fails to convey a positive message.
As it approaches the next set of all important state elections the BJP needs to communicate a social narrative that will enable it to form governments in states, govern effectively and deliver on its electoral promises. Failing to do so will have a debilitating effect on the agenda of Modi government as well as BJP state governments while leaving open the possibilities of an opposition comeback.
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