CENTRE for POLICY ANALYSIS

CENTRE for POLICY ANALYSIS

“Social progress can be measured by the social position of the female sex” - Karl Marx

ARTICLE


Assembly Debacle: BJP Got Taken in by Its Own Fake News


As the election campaign for the Assembly elections started, an unnamed BJP leader was quoted by a prominent daily on October 5, as making this dramatic claim for Rajasthan: "The state government has given 3.5 lakh government jobs, waived loans of over 30 lakh farmers and covered 1.6 crore people under the Bhamashah Swasthya Bima Yojana (health insurance). It's payback time for them."  

Ignoring the characteristic condescension of the ruling BJP evident in this crude statement, it also reveals one of the core strategies of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the just ended elections, as also for the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections in 2019. They are under the impression that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s schemes of various kinds have 'benefitted' 22 crore people and all that is needed is for party activists to approach each of these people/families for getting their votes for BJP. Party president Amit Shah was reported to have approved this strategy.

Election results of the five Assemblies that went to polls in November-December this year have revealed the hollowness of this claim. The BJP has lost all three state governments it was holding – in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh – while it has performed miserably in Telangana and Mizoram.  

In the three big Hindi heartland states, there is a distinct shift of voters away from the BJP (compared with the last Assembly elections in 2013) by 7% in Rajasthan, by 3.5% in MP and by 8.5% in Chhattisgarh. Clearly, the strategy (or folly) of thinking that beneficiaries of schemes will be so obliged by the largesse bestowed on them by BJP that they will be rushing to the EVMs to elect BJP candidates, has fallen flat on its face.

It is not very difficult to find the reasons for this. First, the schemes do not reach everybody. Second, even those who are reached may not see it as a great favour done to them by the ruling party. And, third, the numbers trotted out by the BJP propaganda machine about beneficiaries of various schemes are grossly inflated and dodgy. So, even if BJP activists come to some so-called beneficiary's home (after procuring the address from confidential government data, perhaps illegally) and lights a 'lotus-lamp' – as was attempted to be done in Rajasthan and maybe elsewhere – nothing of substance may come of it.  

Social Media Warriors  

Mainstream media has been regularly publishing stories of how the BJP is setting up social media war rooms, hiring lakhs ofsocial media warriors, and even that it is going to have booth-level social media coordinators to take the place of its fabled 'panna pramukhs'. Video interactions through the NaMo app, microdonations, training of cyber sainiks is reported to be in advanced stages and was trial tested in the recent Assembly elections. Remember, Modi interacted with various scheme beneficiaries through his app before the Assembly elections?  

This whole strategy was also dovetailed to the data collected on beneficiaries of government schemes. Whether this is legally permissible is another question, but the fact is that huge troves of data is being harnessed by BJP for this cyber war in preparations for the coming elections.  

What was the result of trials of this in the Assembly elections? That the BJP has lost is known, but what happened to all the Whatsapp messages and Facebook posts that were flooding cyberspace in the run-up to the elections in these five states? Clearly, these haven't helped.  

The BJP has failed to understand a truth that any political outfit worth its salt should know: there is no replacement for solid work on the ground, and that elections are not won by just good campaigns. If this was the case, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance would have retained power after its stint in 1999-2004 under Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Despite a dazzling 'Shining India" campaign, they lost the election and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance-1 government was formed at the Centre.  

At present, too, the BJP is inexorably heading the same way. It has undertaken policies that have destroyed the economy, increased joblessness, broken the back of small and medium businesses, ruined the farmers, pauperised landless labourers and left workers struggling to make ends meet. On the other side, its cronies have flourished and inequality has brazenly increased. Yet the party thinks that managing the messaging through social media will see it sail through.  

As the Assembly results show, this is never going to happen. If the people are angry and feel betrayed, no amount of Whatsapp messages about Modi's so-called world-wide respect or surgical strikes or images of the 'glorious' Ram Temple are going to win them back.  

Communal Card

The last and the most dangerous strategic element in BJP's electoral strategy is the communal card. This is a complex multi-layered package that encompasses everything from blatant lies (love jihad, Muslim population explosion, etc.) to anti-Pakistan posturing masquerading as patriotism to building the glorious Ram Temple in Ayodhya to hostility towards refugees. The elements of this package are formulated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its multiple associates and spread severally by them through both conventional means and now increasingly, by social media.

This strategic element is a calculated move to influence the forthcoming elections but was also tested out in the Assembly elections. The whipping up of the Ram Temple issue through a manufactured chorus of voices since October this year coincided with the Assembly election campaign, as did the use of Yogi Adityanath as the main campaigner.

Yet, the BJP lost. In fact, on the day of the results, a BJP member of Parliament, Sanjay Kakade, was reported to be rueing the fact that their "development" agenda was side-tracked by the Ram Temple issue thus ensuring their defeat!  

That's because not only have people seen through the crass opportunism in raking up the Ram Temple issue whenever elections are approaching, but they also are waking up to the fact that hatred and poison between communities only leads to violence, bloodshed and tears. It never ever leads to prosperity and peace. The dozens of instances of mob lynchings, including the recent one of a police officer in Bulandshahr, has confirmed that a party that puts cows before human lives is undesirable.  

With these major planks of its election strategy debunked and rejected by the electorate in the Assembly elections, where will the Modi-led BJP turn to now? That's the thing to watch out for in the coming months.  

 

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