Going by reports from the field, there is no evidence of a Modi wave as such, nor is there any palpable traction for Pakistan-baiting in India’s general elections, which completed the second leg of the seven-round contest on Thursday.
“Two tours of Uttar Pradesh have revealed quite clearly that there is no wave in this election — there is just not that kind of buzz, chemistry or excitement on the ground that marks a ‘wave’ election. That Hindutva frenzy is missing; in the first round, at least, it was not about Hindu versus Muslim,” wrote a usually informed analyst in the dailyo.innews portal.
Ninety-five parliamentary seats were in the fray on Thursday and voting was cancelled in a constituency in Tamil Nadu over alleged use of cash to buy votes. Sporadic violence was reported from West Bengal and Tripura, two states vital for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s strategy to counter expected losses in Uttar Pradesh. Analysts say that could be a challenge.
In the absence of a palpable anti-Pakistan traction, the BJP seems to be bracing to fall back on its more trusted Hindutva plank, and a strident move in this direction is the fielding of a militant woman candidate in Bhopal. Saffron-clad Sadhvi Pragya will challenge senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh. He had slammed her alleged role in anti-Muslim bomb attacks, calling her a practioner of “Hindu terror”. Ms Pragya has been charged in the Malegaon blasts that killed six Muslims and injured scores. She was recently released on bail on health grounds. Anitcipated friction between the Hindu sanyasin and her Congress accuser could ignite the BJP’s faltering campaign. Bhopal, like Lucknow, has a substantial Muslim population, and both have become strongholds of the BJP over the last three or four elections.
Rekindling the Hindutva agenda is under way elsewhere too and the election commission stepped in to stop Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath from campaigning for three days for alleged Muslim-baiting. Dalit leader Mayawati and Muslim leader Azam Khan were also reined in for alleged out of line barbs against the BJP in Uttar Pradesh.
If there was any eye-catching reference to Pakistan, it came from External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. She told an election meeting in Ahmedabad that Prime Minister Narendra Modi needed an absolute majority to be able to deal with national challenges firmly. In this context, she underscored a relatively new narrative, that the Balakot strike was not aimed at Pakistani soldiers or citizens. It was aimed at the Jaish-e-Mohammed militants. Whatever the implications of her assertion, it was not what the BJP expected to get out from its ‘militarisation’ of the election campaign.
It was left to the Congress president Rahul Gandhi to explain the meaning of a secure nation to the prime minister. He said Mr Modi had completely missed the connection between national security and social harmony as well as the economic well being of a people that constitute a strong nation. These social and economic elements have been woven into the Congress manifesto.
And yet, if the BJP smells a chance of staging a victory, albeit with little to show for it as yet, the inability of the Congress to forge alliances in four or five crucial states could make it drool. All this is unrelated to the early hype of militarist nationalism, however.
In keeping with its push for a communally polarised election, the BJP’s whisper campaign has targeted movie actress Urmila Matondkar and her Kashmiri Muslim husband. Ms Matondkar is a Congress candidate from north Mumbai against a BJP heavyweight.
“Now (BJP supporters) are claiming that my husband is a Pakistani national. This is exactly the kind of vitiated political and social atmosphere that forced me to join politics,” Ms Matondkar said in an interview published on Thursday. “For any problem that India faces today, the Narendra Modi government wants you to believe that Nehru and Gandhi are responsible. What about the failures of Narendra Modi and the BJP? Why is my religion, or the religion of my husband, an election issue? Why is the lack of jobs, the suicide of farmers or the assault on our institutions not the issue? They spend thousands of crores on self-promotion and for this troll machinery that targets opponents. If Modi and Amit Shah had spent this money on helping the poor, our farmers would not have been forced to commit suicide.”
Complaints of faulty voting machines came from several states, including Assam, Maharashtra and Karnataka. In Tamil Nadu, as many as 384 faulty EVMs and 692 faulty Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail machines were replaced, officers of the state election commission said.
In Jammu and Kashmir, clashes broke out between security forces and civilians who opposed polling in Batmaloo area of Srinagar city, Pandach area of Ganderbal district and at four other places in Budgam district -- areas under the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency. Clashes also took place after the polling, in which a civilian and four policemen, including two officers, were injured, reports said.
Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2019