Nearly 70 per cent of the Lok Sabha polls is over with polling completed in 373 of 542 Lok Sabha seats (Polling for Vellore seat will take place later). However, elections have now entered their most crucial juncture since much of the Hindi heartland will go to polls over the remaining three phases.
If it has to return to power, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would need to maximize its gains in the remaining 170-seats that will go to polls on May 6, 12 and 19. The BJP had accomplished this in 2014 when it swept the Hindi heartland.
Until now, the BJP’s election campaign has focused on the “decisive” leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and stoking “nationalism” sentiment centred on the Pulwama terror attack and Balakot terror strikes.
Increasingly, however, the BJP’s discourse has shown diminishing returns on the ground with local issues coming back to dominate, including questions being asked about the performances of incumbent BJP MPs.
For example, in Uttar Pradesh, Pulwama and Balakot gave BJP’s core support base a reason to continue to keep their faith with Modi. However, enough people are also asking inconvenient questions on the security failure that had led to Pulawama, and why the BJP leadership contradicted each other in their claims about the numbers killed in the Balakot strike.
It is also common to find voters who believe Modi government announced demonetisation on November 8, 2016, primarily to win the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls, and view the party’s current discourse around nationalism through the prism of it seeking potential electoral gains in the ongoing Lok Sabha polls.
It is in this context that the BJP will use the tagging of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar as a UN designated terrorist as an achievement of its policy of “zero tolerance” against terrorism. It will be the BJP’s counter to the opposition’s narrative of the sundry “failures” of the Modi government, particularly in tackling job losses and farm distress, and Congress party’s promise of ‘Nyay’, or minimum income guarantee to the poorest 20 per cent.
In the next three phases, 21-seats of Bihar, 41 of UP, 4 of Himachal Pradesh, 11 of Jharkhand, 23 of Madhya Pradesh, 13 of Punjab, 10 of Haryana, 1 of Chandigarh, 12 of Rajasthan, 24 of West Bengal and 7 of Delhi go to polls. Apart from Bengal and Punjab, the BJP had swept all other states in 2014.
It needs to win a significant number of these seats. That the BJP plans to build a momentum on the issue of Masood Azhar was apparent with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman holding a press conference at the BJP’s national headquarters in New Delhi on Thursday afternoon.
In the press conference, Jaitley specifically attacked the Congress. While the contest is tough in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar between the BJP and 'gathbandhan' parties, it is in states of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh where the BJP and Congress are principal rivals. An improved Congress performance in these states could grievously hurt the BJP’s hopes of returning to power.
As National Conference chief Omar Abdullah observed in a tweet on Wednesday, “The rest of the opposition must be wondering if it will ever catch a break. Every time the BJP campaign seems to be flagging it gets a shot in the arm. The Masood Azhar development in the UN today could not have come at a better time for Modi ji’s re-election campaign.”
Opposition has already started asking questions not only about the US role in tagging of Masood Azhar as a UN designated terrorist. On Thursday morning, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed credit for the move in a tweet.
Congrats to our team @USUN for their work in negotiating JEM's Masood Azhar's #UN designation as a terrorist. This long-awaited action is a victory for American diplomacy and the international community against terrorism, and an important step towards peace in South Asia.— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) May 2, 2019
Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati said the BJP-led Atal Bihari Vajpayee government had released Azhar in 1999. Abdullah wondered why the listing of Azhar as a global terrorist was only possible because all references to Pulwama and terrorism in Kashmir were dropped.
No mention of terror in Kashmir & no mention of Pulwama. It’s amazing how quickly the sacrifices of the CRPF men were sold down the river to get a symbolic win. https://t.co/Y9bStsF6QC— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) May 1, 2019
The BJP is set to use Azhar’s listing as an election plank for the next fortnight. It has surely given the Sangh Parivar cadres a talking point to take to the people.
The question is whether it would be enough to keep people from asking questions on Modi government’s performance on like job generation, its promise of acche din, doubling farm incomes and issues that directly affect people's lives?