Terror attacks have often played a role in politics and election campaigns in our country. The Pulwama attack on February 14, in which at least 40 CRPF jawans were killed and the consequent pre-emptive non-military strike on February 26, is no exception to this and has brought terrorism again into the electoral campaign. Both the ruling and opposition parties have clamoured for a hawkish response.
Terror casualties have always been portrayed as due to the government’s failure to effectively deal with terrorism. And opposition parties had always questioned the incumbent party. In fact, the BJP had made populist allegations against Congress governments in the past. It was often claimed by the BJP that the solutions to terrorism and terror attacks are much more straightforward than the Congress would have us believe over the years. If it was so easy to solve, then why do they persist when the BJP is in power?
The post-Pulwama response of the government is no different as it remained populist in multiple ways. First, actions like giving the Army a free hand, hinting about the diversion of Indus water, revoking MFN status and raising customs duties to 200 per cent were not enough to assuage popular anger. Second, a perception is carefully created to brand all critical voices as in cahoots with India’s enemies. Third, the prime minister has gained people’s trust, yet the shifting narratives and the united response of opposition parties have the potential to heighten the righteous anger of a section of the electorate to contain the provisional wave in favour of the BJP.
Fourth, the idea of inclusiveness suffered a body blow until the prime minister took a stand. Some politicians belonging to the ruling party gave tacit support to the violent resentment against Kashmiris across India. It was certainly not an attempt to polarise India for electoral gain but highlights the failure of the government to evolve a doctrine with clarity to meet the challenges of growing terrorist activities in Kashmir and its after-effects. We must agree that hawkish measures will only turn Kashmir into a recruiting ground for terrorists than burying terror forever.
It is unfortunate for a nation to witness the trivialisation of terror casualties for political advantage. Sadly, people’s sense of grief after Pulwama and the sense of pride after the IAF air strike are being frequently questioned by rival forces to gain political advantage. The characters of individuals, leaders, communities and institutions are assassinated using audio-visual and social media, by party’s proxy cadres and fake-cum-hate news. Unfortunately, certain private acts like crying, laughing or dancing for reasons unconnected with the mourning of the terror attack are being not only stigmatised but made viral for electoral reasons.
In this context, we can safely argue that the opposition’s hype over the prime minister’s presence at Jim Corbett National Park and the BJP’s allegation of Congress President Rahul Gandhi playing a mobile game are nothing but the hallmark of India becoming an illiberal democracy. Will the terror attack and the consequent air strike have any effect on India’s electoral choices? Yes, but not substantially. Interestingly, some politicians of the ruling party are making attempts to build their political career by politicising the funeral ceremonies of the martyrs and the pre-emptive air strike.
The opposition is equally using the same to neutralise the post-Pulwama political dividends for the BJP. For example, the position of the martyrs in the social matrix was used to question the credibility of the nationalistic furore of high-caste groups largely located in urban areas. Above all, the ruling party is not leaving a single opportunity to invoke the Pulwama attack and the IAF strike in its official programmes and political rallies. While sensing the strategic edge of the BJP, opposition parties planned a strategy to hold the government accountable by raising critical questions on the terror attack and political use of the air strike.
Indeed, terror casualties have led more people to vote for conservative parties not only in India but across the globe, when in the opposition. When not in power, these parties have portrayed themselves as non-concessionist. But will the right-wing parties enjoy people’s support when major terror attacks happen during their regime? The Assembly election results that happened after the surgical strike in response to the Uri attack may provide an answer.
And how will the proximity of the terror attacks and countermeasures to voting affect the parties? The BJP will be able to retain its core and some floating voters, thus reducing the possibility of anti-incumbency. However, the number of traditional loyal voters of the opposition parties does not seem to be shrinking despite the management of public sentiments by the ruling party. In other words, despite popular approval for the IAF air strike, it will not be an easy win for the BJP in the upcoming elections.