It’s tale of two national parties which even stellar storytellers are struggling to narrate to their captive audiences. Is the Congress pro-poor or pro-rich? Is the BJP a party of only Hindus or of all Indians? Is the Congress indulging in excessive minority appeasement or is it skirting the terrorism issue? Are both parties pro-economic reform of the same colour or not? Has the BJP forgotten its Swadeshi agenda to seem a weaker clone of the Congress? Has it moved away from its traditional Hindutva mantra containing issues like Ayodhya mandir, Article 370 and the Uniform Civil Code? As the countdown to the state Assembly elections, followed by the General Elections, begins, both the Congress and BJP are looking for a Winning Identity Tag (WIT) to reap rich electoral dividends. The filthy war of words, which has erupted during the past few weeks between the parties, has nothing to do with their achievements and failures but is all about demolishing each other’s traditional identity. While the social, cultural and economic line dividing the top and middle level leadership of both parties is blurred, the fight for power is getting murkier and sharper. Interestingly, both are seriously involved in an internal war of posturing. For example, leaders in the Congress-led government, including the Prime Minister, who are talking about bold economic reforms, stimulus for the rich, free access for MNCs to Indian markets, are pitted against leaders in the party. The latter want the Food Security Bill, MGNREGS, minority reservation in jobs, as they feel only such welfare measures can retain their vote banks. Similarly, Gujarat CM Narendra Modi and others who aren’t part of the BJP hierarchy are pushing for WIT by talking about Mandir and Hindutava. BJP General Secretary Amit Shah revived the Ram Mandir issue only to be rebutted later by party President Rajnath Singh, who made it clear that mandir and Article 370 weren’t part of the party’s political agenda.
The top leadership of both parties has realised that votes cannot be garnered on the basis of performance or failure. As they dig deep in the dirty political pit to extract a few saleable ideas to hawk to the masses, they are getting mired more and more in the mud. The more they talk about issues and individuals, the more they reflect their identity crisis. Although, political differentiation between various parties revolves around just two words—secularism and communalism—both the BJP and Congress are desperate to find that extra spin which would give them the edge. Predictably, Modi, a symbol of both hard Hindutava and development, set the ball rolling by calling himself a proud Hindu nationalist. Modi is known for choosing the right words at the right time for the right people. He defined his politico-religious identity in an interview to a foreign news agency, and not to an Indian media organisation. He followed up on his ideological narrative by accusing the Congress of hiding behind the secular burqa to cover up its all-round failures. Modi’s new mantra not only turned out to be a new election talking point for the ideologically starved BJP but also forced the Congress to get engaged in a debate to acquire a WIT. Congress spokesperson Ajay Maken accused Modi of dividing India by narrowing down the definition of nationalism to religion. After letting the nation debate be polarised along Hindu or non-Hindu nationalism lines, the Modi Sena quickly moved on to other issues. The party itself pulled down the hoardings of the Gujarat chief minister projecting himself as a proud Hindu nationalist, much faster than they were put up in prominent corners of Mumbai.
To shore up their economic ideology, lately the Congress and BJP are competing for the endorsement of foreign-educated Indian economists. Modi promoters have been heavily dependent on foreign-trained PR agencies to reposition him as the messiah of development. According to some BJP insiders, BJP’s corporate and social advisers have counselled a few middle-level party functionaries to promote economists of Indian origin as the credible brains behind a Modi-led government’s economic agenda. Recently, the BJP’s fund collector organised a five-star dinner in Delhi for an economist, for which a few corporate leaders and friends of the BJP were invited to interact. His only qualification is that his name was added to Prof. Jagdish Bhagwati’s, one of India’s finest economists. According to credible economists, Bhagwati lost the Nobel Prize to Amartya Sen only because he was considered pro-economic nationalism than fashionable liberal nationalism sans boundaries. The differences between the BJP leadership and a Modi-promoted economist on current economic policies came to the fore when a former Union minister vehemently questioned the need to abolish subsidies for the poor. The BJP is sharply divided over the UPA’s current economic decisions. Despite the strong public mood against the frequent hike in petroleum prices, the BJP’s top leadership has maintained a sinful silence over the government’s decision to raise gas prices by almost 100 per cent. The party is still studying the details of the government announcement.
The Congress is equally confused. The Prime Minister is openly supporting the fall in the value of the rupee while many party leaders have expressed grave concerns over what could prove fatal for the party in the next elections. Even on the Ishrat Jahan issue, the government and the party are at loggerheads over legal and international complications. It was left to Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde to close the issue by taking refuge behind an agreement between the US and India that information provided by the US agencies on terror couldn’t be shared in public. In their unprincipled and rhetoric-led confrontation to acquire a WIT, both parties are fighting to divide a united India along ominous lines. Nothing else can define the end of both ‘India Shining’ and ‘The Great India Story’.
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