Tamil Nadu farmers during a march in New Delhi | Anindito Mukherjee/Bloomberg
Tamil Nadu farmers during a march in New Delhi | Anindito Mukherjee/Bloomberg
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Has Narendra Modi found his bramhastra to take on the mahagathbandhan? Will the 2019 Lok Sabha elections become all about the Pulwama and now the Balakot attacks?

If you heard the prime minister’s speech in Churu, Rajasthan, Tuesday, you would think so. Addressing a rally of ex-servicemen, in a region full of serving and former soldiers, on the day the Indian Air Force struck terror camps in Balakot (a coincidence?), Mr Modi made no secret of his intent to exploit this issue in the coming elections. He did not name Balakot, or Pulwama for that matter. He did not need to. Photographs of the 40 CRPF jawans killed in the Pulwama attack adorned the stage backdrop.

The news about the IAF airstrike was on everyone’s mind. The opportunity was tailor-made for Modi and he was using it to the hilt. He used all his theatrical skills for rabble rousing. For the record, he did mention PM-Kisan scheme and Ayushman Bharat, mainly to put the Congress government in Rajasthan in the dock. But the real message was clear: you can trust me on national security. As he said unabashedly “the nation is in safe hands”.

With TV news channels outbidding one another in studio patriotism, everything else was forgotten. That same day, Modi’s ‘feet washing’ of sanitary workers had invited sharp reaction from safai karmachari organisations and people working for their rights. But that vanished after the IAF strike. At least for the time being, the farmers’ issue has taken a back seat. The BJP is quietly exploring ways of bypassing the Model Code of Conduct to slip in the second installment of Rs 2,000 under PM-Kisan, just before the polling day. There are no signs of employment situation getting any better, but the government brazens it out, cooking up one more series of EPFO data to negate mountain of solid evidence of job loss. That too has exited from headlines. The story of Rafale has also been eclipsed by the exploits of Mirage.

For the last three months, the poll narrative had slipped away from the BJP.

The coming Lok Sabha polls promised to be the first general election to be fought on issues like the plight of farmers and the jobless youth. Pulwama and Balakot threaten to derail it. Mirage has replaced Mandir in the ‘five M’ — others being Modi, BJP’s election Machine, Money and Media that the BJP is banking upon in this election. The Bharatiya Janata Party controls the narrative once again.


Also read: Falling crop prices blow holes in Modi’s promise of higher incomes to farmers


This need not continue until the day of voting. As I have argued, the BJP faces an uphill task in this election. It needs to retain the saturation level vote share that it obtained in the 2014 elections in the Hindi belt to capture power again. Once the political temperature is back to normal and politics returns to fundamentals, it is disadvantage BJP. It’s back to state level elections that do not favour the saffron party. Narendra Modi’s relative advantage over Congress president Rahul Gandhi has shrunk and become less of a decisive factor. Fatigue with the regime has set in. The ruling party stands to lose anywhere around 100 seats or more from the 282 seats that it won in the last election.

Unless, of course, Imran Khan or Rahul Gandhi decide otherwise.

Pakistan’s prime minister could gift this election to Narendra Modi by keeping the border tension alive. He knows that Jaish-e-Mohammed enjoys patronage from the army and the ISI of his regime. So, if this realisation or lack of international support makes him downplay or bury the issue after Balakot or go for a non-military response, then it would be hard for Mr Modi to keep the issue alive until the voting day. But it would not fit into Imran Khan’s cultivated Pathan image. More importantly, it would be hard for Pakistani army to live down this public snub. So, it would be tempting for the Pakistani establishment to retaliate in kind. This could set in motion further counter retaliation and could bring the subcontinent to the brink of war. That could mean elections in the midst of a war-like climate. Or postponement of elections. Both these possibilities work to Mr Modi’s advantage.

If that happens, much will depend on how the opposition tackles the situation. It can blunder and similarly do its part in gifting this election to Mr Modi. It can be complacent and allow the election to drift any which way. Or it can wrest the narrative back from Mr Modi.

As of now, the non-BJP parties tend to be on the back foot on national security. It is not that they have nothing to claim. After all, India fought two of its most successful military campaigns – the Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971 – under the Congress governments. In contrast, the BJP has had a dubious record. Kargil operation was eventually a success, but it was necessitated by a security failure under the NDA government. The same government was involved in swapping highjacked hostages for Masood Azhar in Kandhar, the now JeM chief who is at the root of the current problem.


Also read: Jobs crisis clearly visible in UP — 3,700 PhDs applied to be messengers for police


The Modi regime has little to show by way of on-ground improvement in national security. The real-life consequences of the “first” surgical strikes are still not clear. If anything, the number of border incursions, terror incidents and the loss of lives of armed forces as well as civilians has doubled or tripled after the much-publicised strikes in September 2016. There are many questions about security lapses in the Pulwama attack. And the government may be hard pressed to show that the Balakot attack actually destroyed an active terror camp, let alone eliminate terrorists. It is quite evident that this government is not interested in evolving a national consensus on such a grave matter. Rather, it wants to play a partisan role and use this to win the next election.

Yet the Congress finds itself in no place to take on the BJP on this issue. This is partly because the post-Independence elite has disinvested in nationalism and the progressive circles tend to be indifferent on the issue of national security. (I had argued this last week. That article received very sharp reactions from friends I respect deeply, perhaps because its self-criticism may have come across as a mistimed and partisan critique of ‘liberal’ politics.) Partly because Congress leaders of this generation, including Rahul Gandhi, are not perceived as the guardians of the national security.

If Rahul Gandhi wishes to wrest the narrative back, he would need to give up the temptation to score petty points against Mr Modi. The opposition simply cannot hope to prove itself more nationalist than the BJP. At least not before this election. Rahul Gandhi must diffuse this issue, put this in a basket of national consensus, and bring the focus of electoral contestation back to the economy. This is not going to be easy, as he takes on a consummate political player like Mr Modi. He does not have much time either.

The author is the National President of Swaraj India.

(This article was written after the Balakot air strike and before IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman’s capture and subsequent release)

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20 COMMENTS

  1. The Opposition should drum up the Rafale issue something like this:

    OUR BRAVE PILOT ABHINANDAN HAD TO SUFFER EMBARRASSMENT OF BEING CAPTURED BY PAKISTAN BECAUSE HE WAS FLYING A 60 YEAR OLD PLANE. THAT IS WHY IAF ASKED FOR 106 RAFALE PLANES, TO POSITION THIS LATEST FIGHTER JET IN ALL CORNERS OF INDIA. WHY DID MODI JI REDUCE THIS NUMBER TO 36? DID IAF ASK HIM TO REDUCE IT TO 36? NO. CAN MODI JI GIVE THE PROOF OF ANY PAPER ON THE BASIS OF WHICH HE REDUCED THE NUMBER TO 36? CAN 36 PLANES DO THE JOB OF 106 PLANES? CAN MODI JI PLAY WITH THE LIVES OF OUR BRAVE PILOTS, SOLDIERS, AND CITIZENS? WHO HAS ALLOWED MODI JI TO KILL INDIANS?

    THE PREVIOUS GOVERNMENT HAD FINALIZED TO BUY 106 RAFALE AT A MUCH CHEAPER PRICE. WHY DID MODI JI NOT FINALIZE THAT AGREEMENT AS IT WAS? WHY DID HE RESTART THE DISCUSSION? WAS IT TO FAVOR HIS FRIEND ANIL AMBANI? WHY WAS 30000 CRORES GIVEN TO ANIL AMBANI? CAN MODI JI ANSWER THIS? DOES ANIL AMBANI KNOW ABC OF PLANE MANUFACTURING? CAN MODI JI ANSWER THIS? WHY WAS HAL DROPPED FROM MANUFACTURING RAFALE IN INDIA?…

    And so on and so forth.

    • Can’t believe your stupidity – UPA finalised deal of Rafale! When ? Do you have anything to show that UPA had any deal?
      They can’t criticise NDA because they bought zero planes in 10 years, while NDA bought 36. And as far as your anil ambani rant goes, do you think Mukesh ambani repairs jio phone? His company has enough expertise or can hire people qualified for the job. Anil need not know abc of plane manufacturing.
      No 30000 cr has been given to anyone, offsets are not cash handouts. And as for your question of pricing, Read cag report if you are literate or else have faith in SC more than Rahul Gandhi.
      Also mig21 bison is not 60 yrs old . It has been upgraded in late 90s and early 2000s. If Congress had given a reply to Pak post Mumbai a pulwama like incident may not have happened. But they chose to ignore terrorism for fear of loss of Muslim votes as always.

      • UPA had brought the Rafale deal up to a point, yes I agree with you they didn’t close the deal. But if Mr Modi had TAKEN IT UP FROM THAT POINT, and not decided to turn it upside down by arbitrarily changing 106 to 36, getting rid of HAL and bringing in Anil Ambani, in effect restarting the whole process, bypassing IAF and running the talks from his office, THEN BY THIS TIME WE WOULD HAVE HAD RAFALE JETS STANDING ON OUR TARMACS. I hope you are at least brilliant enough to understand that.

        NDA bought 36. Where are they? Who gave anyone the authority to change 106 to 36? When will they come, when many more Abhinandans are already humiliated? Or perhaps dead?

        Do you live in India? Are you an Indian? Do you know anything about Anil Ambani’s companies? Do you know Anil and Mukesh are two different people?

    • UPA spent 10 years trying to to negotiate the Rafale contract and was still not able to close it!! Btw, writing in caps is equivalent to shouting. (p.s. empty vessels make the loudest noise).

      • Tin also makes more noise than steel. I write in caps because this forum does not offer ITALICS to emphasize a point or change the tone of the narrative. By the way, people also shout when they are confident of what they are saying and others are not willing to listen. Like now: ARE YOU SURE THERE IS NO HANKY PANKY IN THE SELECTION OF ANIL AMBANI? HASN’T NARENDRA MODI CONCLUSIVELY DISPLAYED THAT HE CARES TWO HOOTS FOR BHARAT MATA’S SECURITY BY ARBITRARILY REDUCING THE NUMBER FROM 126 TO 36? DON’T THESE TWO POINTS PROVE THAT NARENDRA MODI IS DANGEROUS FOR INDIA BECAUSE PARAMOUNT FOR HIM IS HIS EGO SATISFACTION EVEN AT THE COST OF THE NATION’S SECURITY?

        Now in “normal” font, mull over these three questions, dear Ram, and get back to me through this forum.

      • Tin makes unpleasant noise compared to steel, dear Ramu. I sometimes write in caps because this forum does not have the facility for ITALICS to emphasize a point, or to imbed a new narrative.

        • Oops! I thought my first rejoinder to Ramu hadn’t gone through! But it’s ok. I like the tin-bit better in the second one!

    • Check the statements of Saint Antony the “do nothing” defence minister in 2013-14 (available on youtube). UPA was unable to conclude a contract even after 10 years of negotiating (need for Rafale was mooted in last years of Vajapayee govt)., since Vadra was not able to get his kickbacks. And successor NDA govt inherited an empty treasury — no money for off-the-shelf 126..
      Dassault was unwilling to give guarantees for production by HAL. Modi stepped in for national security and gave immediate order for what we could afford in 2015 and could obtain without delay asap.

  2. Author is a frustrated individual who has lost his psephologist tag and earning from committee to which he was nominated in UPA dispensation;has been thrown out of AAP for his shrewd machinations and just want to gain a foothold to latch on to a bandwagon from where he can once again continue milking the government provided sinecure.To attain this objective,he will narrate theories of doom and gloom so that his personal business gloom once again.

    • This is very unfair. Yogendra Yadav had a vision of transforming the grammar of Indian political functioning. Yes, he couldn’t reach anywhere near what he wanted to achieve. May be the vision was unachievable. May be he had limited talent for the big task. May be he miscalculated. But it is unfair to cast aspersions on his integrity.

  3. Decades of socialism and this is the plight of farmers. Socialism murdabad. All monies for freebies subsidies, no money for rafales. Shame on socialists for making India insecure and underdeveloped.

  4. Clearly nothing will help Yogendra Yadav to win seats. Also seeing comments here on Rafale is funny. When the SC and the CAG have found no problems with the Rafale deal and CAG has declared the deal to be cheaper then why people are still dreaming and lying without a shame? In fact Modi has now started to talk about Rafale deal himself and Rahul Gandhi might have to pay a price for his lies in this election.

  5. The opposition should focus completely on the incumbent’s Report Card, the economy taking six of the ten top slots.

  6. On going through the article I find four prominent words; If, that, or,and Modi. So the current narrative in the media ,you like it not, circling around Mr Modi negative or positive image. The remaining narratives including the views of the opposites are like breaking news of Indian TV channels, boring to death. The common man is in a fix and the turn of voters this time may be minimally low.

  7. 1. It is clear that the Congress cannot hope to win even 100 Lok Sabha seats on its own. But we can see the ground realities. 2. AAP has already made announcement of six candidates in Delhi for ensuing Lok Sabha (LS) polls. SP & BSP, two big regional parties of Uttar Pradesh (UP) have already announced their pre-poll alliance for LS election. Hence, one does not have to be a political analyst to say that in the coming Lok Sabha election, there will be multi-cornered contests in many States. Thus, it will be anti-BJP, anti-Congress contests in Delhi, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra, Odisha, and perhaps a few more States too. 4. Question that arises then is this: who will be the beneficiary of division of votes which cannot be avoided when there are multi-cornered contests? It will be worth watching.

  8. Yogendra yadav proving once again that he is but a stooge of Congress. All his anti corruption drama with kejriwal was just to capture power. Even kejriwal could not cope up with him and he was thrown out of AAP. The ignoring of these self made arm chair experts by BJP has rattled their nerves as shown above.
    According to them unemployment would be zero and farmers suddenly prosperous once BJP govt goes. This shameless man even told that modi is using war to win elections, a line being popularly shown in Pak media. He is happy to see 40 crpf soldiers dying and countless murdered by Pak on border, but any response to such demonic behaviour wud be election propaganda according to him

  9. .With opposition parties joining hands to avert vote splitting , massive loss of votes in low caste votres and negativity associated with body bags of security personnel Modi is going to lose around 10% votes , that is around 21% from 31% in 2014. But he is going to gan votes of upper middle class 3-4 % making it a net loss of 5-6 % ands BJP votes at around 25-26%. NDA will be 100 or more short Don’t forget Winston Churchill had to face the wrath of the ‘ungrateful people’ after his famous victory.Modi is going to get jolt of his life should he think he will get away exploiting blood of the martyrs and miseries of the wives, mothers, sisters,children……

  10. Okay. All of Media is run by Congress and Communist supporters from Last 50-70 years.

    Initially they used Independence in the name of Gandhi and Nehru
    Later they used Socialism
    Later Garibi Hatavo
    Later Secularism name
    Now nothing.

    I think consider, why can I say I am Indian from Hindustan, I am always an opponent for Pakistan, and religious governments. Did any Pseudo secularists can show there is a country in the world which is totally democratic and secular in the middle east.
    What happened to Hindus in Pakistan when the country divided, why the Hindu population reduced in Pakistan.
    Can any Congress or Opposition Leader answer to my question?

    • Well said. Congress is just WORDS, WORDS and WORDS. Worse, under Raga’s able (?) lead, it is now, ONLY abuse, ridicule and mockery of Modi, every day and all the time. It is amazing that the party is convinced that this will lead their Raga to the PM’s chair, or even that they can IMPROVE upon the descent from 206 to 44. Pathetic !

  11. Pakistan has already gifted a win to the BJP. Going from here, regardless of whether Imran pursues a hostile policy or offers peace, it is only a WIN situation for Modi. The former will unite the voters towards him while the latter will gain him an advantage vis a vis Pakistan and the wimpish response of the UPA to Pakistan’s destabilising designs during all the ten years of the UPA and Manmohan Singh. .

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