For all practical purposes, the 2019 election season has begun. This is because the ‘semi-finals’ underway for five state assemblies have raised the political temperature. This means the electorate will have to suffer an agonisingly long campaign that will test its patience and good humour. The politicians are going to press every button to see what receives a response from the electorate. For the opposition it is Rafale, Nirav Modi, gau rakshaks, ‘Brahmin Patriarchy’, ‘neech’, ‘non-Brahmin’, ‘tea-seller’, ‘intolerance’, etc., while the ruling BJP will drum up the Modi persona and development, and experiment with ‘saffron’ issues, of which the latest is the Ramjanmabhoomi temple. If the people are smart, they will respond in a manner that straightens out the narrative, otherwise people will have to basically shut themselves off from all the media cacophony if they wish to preserve their sanity.
Every one of these triggers is bound to have some responders, but if the message is effectively packaged, the politicians can be brought back on track. Mere exhortations to abide by political conventions will not do. The two major parties have developed somewhat sophisticated instrumentalities to gauge feedback from social media, which reflects a significant section of the population, particularly the young. (This is why interference by foreign countries and other organisations through fake news and false accounts has become a hot issue, worldwide.) However, this does not reflect the complete picture and people at the grassroots also need to be heard.
Ways such as the all-of-a-sudden temple push by BJP’s affiliates, as well as Left inspired ‘marches’ of farmers and Dalit protests, are attempts to develop a narrative that people might believe in and get stampeded into a certain direction. However, it is also an undeniable fact that the Indian electorate is much matured and exercises relatively independent judgement. ‘Other’ factors like caste, community, local leadership, also have a role to play in determining election results. When looked at from this point of view, all the parties will be looking carefully as to how the ‘semi-finals’ pan out, particularly where there is no underlying wave such as overwhelming anti-incumbency. It would help if there was some honest reporting by the media, but it is easy to anticipate the content by simply reading the name of the author.
There is also a limit to how much the assembly results will indicate the trends for 2019. Even so, these will throw up some workable data for the parties to determine their future electoral pitch. Hopefully, it will direct them towards less of rhetoric and more of substance.