India’s political parties have developed a formula for effective election campaigning where the 2 Ps- Pakistan and polarization remain constant.
“Former director general of Pakistan army Arshad Rafiq has insisted that Ahmed Patel should be made the chief minister of Gujarat. Former army director general intervenes in Gujarat election. They held meeting with Pakistanis at Mani Shankar‘s house,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he addressed a rally in the run-up to Gujarat Assembly elections.
“Do you want a government that worships Tipu Sultan or the one that worships Lord Hanuman?” asked UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to a packed crowd during campaigning for Karnataka Assembly election. If we go a little back in the time, we may recall PM Modi’s controversial statement during the campaigning for UP assembly election, “If Kabristans can be constructed, then Shamashans too should be built.” Go farther back in history and we may find such countless references in the election speeches.
Noam Chomsky, a renowned cognitive scientist had observed, “The key element of social control is the strategy of distraction that is to divert public attention from important issues and changes decided by economic and political elites through the technique of flood or flooding continuous distractions and insignificant information.” Scan through the pages of the electoral history of most of the democratic countries around the world and you will find the observation to be accurate. India too is no exception to it.
In India, the 2 P’s fuel the election campaigning of political parties- Pakistan and Polarisation. For a long period of time, our political parties have been trying to master the narrative around these 2 Ps and build a rhetoric. No election campaigning is complete without the reference to Pakistan and communal/casteist polarization. Our political parties have developed a formula for effective election campaigning where the 2 Ps- Pakistan and polarization remain constant.
However, the variables may change depending upon whether it is a National election or Assembly election. Look no far than recently concluded Karnataka Assembly Elections. While BJP cleverly used religious polarisation on one hand and army, Kannada pride as a variable on the other. Similarly, Congress used casteist polarization with Siddharamaiah’s Ahinda card and Hindi imposition, South vs North divide as variables. These variables can be put on the back burner as and when needed.
But the 2 Ps work as both oxygen and distraction. While Pakistan and polarization keep the political parties alive and relevant, it also proves to be a great distraction from real issues that concern the common Indian citizen. After all, talking about Pakistan and polarization gets you more eyeball than talking about traffic woes, poor infrastructure, lagging economic reforms, health care or farmers’ issues ever can. The formula is further perpetuated and sheltered by the hyped coverage. The most recent example is Shashi Tharoor’s “Hindu Pakistan” comment. To bring the score to equal, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman took the charge from BJP’s side. In a press conference, she attacked the Congress calling it “Anti-Hindu” on the basis of a news report that claimed the Congress President Rahul Gandhi said that “Congress is a Muslim Party”. However, BJP took a lead today with Amit Shah claiming that Ayodhya temple construction will start before 2019.
That leaves us with a question, why the 2 Ps-Pakistan and polarization work in India? The answer is hidden in both Political and cultural history. Throughout the medieval period most of the present day Indian land was captured by foreign powers including Mughals and British. The horrendous atrocities were unleashed upon the Indian (predominantly Hindu) people by them.
Though we got freedom from all foreign powers in 1947 and established a democratic country with equal rights to every citizen, the political class has not let the ghost of the traumatic past fade. On the other hand, our bitter relation with Pakistan after partition and the prolonged Kashmir issue has also been at the center of dislike and hatred towards Pakistan. The frequent Ceasefire violations and terrorist attacks sponsored from across the border keep the wounds fresh. Our political leaders do not miss any chance to exploit these events for their political gains. These elements are imbibed in India’s diaspora which provides as an undercurrent for the Pakistan and polarisation to work without fail in every election.
Come 2019, undoubtedly, we will witness again Pakistan and Polarisation formula, rather more intensively but the groundwork for the same has begun already.