Challenges for the Two National Parties Ahead of the 2019 Elections

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Both the national parties, Congress and the BJP, have moved beyond what they stood for in their ‘original form’ of course but we need a leader that can represent the traditional politics with new-age charisma. Is there a good regional leader that can prove all of that, asks Navodita, our Associate Editor, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.

Forthcoming elections in eight states are going to be the litmus test for both parties and their allies. While Rahul Gandhi has to an extent proved his mettle at the Gujarat election by getting rid of the ‘Pappu’ tag and proving his critics wrong, at least in partially building his team and his leadership within the media. The BJP has to prove it can do well in the south and consolidate its position in the northeast, too, with the regional parties there. Both the national parties have moved beyond what they stood for in their ‘original form’ of course but we need a leader that can represent the traditional politics with new-age charisma. Is there a good regional leader that can prove all of that?

Political equations in Karnataka 

Six months ago in BJP tried to play the communal card falling back on its saffron agenda- December witnessed a flurry of political activity with party leaders and affiliated Sangh Parivar activists pushing the Hindutva narrative in Uttara (north) Karnataka, Chikkamagaluru, and Mysuru. In the first week of December, riot police were forced to lathi charge Hindutva activists who turned unruly at the Datta Peetha-Baba Budan Dargah, a pilgrimage site for both Hindus and Muslims. In Hunsur, the same day, police arrested the BJP’s Mysuru MP Prathap Sinha for violating security restrictions around the Hanuma (Hanuman) Jayanthi celebrations. Tension also mounted around the death of a BJP MP under mysterious circumstances in December. Amidst all the trouble, UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s aggressive speech in Hubballi attacking chief minister Siddaramaiah for supporting beef consumption and staging celebrations for Tipu Sultan’s birth anniversary, only made things worse. At the same time, the state unit chief, B.S. Yeddyurappa’s Nava Karnataka Nirman Parivarthana Yatra campaign failed to gather any significant impact – and MoS for skill development and entrepreneurship Ananth Kumar Hegde is emerging as the new face Karnataka is projecting. Hegde thundered, “The Congress will be rooted out of Karnataka. People are fed up.” He described the youth’s death as Congress-sponsored terrorism.

Wise to the saffron party’s machinations, the ruling Congress is countering the BJP’s Hindutva narrative by showcasing the development achieved by the government. On a month-long campaign, Siddaramaiah has described the BJP programme as ‘empty religious rhetoric’. Eyeing a second-term, the CM told the media, “The people of Karnataka are aware of the actual issues. They want the BJP to talk about the Centre’s anti-poor, anti-farmer policies. The BJP has forgotten that Karnataka has been at the forefront in the nation in attracting investments.” Rahul Gandhi at the same time is working hard to turn things around which have sent ripples within the BJP.

Battleground 2019

While the BJP started its various schemes like the GST, demonetisation, Ujala (LED bulbs and good lighting), Saubhagya (reaching out to millions with power in rural and semi-urban areas), and the Congress fanned rising sentiment in support of the Jat reservation by Patidars in Rajasthan and Haryana. The issues remain much the same- caste factor and upliftment of the backward communities in a few areas while religion in a few others. At some level, the agendas take us back to the era of the past even in the 1980s when issues largely remained the same- caste, reservation, religion and ‘vote bank’. However, at this juncture, it becomes important not just to have ‘opinion leaders’ who engage the audiences and citizens and educate them about the agendas of various political parties but also the role of ‘opinion leaders’ in a social milieu is significant. 

The citizens and the youth need to be made aware of the growing hazards and the downside of such large political movements which demand reservation or incite the youth to resort to violence if certain demands are not met. Social movements are required to educate people about using their skills in more constructive ways instead of flowing with leaders that just play the mantra of ‘demand and rule’. There are better ways to make demands to the government. There are more constitutional and ‘peaceful’ ways of demanding equal rights or equal representation which is at par with the upper castes. Such energies should be used more constructively in other pursuits like development, etc. 

Rahul Gandhi as the emerging leader, on the other hand, is now turning from ‘the reluctant prince’ to a more willing leader addressing university campus students abroad and in India, tweeting in a mature way in support of or against the current government, talking about the marginalised sections of society. He realized that idealism must come together with pragmatism. So what if he is not as well-read as another great scion of his family, Jawaharlal Nehru or not a hardcore socialist like his grandmother, Indira Gandhi. His conversation now more than ever revolves around jobs, price rise, and economic growth. He has combined his socialist ideas in tune with the expanding economy and market-driven agendas, talking at the same time about investment, etc. 

What will battleground Karnataka look like? Will the Congress be able to retain the chief ministerial position? Will the issue of development remain at the forefront or will other issues of caste and communalism also flare up their heads? As we find answers to these questions, we can for now watch the political debate unfold as we get closer to the elections.

©Navodita Pande

Photos from the Internet

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