Lessons for Congress in political diction of BJP - Hindustan Times

Lessons for Congress in political diction of BJP

Dec 04, 2023 03:18 AM IST

How will these results influence the 2024 elections? It will compel the Congress to rethink its strategies and diction of politics, especially in the Hindi Belt

The impressive victory of the BJP in three Hindi patti (belt) states — Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan — is not a mere electoral victory. It contains various implicit and explicit messages about the present and future of Indian politics. The BJP’s victories show that the party commands huge popular support in northern India. How did the party manage to build such a deep connection with voters in the Hindi patti? What is the big message emerging from these results, especially about the people’s trust in the BJP?

Congress workers celebrate early leads for their party in Telangana state elections in Hyderabad.(AP) PREMIUM
Congress workers celebrate early leads for their party in Telangana state elections in Hyderabad.(AP)

These elections were organised on two central narratives: First, the political narrative of social welfare, and second, a caste census-centric politics of reservations. The politics of welfare measures was pursued by both the main contenders, the BJP and Congress. The BJP, through its well-planned election campaign, propagated the benefits of double-engine sarkar, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre and a BJP-led government in states such as Madhya Pradesh. Social welfare programmes by the Modi government were highlighted in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.

The Congress and the BJP have evolved their own set of beneficiaries (labharthis). But the Congress has yet to create political and organisational connections with its beneficiaries. However, the BJP organised its beneficiaries into a community — labharthi samuday — and established a close connection with them. The BJP did this by engaging with them by deploying a vocabulary of family terms such as mama (uncle), and ladli behna (dear sister). Party workers started celebrating festivals such as Holi, Diwali, and Raksha Bandhan with the beneficiaries of various schemes. On its part, the Congress delivered schemes to needy people but could not create any long-term emotional connection with them. The manas (mind) of the Hindi patti stays evidently connected with a party that offers social support with dignity and an emotional connection. The BJP’s political diction frames economic issues and development within the framework of cultural and social emotions that resonate at the grassroots.

Secondly, trust matters a lot for the rural public in rural India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has created a huge trust capital for his politics among the people by assuring them of developmental, religious, and cultural security. In these elections too, Modi took the risk of making himself the face of the campaign and assuring voters that “I am here and I will work for you”. If the BJP had not succeeded in these three states, it could have affected Modi’s image.

Third, Hindutva, now the common sense of a majority of the public in the Hindi belt states, provides an aadhaar bhava (foundational emotion) on which the BJP builds and renews its politics. In Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the BJP was helped at the grassroots by supportive mobilisational tools, for instance, on the issue of sanatana dharma. Many sadhus of sanatana dharma such as Ram Bhadracharya projected this election as a war between dharma and adharma. In his meeting in Chhindwara, the constituency of Congress CM face Kamal Nath, Ram Bhadracharya appealed to the public to support the party that protects their dharma. At their conferences and pravachans, these sadhus quoted Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader Udhayanidhi Stalin’s remarks on sanatana dharma and projected the Congress as a supporter of Stalin’s party and hence, a sanatana virodhi. This campaign on sanatana dharma emerged as a public narrative that influenced voters in the belt stretching from Chitrakoot in Madhya Pradesh to Bastar in Chhattisgarh. It had an impact even among the tribals and Dalits in MP, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan.

The Congress heavily relied on the demand for a caste census to mobilise voters from Other Backward Classes (OBC) on their caste identities. The strategy failed utterly in this election. Caste continues to be influential in Hindi belt states, but the Congress has failed to understand that the mood has changed. This is an era of multiple aspirations. Caste mobility is just one aspiration. The electorate also asks the following question: ‘What after caste identity?’ The Congress also has not accepted the fact that the BJP is no longer a Brahman-Bania party; it has OBCs in its leadership. So, a cohesive mobilisation of OBC castes against the BJP by invoking the question of caste census is almost impossible.

How are these election results likely to influence the 2024 general elections? It will compel the Congress to rethink its strategies and diction of politics, especially in the Hindi belt. It will also impact the processes, negotiations, claims, and counterclaims for seats and prominence in the Opposition alliance, INDIA, though the Congress is likely to remain its pivot. The results have strengthened the image of Prime Minister Modi, which will undoubtedly create a positive electoral impact for the BJP.

Badri Narayan is professor, Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad. The views expressed are personal

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