There’s no doubt that the events of the last month – the terror attack in Pulwama on 14 February, India’s air strike in Balakot on 27 February, the capture of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman and his eventual release – have made Pakistan and terrorism key issues that have embroiled the Indian masses ahead of the elections.
Indian air force jets hit a training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), the militant group that claimed credit for a Feb. 14 suicide bombing attack that killed 40 CRPF jawans in Kashmir. The entire nation stood together with the martyr’s families, awaiting a response from the government.
After the airstrikes, they cherished the heroic deeds of our armed force with a notion that Prime Minister once again stood by his word to take revenge for the terror attack as happened after the Uri attack.
Within the next few months, India will witness what is called as the largest democratic exercise of the world. Political parties have raged open accusations and attacks against each other to garner votes in the general elections.
The reaction of the masses soon turned as a sign of surging support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi revealing that patriotism may be having a greater influence than concerns about low farm incomes and weak jobs growth.
The airstrikes will not only boost Modi’s campaign in the elections but also take the spotlight off economic issues for which the BJP has felt the heat in recent times.
This could be sensed when BJP lost a string of elections in Hindi heartland states late last year, after which opposition parties have attempted to form a coalition to take on Modi.
“I think this is going to boost the electoral prospects of the BJP because people are generally in a celebration mood, that the government has been able to teach a lesson to Pakistan,” said Sanjay Kumar, director of the CSDS think-tank and a leading pollster.
“A large proportion of voters who had started drifting away from the BJP would come back to the fold,” Kumar said. “This all goes to the advantage of the BJP.”
Not only among the masses, political parties too have drawn a similar line. Soon after the Pulwama attack, the BJP managed to seal its alliance with two key allies – Shiv Sena and Akali Dal – both of whom had threatened to snap ties with it in the recent past. After the Balakot airstrike, two smaller allies in Uttar Pradesh, Apna Dal and Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, who had partially backed down from their confrontation with the BJP.
Since the air strikes, the Prime Minister had repeatedly underscored the government’s hard line on terror at various political rallies and government functions. He has also ripped into the opposition over its allegations that BJP was using the Balakot air strikes to score political points, accusing it of failing to “serve the national interest” and questioning the armed forces.
For them, while the war against terrorists and their backers in the Pakistani state might be important in the immediate, medium and long terms concurrently, the more significant and urgent battle is the electoral one, just weeks away. Instead of one poll, like 2014, which was fought on the twin issues of anti-incumbency against the UPA regime and hope and aspirations that Modi generated, 2019 appears to be splitting up into multiple polls on issues of development, economy, manufacturing, unemployment, farm distress, limited delivery of promises, and above all, caste arithmetic.
The Hindi heartland did not hold good prospects for the BJP before the recent developments. There was no way it could have optimised its tally in Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh, not after losing the 2018 Assembly elections. In Bihar, the UPA was getting its act together under the leadership of Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Tejashwi Yadav.
In UP, the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party-Rashtriya Lok Dal coalition, shored up by the presence of smaller parties with spheres of strong, local influence, emerged as more than a challenger to the BJP that was weighed down with a double whammy. Apart from the formidable caste arithmetic that the alliance represented, the BJP was battling anti-incumbency against the Yogi Adityanath government
Political analysts reveal that the Indian Air Force strike at the Jaish-e Mohammad terror camp in Pakistan’s Balakot will now be officially a part of the BJP campaign. Amid a huge nationalistic fervour after the air strikes, the BJP has recalibrated its campaign strategy, centring it on nationalism. Its slogan would be “Modi hai toh mumkin hai (When Modi is around, everything is possible)”.