The Countdown to the General Elections 2009

Headed to vote? If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of those who’re following the election season closely, even if you’re uncertain that your vote might actually help. Let me warn you that this article in no way would clear the air around any political party. In fact, no debate or opinion poll ever will. You’d have to choose between the scorpion’s tail and the snake’s fangs. And if you’re one of those who believe neither would work- well, you have your swarm of jellyfish (read: Third and the ‘new’ Fourth Front) to choose from alright.


So if you’re watching the news or reading voraciously on the party bloopers and the mudslingers this season has to offer, you’re treading murky waters, my friend. Those of you who caught up with BJP/NDA’s prime ministerial candidate, L.K. Advani’s interview in the previous Outlook issue (March 23) would know how the man manages to keep you intrigued- “What is this guy?”… Most must’ve mused. For one, his party is associated with the dodgiest extremist outfits in the country. And here he admits to the party’s overconfidence in 2004, is glad it isn’t so this time, is repulsed with the idea of women being beaten up (reference: Mangalore Pubs) and finds the Pink Chaddi Campaign “obnoxious”. Advani’s absolute candidness and impeccable flow of thought makes you want to get up and listen. But why so?


The answer I believe is the key to what led Obama to the white house- ‘Transparency’.


He makes no bones about his ideology.
He doesn’t squirm when asked about the ‘Hindutva’.
We all know that Advani is the press’ pet. He is ever so willing and suave in his tête-à-têtes. So, when he invited congress leaders for a live debate, you knew it couldn’t get better than this. Speculations followed and we are still waiting for what it seems like a ‘dream debate’ to happen.


One must also not forget the flak Advani received on reigning over the web-world, what with all his blog entries and advertisements all over the net. Netizens are much too familiar with the banner flashing in front of them on some of the most popular websites. ‘Choose a leader who can take tough decisions in tough times: Advani for PM’.


But despite the flak and criticism for being too Obama-ish in his campaign strategy, I would give BJP’s campaign managers a perfect 10 for upgrading Advani’s and their own homepage. The website is not only neat and sorted- it is also power packed. The lay-out bowls you over and a disciplined and well maintained, not to mention, regularly updated homepage has you clicking it all over. The drop-downs list all that you’re looking for- including the party’s candidates for constituencies across the nation – a feature missing and hardly cared for on the congress’ webpage. BJP also scores with its additional eye-catching propagandas like the ‘Ladli Lakshan Yojana’ and a very much needed page having the highlights of its party manifesto. The Congress merely uploaded a pdf for your viewing discomfort.


Also popular on their websites are the advertisements both proudly provide hyperlinks for. Congress made a smart move by adopting the Slumdog Millionare chartbuster as their campaign theme song, under the guise of ‘mass appeal’. As expected, the BJP pounced on the first opportunity to downplay the Congress, and some may call it lack of invention, but the ‘Bhay Ho’ parody, not to mention the radio jingles that are a direct dig at UPA’s ‘misdoings’- are the talk of the town, owing to their sarcasm and in-you-face wit.


For the Congress’ part, the webpage is a dismal affair. Their manifesto is hardly glamorous and the campaign stars the Gandhi lineage, still standing ever so strong as the party’s USP. There is nothing overt about the party’s achievements. However, the principles and philosophies sure make themselves seen over and above what should have been a promising manifesto. As one drowsily browses through the absolutely drab hyperlinks, the information is contrite and much to your disappointment. The contents are all over the place- you’d hardly want to stick around.


But moving out of the virtual arena, are we really missing some crucial points here? The UPA is in doldrums at present- it looks shrunken after the many goodbyes from prominent allies. The NDA on the other hand has to deal with the numerous controversies- the Varun Gandhi hate speech being one of them and the Ram Temple promise and the Swiss account’s pockets- turned- out strategy being the central manifesto themes as the other. Where on one hand the BJP remained fickle to the hilt on its stand over Varun Gandhi’s speech for the longest time, it brought to surface the party’s infamous claim to fame- Religion driven politics. The ‘yes…no…maybe’ stand it took created much fodder for many leading media houses. Debates ensued and opinion polls reigned. Till date we see the labeled ‘poster-boy’ as the most popular choice among news pickers. The not uncommon ‘hate’ speech is given sudden prominence after kid-on-the block dared to play with fire. Whatever happened to thousands of such communal speeches gaining ground in vulnerable regions of the country? Think the Dharma Raksha Manch, Karnataka. Think Gujarat.


And though the perverse and twisted thought of ‘sympathy vote’ may have crossed the young Gandhi’s mind, it only revolts our sensibilities when Menaka Gandhi preaches Hinduism and a rather opportunist move made by Mayawati to gain the muslim vote irks us.


As Jagdish Tytler filed his nomination papers and was given clean chit by the CBI, there has been unrest among the Sikh community and we have the BJP cashing in here. The usual emphasis on the opposition’s failures had them narrate one more such failure-‘Congress should have removed his candidature’. And now that his candidature has been removed owing to a certain angry journalist, we see Tytler hinting at political enemies within his own party. But one can’t help but think with what face the BJP went on to make such a remark. If the party believed in the institution of clean- sleight politics at all, a Narendra Modi wouldn’t be flourishing in Gujarat at the moment.


Nevertheless, the party that subtly escapes the dynamics of divisional politics-i.e., the Congress party, need not gloat at the scrutiny Varun Gandhi is being subjected to at this time. A publicized statement by Priyanka Gandhi urging Varun to read the Gita might have made news- but equating Hinduism to ‘Indianness’ sure has become a fad. In fact, even Advani swears by that philosophy. The ideological differences here are almost blurred. The Congress party is under considerable criticism owing to lack of urgency shown in various downturns in the country. Economy, price and failure to eventually lend the helping hand to the ‘aam-aadmi’ make the party rather vulnerable to swayed votes.


I’d like to point out two major agendas on the BJP manifesto which should compel every voter to follow-up if this party comes to power. Acknowledging some of the poignant threats to the environment and prioritizing the curbing of global warming sure makes their manifesto attractive. But is it really on their cards? Secondly, isn’t it interesting and shocking at the same time that the voter according to popular surveys, doesn’t much care about the Terror quotient? And even though the NDA slams the UPA for acting rather callously during terror attacks, it would be interesting to see with what stringency the NDA would react to any such incident. Will the Intelligence be in a better place with their coming to power? And no, we’re not falling for the ‘revised’ POTA that they speak of.


Amidst the shoe-throwing, ‘Hate’ speeches, war- of- words and every party president’s desire to be the next PM- what is missing is the addressing of some of the most pressing issues our times. Our law and order is in shambles- considering ’84 riots which killed more than 3000 has not a single convicted person in record- the state of security in the country is dismal- a priority issue which ensures our citizens feel safe- and the global recession needs immediate attention. Are we seeing the same of cards being played by our political parties yet again? Only time, and the verdict, will tell us how influential these divisional cards are on the average voter.


Ankita Kanwar

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