Emotional issues have always played a key role in elections in India. The origin and growth of the Dravidian political parties are closely linked to the emotions over linguistic nationalism. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) rise in national politics would not have been possible so fast if the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was not there. M.G. Ramachandran in Tamil Nadu and N.T. Rama Rao in Andhra Pradesh still live in the hearts of the people there because their politics had a tint of emotion. The sympathy wave in the aftermath of the assassinations of former Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi helped the Congress party win general elections in 1985 and 1991.
However, in the last decade, issues related to development and people’s welfare have won parties elections. It was a developmental agenda and a focus on the rural sector that brought the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) back to power in 2009. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) governments in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have beaten the anti-incumbency factor with the same agenda. While giving outside support to the UPA, the Left parties, particularly the CPI-M, used to claim credit for debates on non-emotive issues.
Though the ongoing debates on the Lok Pal, foreign direct investment in retail etc are attracting a lot of attention, emotive issues are making a comeback.
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati’s hurried move to split her state into Paschim Pradesh, Awadh Pradesh, Purvanchal and Bundelkhand was obviously with an intention to play with voter sentiments. By passing the resolution in the state assembly, Mayawati played a master stroke that has caught the Congress, the Samajwadi Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party unawares. She has also tried to push the other burning issues in the state -- law and order, farmers’ struggles against land acquisition and corruption -- to the back burner.
A file photo of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati.
Surprisingly, emotional issues have cropped up in Kerala where, unlike neighbouring states, politics and elections were always fought on ideological and social issues. An allegedly fragile 116-year-old brimming dam, which has been a bone of contention between Kerala and Tamil Nadu for years, has become an explosive and sensitive political issue in the state.
If the panic created by a controversial movie – Dam 999 directed by a Keralite, which is running in 49 theatres across the state – was not enough, the state’s irrigation minister’s repeated appearance on Kerala’s numerous Malayalam television channels cautioning people about the alarming situation, has created a fear psychosis among the people. While Tamil Nadu wants to increase the water level in the Mullaperiyar dam, Kerala has been insisting that it be reduced from the current 136 feet to 120 feet. Kerala wants the ”unsafe” dam to be decommissioned. Kerala is willing to construct a new dam for supplying water to Tamil Nadu, which is opposing it because it fears losing control over the functioning of the new dam. The controversial dam is in Kerala and its sole purpose is irrigation of five districts in Tamil Nadu under a lease deed valid for 999(!) years.
Even those politicians who realize the situation has become uncontrollable are helpless, but to join the bandwagon as the issue has taken a political colour in the wake of the forthcoming by-election in Piravom assembly constituency. Winning the Piravom seat is crucial for the ruling United Democratic Front as it would stabilise the government, which has a razor-thin majority in the 140 member assembly. With the news channels and the newspapers coming out with alarming strories, politicians have been forced to dive into the emotional waters.