New Delhi: On a recent tour of Uttar Pradesh (UP), Prime Minister Narendra Modi probably inadvertently (or purposely) gave away the possible election slogan “Modi Hai to Mumkin Hai", when he highlighted his decisive action against terrorists in Pakistan after the Pulwama attack, besides other achievements of his government.
The slogan was repeated a number of times by UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath at an event in Greater Noida on 9 March. Now that the election dates have been announced by the Election Commission, all government advertising, which had thus far used the tagline "Namumkin Ab Mumkin Hai", will cease.
It is now time for the political campaign battle to begin.
“The Modi Namumkin-Mumkin report card blitz of the past weeks has got almost every ministry to do a recount of achievements and milestones. Tonnes of money has been spent on that entire effort, though technically it is a Government of India campaign and not the BJP’s (Bharatiya Janata Party’s). But Modi will now have to focus…choose one or two most important issues that may eventually swing the votes," said Sandeep Goyal, an advertising and media veteran.
It is likely that the BJP may integrate both the “jai jawan" and “jai kisaan" themes in its communications to the voters—underscoring the recent largesse to the farmers in the 1 February interim budget, as well as celebrating the soldier after the recent Balakot air strike. “National security and his ability to be a decisive leader is surely a strong theme after Uri, Pulwama and Balakot. The farmer theme though is not as strong…during his regime, a lot may have been done, but on-ground, the feedback is not all positive."
Goyal said nationalism could be a big poll theme this year and Uri, the movie, had set the tone. “The happenings at Pulwama and the retaliation at Balakot will surely be a big part of the Modi narrative in the elections. Nationalism is a big stroke. National pride is an even bigger stimulus."
Unfortunately, nationalism in the garb of patriotism has become mainstream over the past five years, said advertising expert Sanjay Sarma, founder of SSarma Consults, a boutique branding and communications advisory. “That’s been one of the biggest achievements of this government. Since it has worked for them, I would imagine it to be the fabric that would hold their entire campaign together. While the BJP has always been about ‘nation first’, this time I see them pushing the envelope to propagate the 'us versus them' or 'national versus anti-national' theory in the voter’s mind."
That is not all. The Modi government will most likely play up some of its achievements and highlight various schemes which have been announced over the past five years, and buy more time from voters to ensure their effective implementation. “That could be the primary plank to ask people to vote them in again. Secondly, in the absence of any strong opposition within or outside, Mr. Modi’s personality and leadership may be played up again. There is still a large population of Modi fans in this country, though not as high as 2014," Sarma said.
Goyal said Modi has already been played up in the government ads. “His entire Namumkin-Mumkin campaign showed just his picture in every ad. All his cabinet colleagues helming the ministries were conspicuous by their absence. So, Modi has turned the election into Modi versus the rest."
He, however, said that more than causes or issues, Modi needs a winning slogan—something catchy and buzzy to project him as a pre-eminent leader of choice.
Sarma, on the other hand, said the government could talk about several achievements, especially welfare schemes like health, electrification, LPG, Swachh Bharat and housing subsidies. “They are action-oriented, on-ground missions and not mere schemes to round trip government funds and benefit a few middlemen."
Although the Congress party has yet to offer any hint of its possible messaging to the electorate, experts say it should focus on three important issues: jobs, farmers’ distress and the Rafale fighter jet deal. “All three are strong themes and easy to relate to, especially, the first two," said Goyal.
To be sure, although the Congress has the government on the back foot on Rafale deal, that itself cannot be an election issue.
“For it to have an impact, it has to develop a larger narrative around corruption or national security. But a fight against corruption wouldn’t auger well for the Congress, given the perception around its own party," said Sarma.
However, he said there was more ammunition that the Congress could use against the Modi government, such as intolerance, lack of jobs, weak foreign policy and regional instability, besides peddling fake narratives and failures in the Kashmir policy, among others.
“Purely from a campaign perspective, I believe Congress should counter aggression with aggression. They need to infuse more energy and get into a frontal attack mode, to somewhat swing the anti-incumbency factor in their favour. But they are a very distant second at this point. Strategising like the Congress won’t help them in these elections. They need help to think and act like the BJP, to counter BJP."