India is gearing up for the Lok Sabha elections in April-May. With around 900 million eligible voters, this will be the biggest democratic exercise in human history. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with its partners in the National Democratic Alliance is set to make the elections ‘Presidential’, projecting Narendra Modi as a strong and decisive leader that India needs, particularly in the urban areas and northern states with international border. It will highlight India’s response after the terrorist attack in Pulwama on the CRPF convoy.

BJP will stress on the point that even though Indian armed forces had the capability to give a fitting response to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, it was possible because of a strong and stable government. BJP would also like to highlight more than 7% GDP growth rate, steep rise in India’s ranking in the ease of doing business—from 142 in 2014 to 77 in 2018.

BJP will also point out that there no serious allegations of corruption against the government. At the same time, it will project the pro-poor image of PM Modi, who came to politics from a humble background highlighting the impressive work this government has done in rural electrification, gas connections, building toilets, opening record number of bank accounts and direct benefits transfer.

BJP will emphasize that the opposition unity is an alliance of convenience and has a single-point agenda, i.e. to oust Modi. BJP is mocking mahagathbandhan with names like “Maha Thug Bandhan" as well as “Maha Milawat".

As the Supreme Court of India has ordered a mediation into the Ram Janmabhoomi issue, the matter is unlikely to figure in the first few phases of the elections. If the meditation process fails, as it looks likely, the issue will surface in the last phases of the elections, especially in Uttar Pradesh and other parts of the Hindi heartland.

Rahul Gandhi, who is spearheading the opposition attack against the BJP, has made the alleged corruption in the Rafale deal as his single-point agenda. By pointing out the grey areas in the deal, Rahul is trying to establish the culpability of PM Modi. Rahul who came up with the slogan ‘Suit Boot Ki Sarkar’, which forced the government to change its position on fast-tracking the economic reforms, is trying hard that “Desh Ka Chowkidar Hi Chor Hai" will become a key electoral issue. Joining him, the other opposition parties are raising doubts over claims made by BJP president Amit Shah and other leaders on the death toll in the surgical strikes on the Jaish-e-Mohammed training camp in Balakot. Leaders like Raj Thackeray are alleging that the Pulwama attack and the surgical strikes were orchestrated for electoral benefit and we may see the next round during the polls.

The opposition is also highlighting that the government has failed to keep the tall promises and bring “Acche Din" that Modi promised in the last election campaign. Few new jobs have been created, important industries like real estate, textiles, and gems and jewellery are severely hit by demonetization and goods and services tax (GST). Agriculture distress and the high number of farmers’ suicides are also important opposition issues. BJP will try to woo Muslim women and other minority groups by making the ordinance which banned triple talaq as a poll issue. The opposition parties will try to project BJP as a majoritarian party, which has failed to protect Scheduled Caste and Muslims.

These elections will be special because the number of internet users has doubled in India in the last five years. Today, India has become the world’s largest data consumer. Campaign and advertising in social media, peddling fake news and trolling have become strategic tools of leading political parties. Even though it is difficult to measure the impact of mediums like WhatsApp accurately, one can say that political communication is increasingly becoming more local, in languages and context. It will be a mistake to undermine the role of social media on electoral issues and the outcome.

*Anay Joglekar is a Mumbai-based political and foreign policy analyst and columnist for Marathi newspapers. 

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