Nothing works like threats. Didn’t somebody say something like that, in some movie? Well, life’s imitating art out here in Election-land.
Election season gets the worse out in Indian politicians (actually, it could be any politician but my knowledge is limited to desi chaps). #Elections2014 are no different. There are no issues, campaigns are bereft of ideas and stump speeches are usually full of invectives and expletives. The manifestos are photocopies of each other, the candidates selected by the two central parties feature the usual rogues’ gallery. They draw their support from smaller parties that wear mendacity on their sleeves.
It is, therefore, not unusual that most parties have resorted to threatening voters. The message is short, dire and bone-chilling. Every political party is doing it. Complaints are pouring into the Election Commission. Here are just a few examples.
Sharad Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar has embarrassed his uncle’s Nationalist Congress Party by trying to browbeat voters from a West Maharashtra village into voting for his cousin Supriya Sule. The alternative: we’ll cut off water supply to the village. Can he deliver on the threat? He is Maharashtra’s deputy chief minister, as well as minister for water resources. He has the habit of putting his foot squarely where he shouldn’t: once, when faced with complains of water shortage, he retorted by asking whether he should pee into the dams if there was no water in them. He obviously denies ever having made any of these statements.
Bhartiya Janata Party’s far right, feeling somewhat neglected and forlorn, has started asserting itself. One obscure chap from Bihar — Giriraj Singh — recently trotted out the old chestnut again: he exhorted all those opposing BJP’s PM candidate Narendra Modi to migrate to Pakistan. The BJP leadership seemed a bit red-faced, but Giriraj remained unrepentant.
And then, as if in a competition to better that, leader of Vishwa Hindu Parishad — a BJP compatriot party — Pravin Togadia suddenly roared on Sunday that people belonging to minority denominations should be evicted from residential areas populated by the majority.
Actually, both Giriraj Singh and Pravin Togadia seem to be acting out a common strategy — shepherding back the potential far-right elements who had probably started drifting during the past few weeks. It is possible that Modi’s narrative (as well as BJP’s under Rajnath Singh) had shifted from hard-core Hindutva to a slightly more ameliorative tone. Those occupying the centre and the left might not have noticed the change, but for those dreaming of a khaki-coloured future regime this might be palpably disturbing.
Threats — subliminal or even overt — are common during elections. The Congress used it to great effect during the 1984 general elections. Advertising agency Rediffusion used a subtle (and not-so-subtle) communications campaign to plant horrific images of violence and terror in the voter subconscious.
So, which threat is more effective? The answer, my friends, will be known on May 16, 2014.