(This article first appeared on DailyO)
The campaign for the 2019 General Election is in full swing. It is the time when political leaders have hit poll trails, party offices are buzzing, and the news is full of who said what, where and when. In this milieu, it is easy to forget the larger picture — that the 2019 election is not a battle of seats or candidates or sops or data.
It is a battle of narratives and ideas.
Modi is the agenda
When Narendra Modi took the Prime Minister’s seat five years ago, the nation had voted decidedly against corruption and for a development model. In 2019, to my mind, Modi has come to represent a decisive, far-sighted and clean government that is willing to take chances for long-term goals and refuses to give in to pressure tactics.
There is one side which opposes Modi in every possible sense and claims that Narendra Modi is not good for the country. On the other hand, there is the group which thinks that his personal integrity is untarnished and he has successfully pushed the development agenda while identifying constantly with the common people.
To understand this phenomenon, one has to look at the last few years.
A new era
When the opposition used the last five years to stall Parliamentary proceedings, indulge in gimmicks and mudslinging, trying, as I see it, to create an environment of fear and stand against the Indian government at international fora, Modi used the time to push forward his development agenda.
He showed the grit to implement many new schemes and programmes that previous governments had been shying away from due to expected short-term ramifications. He pushed difficult targets like cleanliness, electrification, health, entrepreneurship and the revival of farming while keeping in mind the requirement of segments like youth, women, the marginalised, differently abled and the elderly. His approach, from sports to education, health to housing and business to external affairs, encompassed a decisive policy shift in terms of deliverables, timelines and responsiveness. His robust approach to defence — and fearless handling of Pakistan-infused troubles — was a corollary to this style of functioning.
Importantly, the last five years under Modi also saw a surge of the idea of cultural nationalism. With the PM leading International Yoga Day, promoting brand India with campaigns like ‘Make in India’, and alluding to an array of forgotten Indian heroes, from Rani Gaidiliu to Sant Ravidas, the pride in our country’s centuries-old cultural heritage received a fillip.
Contrary to the ‘conservative’ fears persistently raised by the opposition, it was Modi’s government that decriminalised homosexuality, passed the death penalty in rape cases and even introduced the bill to outlaw triple talaq.
The work done by the government in the last five years has set new standards in terms of scale, reach and vision. While there is still a long way to go, it is important to remember that the approach of the government has not been aimed at appeasing voting segments. Earlier governments, for example, failed to tackle the farm crisis and resorted to announcing sops for farmers close to election time to pacify them — Modi took the challenge head-on by addressing issues such as soil health, crop insurance, micro irrigation, streamlining of agricultural markets and revival of ancillary farm activities to increase incomes besides announcing 150% minimum support price (MSP).
Role of thought leaders
It is easy to lose sight of these achievements when the opposition parties — and their extended army of armchair intellectuals — unleash a vitriolic attack and use words, numbers and names to obfuscate the discourse and confuse the voters.
From 'intolerance' to 'Award Wapsi', beef ban to Rohith Vemula — the opposition has adopted a consistent ‘shoot-and-scoot’ policy. Incidents are cherry-picked to flag key words like ‘anti-minority’, ‘anti-Dalit’ or ‘anti-women’ for a government that gave adequate representation to members of minority communities, had maximum numbers of MLAs and MPs from the SC, ST and OBC communities, cleared backlog entry for marginalised sections and made women the centre of all policy formulations.
By constantly raising one issue and moving rapidly onto the next, the opposition attempts to instil a feeling of doubt and instability among people who believe in their Prime Minister. The idea is to not discuss anything but to create a muddle of several unrelated things.
At this stage, the role of intellectuals, opinion makers and thinkers — who believe in Modi’s idea of a new India — becomes important.
With Modi setting a clear growth agenda for the country in the last five years, it becomes the responsibility of thought leaders to ensure that his message and vision reaches everyone, without getting lost in the din created by detractors.
As part of one such effort, academics, intellectuals and thought leaders have come together under the campaign #Academics4NaMo to counter propaganda, create a positive environment and spread the word about the achievements of the Modi government. It is incumbent on groups like this to explain to the electorate the importance of this election and how it can decide the direction and pace of the country.
A number of people are sceptical of efforts like #Academics4NaMo. However, it is important to understand that if academics and opinion makers can oppose a government, then it is also their responsibility to extend support if they believe that the government has done a good job.
In fact, the opposition has often been caught using ‘neutral’ academics to peddle their propaganda as ‘expert opinion’ and ‘reliable views’. In this light, intellectuals who support Narendra Modi’s idea of India must step up not only to give a new shape to the discourse but also to do justice to the debate.
The battle of 2019 is the battle between two narratives.
On one side is the gloom-and-doom end-of-days narrative of the opposition which takes you towards the politics of dynasts, corruption, instability and appeasement — on the other side stands the ‘new India’ of Narendra Modi where everyone is a partner in growth.
#Academics4Namo was formed to bring out this difference.