India-Pakistan hostility relatively lower, parties may soon amp up campaign volume before Model Code of Conduct sets in

With a lull in the Indo-Pak stalemate, political parties now have very little time to operate within, with the 2019 general elections on schedule, and the model code of conduct (MCC) set to kick in late next week.

FP Staff March 01, 2019 14:05:00 IST
India-Pakistan hostility relatively lower, parties may soon amp up campaign volume before Model Code of Conduct sets in
  • Modi, as the face of both the government and conveniently the BJP, flagged off the Vande Bharat Express and announced projects at Jhansi on February 15

  • The 14 February attack on Pulwama, killing 42 Central Reserve Police Force soldiers, had jolted the campaign machinery of political parties immediately

  • Modi's conduct would not have been considered out of place had the situation with Pakistan not deteriorated so rapidly

One of the most repeated criticisms of Narendra Modi in the time since the Pulwama attacks, when tensions between India and Pakistan have risen enough to exclude every other concern, has been his presence at public meetings. In situations where heads of states are usually seen heading into closed door meetings, Modi stood on dais after dais, laying a foundation stone here, washing feet there and promising money elsewhere. Modi's conduct would not have been considered out of place had the situation with Pakistan not deteriorated so rapidly.

It is, after all, the 2019 general elections — the festival that looks to return to the agenda of political parties now that the situation between Pakistan and India looks to de-escalate with the return of captured Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman.

The 14 February attack on Pulwama, killing 42 Central Reserve Police Force soldiers, had jolted the campaign machinery of political parties into silence. While promises not to politicise the issue for political gains were soon broken, what failed to take off in the aftermath of back-to-back developments starting with the funerals of the soldiers, the Indian air strike on Balakot, the Pakistani strike in India and the capture of the Wing Commander, was the efforts of parties and governments to court voters.

IndiaPakistan hostility relatively lower parties may soon amp up campaign volume before Model Code of Conduct sets in

Prime Minister Narendra Modi washes the feet of safai karmacharis at Kumbh Mela. News18

Break from practice

A day after the Pulwama terror attack, reported The Economic Times, the government had decided that though political programmes should be suspended, development projects should not take a hit.

Modi, as the face of both the government and conveniently the BJP, flagged off the Vande Bharat Express and announced projects at Jhansi on 15 February, launched new projects or spoken at party functions at Pandharkawada and Dhule on 16 February, and at Barauni and Hazaribagh on 17 February. On 24 February, he launched the PM-KISAN programme, so that the first installment of the Rs 6,000 promised in the interim Budget could be paid to farmers.

He has also launched the Khelo India app, compared the 85 percent productivity of the 16th Lok Sabha with the eight percent productivity of the non-BJP majority Rajya Sabha, washed the feet of cleaners at Prayagraj, addressed BJP booth workers through the NaMo app and made a veiled reference to the Wing Commander's capture by saying he had taken up a "pilot project".

While some (like the Bharatiya Janata Party's Karnataka chief BS Yeddyurappa) would argue that the events itself offered enough political mileage to the ruling party, clearly missing has been the loudspeakers, exuberant promises and the atmosphere of festivities that political parties hope will result in a vote for them.

With the notable exceptions of Modi and to a diminished extent, Congress president Rahul Gandhi, most leaders have held off on making public displays of themselves and their political intent at this time. That the Indian is emotional at times when the country is threatened, especially by Pakistan, is a truth universally acknowledged. That this Indian will not be receptive to promises laden with election victory hopes is a truth the parties seemed to have grasped. Except that with a lull in the Indo-Pak stalemate finally here, they now have very little time to operate within, with the general elections on schedule, and the model code of conduct (MCC) set to kick in late next week.

Rush before Model Code of Conduct begins

The MCC is a set of guidelines issued by the Election Commission to regulate political parties and candidates prior to elections, to ensure free and fair polls. This is in keeping with Article 324 of the Constitution. It comes into force once the election dates are announced and stays in force till the results are announced, says PRS India. Added in 2013, these guidelines prohibit parties from making promises that exert an undue influence on voters, and suggest that manifestos also indicate the means to achieve promises.

IndiaPakistan hostility relatively lower parties may soon amp up campaign volume before Model Code of Conduct sets in

File image of Congress president Rahul Gandhi. Twitter@INCIndia

This week, therefore, promises to launch political participants into the blitzkrieg that election campaigns usually are. Modi himself will visit Visakhapatnam (to speak at the BJP's Praja Chaitanya Sabha) and Kanyakumari (to launch projects worth Rs 2,995 crore) on 1 March, the same day when Rahul will launch his party's poll campaign from Dhule and speak at multiple locations in Mumbai.

On 3 March, Modi will go to Rahul's home constituency in Amethi, and later to Patna to kick off the poll campaign of the BJP and Janata Dal (United) alliance at the Gandhi Maidan. On 4 March, Modi will lay the foundation stone of the metro rail services in his home turf of Ahmedabad.

In what was probably its penultimate meeting, the Union Cabinet and cabinet committee on economic affairs pushed over two dozen decisions, reported Times of India. There were fresh sops for the sugar sector with a "soft loan" to help clear arrears of farmers in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. The 19.3-km Dubri-Phulbari bridge is to be built at a cost of Rs 5,000 crore in Assam and Meghalaya.

Three Metro Rail corridors are to come up in Agra and Kanpur at an investment of over Rs 19,000 crore. Rs 1,299 crore was earmarked for an AIIMS at Manethi in Haryana.

Another key approval was reservation benefits to economically weaker sections and for promotion in government jobs to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in Jammu and Kashmir. The government had enacted a law last month to provide 10 percent reservation in jobs and education for the general category poor.

 Other parties too would look to make the most of the welcome de-escalation of India-Pakistan tensions. The time may have finally come for the rhetoric to shift from the one fuelled by anti-Pakistan nationalism right now.

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