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BJP's nationalism pitch is not without reason; shift in electoral discourse has buoyed ruling party's appeal over Opposition's

The BJP is buoyant that the principal electoral discourse for this parliamentary election is shifting to nationalism and decisive leadership issue. In an interview with Network 18 Group Editor Rahul Joshi at Agenda India 2019, party president Amit Shah questioned the objection being raised to that. "Every election in the country should be held on nationalism and people of the country should have a right to decide,” he said.

Over the years, through its aggressive campaign and assertive positioning on issues of national security, the BJP has positioned itself as a champion of nationalism — both political and cultural. It kept on talking about its "nation first" belief. In the last five years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also positioned himself as a leader who would go to any extent to safeguard national interest.

 BJPs nationalism pitch is not without reason; shift in electoral discourse has buoyed ruling partys appeal over Oppositions

BJP chief Amit Shah at a session with CNN-News18’s group editor Rahul Joshi at News18’s Agenda India session in New Delhi. News18

While the BJP with support from all constituents of RSS-led Sangh Parivar made a consistent pitch on nationalism, the Congress’ soft handling of national security and its quest to seek proof for two surgical strikes conducted by the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force at terror camps inside Pakistan territory appear to have ended up helping the ruling party shape the public opinion.

During the interview, Shah spoke at length on issues relating to nationalism and national security — surgical strike and air strike, newly acquired military capability in outer space, the morale of armed forces, preparedness of armed forces, the Modi government's policy to penetrate inside Pakistan territory to make a retaliatory strike at terror camps. He was also critical of Opposition leaders for raising views similar to that of Pakistani leaders on matters of security and strategic affairs. In his public rallies, Modi and Shah and devoted a great deal of time and energy on these issues.

Their essential thrust is to make give, what they call “nationalism ka tadka” on the developmental pitch of the Modi government.

Contesting the election on nationalism plank helps the BJP in multiple ways — first, it makes the parliamentary election a truly national election by over-riding factors such as caste and class divide. Second, a national election as opposed to an election like that of 2004 and 2009, which were largely aggregate of state elections, is beneficial to the BJP. It takes care of the party’s arithmetic concerns with regards to the 'mahagathbandhan (grand alliance)' or the 'gathbandhan' in electorally critical states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Third, it turns the Lok Sabha election into a personality-based election, which party and which leader with their track record under scrutiny are best placed to protect the national interest and fight with whosoever and wherever required. Modi as leader of BJP and as prime minister stands out against his rivals and prime ministerial aspirants from the Opposition camp such as Rahul Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee, Sharad Pawar, Chandrababu Naidu and Mayawati.

Shah is conscious of the fact that there has been a shift in popular mood after the Pulwama terror attack and retaliatory terror strike by the Indian Air Force in Balakot in Pakistan. Though he didn’t refer to it in terms of election and its outcome, the continued stress on national security and remark that “every election should be fought on nationalism” is indicative of his thought process. It is not without substantive reason that BJP strategist dwelt at length on the subject. It could be pure coincidence but Shiv Sena which had publicly vowed to contest the parliamentary elections separately and challenge Modi BJP reversed its position after the Pulwama attack and Balakot air strike. Sena chief Udhav Thackeray even travelled to Gandhinagar on Saturday to attend a public rally with Shah before the latter proceeded to file his nomination for the Lok Sabha election.

The BJP president claimed that his party is poised to make substantive gains — half the seats in West Bengal and Odisha — the two eastern states where the BJP was restricted to only three seats in the last parliamentary election. He is hoping for a tremendous surge in the BJP and its allies prospects in the North East, hoping to win over 20 out of 25 seats in the region.

The shift in electoral discourse to nationalism and Modi’s ability to turn a complex issue like security in outer space into an electoral issue has led the BJP to believe that its prospects wouldn’t be hurt in Uttar Pradesh, India's biggest state electorally. Shah claimed that the BJP and NDA numbers are going to go up from 73 to 74 out of total 80 seats and not go down to 72 from 73.

Rahul looking for a second seat in minority-dominated Wayanad in Kerala has only added spice to the electoral debate shaped by BJP.

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Updated Date: Apr 01, 2019 16:20:22 IST