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Opinion: 10 things that are different about this election

  • This year’s General Election is very different from the one five years ago
  • If 2014 was a vote against corruption, 2019 could become a vote on the Idea of India

The equation between Nitish Kumar (right) and Narendra Modi has changed since the last general election.
The equation between Nitish Kumar (right) and Narendra Modi has changed since the last general election. (PTI)

J. Jayalalithaa was alive. She began her poll campaign in Kancheepuram by saying that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was anti-people and was ignoring the Armed Forces. She said the Congress was restricting defence funds, a criticism that many opposition leaders have levelled against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) five years later. Back then Trinamool’s Mamata Banerjee declared she was ready to accept Jayalalithaa as prime minister. The two women had a phone conversation the day after Jayalalithaa’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Left broke their alliance. Wonder who Banerjee is bonding with this time?

Jayalalithaa’s rival and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) supremo M. Karunanidhi was also alive then and opted to field Dayanidhi Maran, A. Raja and T.R. Baalu, all former Union ministers accused of corruption. N.R. Elango, a young lawyer who had argued many cases against Jayalalithaa, also contested on a DMK ticket. Back then Karunanidhi’s son M.K. Stalin—now the president of the DMK—said the DMK-led poll alliance would win all 40 seats in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. The party lost the 35 seats it contested.

“Pappu” and “Feku”, the pejoratives coined by their opposition teams to describe political rivals Gandhi and Modi, respectively, and used widely during and after 2014, are not so visible any more. “Pappu” has outgrown this tag, even using it to his advantage in a powerful speech in Parliament last year where he told legislators that they could call him names and hate him but that he felt not an ounce of hate in return. As for “Feku”, the rash of fake news stories spawned an industry of fact-checker start-ups that diligently scour the speeches and statements of our elected representatives across parties for inaccuracies and bald lies.

Chowkidar has replaced Chai Pe Charcha (CPC) as Modi’s campaign song and communication strategy with voters. Maybe he was worried we would remind him of all the CPC promises that vanished into thin air. Like the time he vowed to bring back unaccounted money that’s stashed abroad. “We will bring every single rupee in foreign countries deposited by Indian citizens as black money,” he said at the launch of this campaign. Or the time he called the Congress approach to Indian women insensitive and said he advocated the early passage of the women’s reservation Bill in Parliament.

Sheila Dikshit was shunted to Kerala as governor in 2014, a few months after she lost the Delhi assembly election to Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP’s) Arvind Kejriwal. She was persona non grata in Delhi’s power broker scene and had to sit out the action in 2014. A few months after the Modi government came to power, Dikshit resigned as governor. She was in sleep mode until Gandhi appointed her president of the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee earlier this year. Dikshit found herself back in the midst of a media mess when she contrasted Modi’s “tough” Pakistan strategy with that of his predecessor Manmohan Singh.

Even more than Modi, Kejriwal was the real wonder of the last election. Newspapers tracked his every move. Oh, what drama when he was detained in Gujarat as he began a tour to assess Modi’s bastion. Outside the BJP’s offices in Delhi and Lucknow, AAP workers were involved in protests that turned violent. This time round, nobody’s paying Kejriwal much attention.

Another dissenting star was Nitish Kumar, who said in 2014 that he had more experience than those “moving around as PM candidates”. He said a seasoned politician and former Union minister (himself) was better than a man who had no experience of working at the Centre (Modi). In speeches then, Modi often mocked Kumar, even telling Bihar’s Muslims that they were worse off than Gujarat’s Muslims. Kumar released his own data set to counter this claim. Five years later, the BJP and Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) will contest 17 seats each in Bihar. Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) gets the remaining six seats; three of them will go to his family. And Modi never mentions Kumar in his speeches.

Former Indian football captain Bhaichung Bhutia, chosen by Banerjee to represent her Trinamool Congress in Darjeeling in 2014, lost to the BJP’s S.S. Ahluwalia. Last year, he quit the party, and, in 2019, Bhutia will be standing from his own Hamro Sikkim Party.

In 2014, Modi ousted Murli Manohar Joshi from Varanasi. “Modi tum raj karo, Joshi tum tyaag karo” (Modi you rule, Joshi you sacrifice) was the consensus among BJP workers. Joshi stood from Kanpur and won. In 2019, he has been told not to contest. Last week, he wrote this terse and unsigned letter to his supporters. “Dear Voters of Kanpur, Shri Ramlal General Secretary (Org.), Bharatiya Janata Party conveyed to me today that I should not contest the ensuing parliamentary election from Kanpur and elsewhere.” Other BJP veterans, L. K. Advani and Sushma Swaraj, won’t be contesting either. Advani, Kalraj Mishra, Shanta Kumar and Kariya Munda were all informed by Ramlal that they would not contest this time, reported. Bye-bye, old guard. Can’t say I’ll miss you.

In 2014, Yogi Adityanath largely focused on winning his Gorakhpur seat. He would hit the spotlight only in 2017 when he became the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state. In 2019, he’s the BJP’s star campaigner and his speeches are almost always communally divisive. Just last week, he said in Saharanpur that “opposition parties offered biryani to terrorists” while BJP-led government fed them bullets. He called a rival candidate from this constituency the “son-in-law of Azhar Masood” and urged voters to defeat him. Happy voting! Results will tell us if your voting behaviour stayed the same or not.

Priya Ramani shares what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable. She tweets at@priyaramani

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