For whom the state polls: Key issues for the govt in 2019 Lok Sabha elections

Over the past few weeks, a lot of analyses have the Indian government’s handling, presentation, and appropriation of the February 14 Pulwama attack for electoral gains.

Only a handful, however, have depicted how the ruling BJP forsook the Ram Mandir issue almost entirely to co-opt War on Terrorism as the poster-issue for its election campaign.

But has it worked?

Have the marching farmers, unemployed youth, and the recently citizens of Assam receded to the background already? Are they irrelevant now that our lawmakers gloat and campaign as if they have already won the war?

With a month to go before the first of the seven-phase Lok Sabha polls, here’s a look-see at some of the vital issues that will determine the fate of the ruling party. And an examination of whether Opposition ever did/really would do a better job.

From temple to terror

Qrius had previously reported on the growing , discontent and tension among in Ayodhya over the promised Ram Mandir—to the point that it had begun to signal the revival of 1992’s communal . With the case postponed several times and the reluctance to issue ordinances for fast-tracking its construction, the prospect of delivering the fabled temple before the polls were very slim.

It is also worth noting that the government was also losing ground on a lot of other planks like a sluggish economy, sky-rocketing unemployment an acute farmers’ crisis.

With the Pulwama attack, the was presented with an opportunity to display how seriously it takes border and national security, how aggressively it can respond to its enemies and how well it can the army for electoral gains. Unfortunately, but predictably enough, the post-Pulwama attack situation has become all about vested interests, as pre-emptive strikes, counter-strikes and barbed attacks followed.

The State’s response was blown way out of proportion by the Indian media, that left more lawmakers and civilians baying for blood. What’s more alarming is that fact that a large section of the demographic dividend seemed to care very less for the glaring lack of evidence of these strikes, or Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not make a call for peace the entire time, even when the country edged dangerously close to a war, or that his defense ministry failed to protect its troops better.

Instead, manufactured hate and anger, chest-thumping, and the vocabulary of retribution has become a part of discourse and is quite likely to determine the fate of the upcoming elections. We should have seen it coming, with the cow vigilantism, beef ban, hate speech and condonation of lynchings.

Farmers have a bone to pick

Last year, a massive rally of farmers from across India marched to Delhi to highlight the worsening agrarian crisis and agitate against the Centre’s oversight. Demonstrators at the rally openly criticised the government’s anti-farmer and anti-poor policies; these are what likely led to BJP’s successive losses in the Assembly elections across three rural heartland states: Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh.

Over half a dozen farmers’ marches in twelve months have shaken the Centre to the extent that they resorted to cash handout for farmers in the Interim Budget 2019.

The latest one in February, from Nashik to Mumbai, ended with a tentative agreement between All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) and Maharashtra’s BJP government, in lieu of certain assurances including farm loan waiver, pension crop insurance schemes and raising the MSP.

Shortly before Long Kisan March-2, the government was compelled to respond to rising pressure from grassroots and the alike. Rushing to plug the gaps in its agricultural policies in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, the NDA government announced an income support scheme worth Rs 6,000 a year for farmers in the Interim Budget 2019, earlier this month.

However, farmers, economists, and the Opposition are unsure if BJP’s amends will reap electoral fruits; they said these eleventh-hour measures are halfhearted, too little, and too late. “At Rs 500 per month, it will amount to less than 1/15th of an average household’s income. Per annum, it’s peanuts,” said agricultural economist Ashok Gulati. He added that if the government really wanted to make a difference through an income support scheme, it should double the amount by reducing food and fertiliser subsidies.

Farmers, too, are reluctant to settle for meagre half-way solutions, it seems. Land labourers across India are rising in protest of denial of their rights, demanding active protection of their economic interests. Not only that, the AIKS is also against the multi-billion dollar Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project. Hundreds of farming families that thrive along the proposed route have moved court against illegal land acquisition.

There is a scandal that never goes out

The Rs 59,000-crore deal struck between the Modi government and the French in 2015 has formed a crux of Congress’s campaign against the ruling party. It has even moved Supreme Court alleging gross criminal misconduct; the court is currently hearing a batch of petitions seeking a review of its earlier verdict that had dismissed all allegations against the deal and its decision-makers.

Petitioners have repeatedly attacked the discrepancies in Modi’s final deal with the French government — the increase in Rafale’s price, how the government bypassed mandated procedures, that fact that the French took advantage of parallel parleys by the PMO that weakened Indian team’s position, why Anil Ambani got the offset contract, why the deal was not on better terms than the UPA-era offer.

Now the government is bent on covering its tracks, citing “stolen” confidential documents, slapping investigative journalists with the Official Secrets Act and refusing to answer key questions, several of which we have raised in this handy A-Z explainer on the complicated l.

The revival of this issue before the upcoming general elections stands to seriously dent BJP’s prospects of staging a return.

Economy and economic offenders

While Ambani is set to receive crores in offsets from the Rafale jet deal, his elder brother Mukesh recently entered top 10 of the Hurun Global rich list. Meanwhile, Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi Mehul Choksi’s extradition aren’t in near sight either. Nor do we have an inkling about the employment census.

Well, we do now, but it’s not like we were intended to.

The allegedly ‘buried’ jobs report, based on National Sample Survey Office’s first periodic  force survey (PLFS) after , leaked by two dissenting members, shows that India’s unemployment rate attained a 45-year high of 6.1% during 2017-2018.

This directly contradicts the Modi government’s parable of development and claims of job creation. In fact, the reluctance to publish the report shows that the Centre is uncomfortable with its findings, implying it contains damning evidence that the note ban exercise of 2016 may have adversely affected the job market in subsequent months. The report claims that instead of creating 25 crore jobs as promised in 2014, Narendra Modi’s note ban caused jobs to go missing.

The badly implemented Goods and Services Tax in July 2017 is also another factor responsible for this abysmal 45-year high unemployment rate. The comprehensive tax was intended to replace all indirect taxes to simplify taxation and boost inter-state trade. However, the implementation of GST has been marked by confusion, complicated slabs, arbitrary changes, and delayed refunds which hurt small and medium-scale businesses considerably.

Read more: ‘Missing’ employment data confirms worst fears: A treatise on the future of work

Most of BJP’s economic schemes aren’t well-rounded solutions to the problem of distribution, are far behind and are anti-people and pro-corporate. In fact, they have incited ten central trade unions to call for a nationwide-strike earlier this month.

Increasing economic disparity and the widening class difference will be, as always, the most important poll issue. At the end of day it all depends on how people perceive his economic policies with respect to the subsidy schemes and schematics, the income tax relaxations and of finance.

Citizenship and immigration

You’d think these issues only make or break governments in the US or across Europe, but if the last year has been any proof, immigration and citizenship are crucial to Hindutva politics, which in turn, clashes directly with our historical perception of regional identities.

The Citizenship Bill 2016, reintroduced two years later with amendments and passed by the lower house of the parliament on January 8, 2018, has managed to stoke protests and polarise people across the north-east ever since.

Read more: Citizenship Bill and the noise in the north-east: All you need to know

In a move that seeks to grant citizenship on the basis of religion and is thus in direct contradiction of the spirit of the Indian Constitution, the Bill has become a source of and a national talking point. Offering nationality to refugees belonging to non-Muslim minority communities from countries, the Bill has been described by many critics as India’s “turn” towards becoming a religion-based state. The north-east has erupted in protests since the Bill was announced, with several NDA allies defecting or threatening to quit their respective coalitions.

The Bill must be seen in the context of the controversial final draft of the NRC, according to which, 40 lakh of the Assamese population risk losing citizenship. Updated for the first time since 1951 to account for illegal migration from Bangladesh, the draft has left out 40,07,708 people and has refused to justify the large-scale exemption.

A few weeks ago, the long-pending demand for the Permanent Residence Certificate (PRC) made headlines when protests on the proposed elevation of status for six tribal communities of Arunachal Pradesh took a violent turn.

At the  of the violence was the probability of granting the PRC to members of non-Arunachal Pradesh Scheduled Tribes (APST) in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls, which inflamed other groups in the northeastern state. The ruling BJP government blames the Congress for stoking these .

Is the grass greener on the other side?

At the end of the day, whom and what we vote for boils down to our priorities and level of social security we enjoy and desire. We may note the importance of these issues in making an informed decision but it weirdly reassuring to know that the outcome of the upcoming polls will ultimately bank on one deciding factor: our willing suspension of (dis)belief, that the Opposition CAN or CANNOT do a better job.

Judging by their past performance, the UPA era has been rife with just as many financial scandals (Bofors and the Vadra case to name a few), as well as sectarian measures whenever it’s been convenient for them.

This time around, their progressive stance on several issues have been admirable, and their secular views set them apart. From appointing the first trans woman as to head its women’s wing, to launching Priyanka Gandhi as the party’s general secretary in UP, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and the most likely Prime Ministerial candidate even hosts conferences with female journalists, at a time when Modi has not granted a single press conference in five years.

However, with respect to the entry of women in Sabarimala, and instituting the blasphemy law in Punjab, Congress’s regressive side has proved it has a long way to go before the Gandhis can portray themselves as a foil to right-wing Hindutva politics. Election campaigns cannot revolve around name-calling and criticism alone, but be grounded in comprehensive measures to solve existing problems.

Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius

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