20919 Agenda Setting ─ Elections 2019

Agenda Setting ─ Elections 2019

It is now common knowledge that mainstream media has slowly evolved into an institution of agenda setting. The forces behind this intricate mechanism of badgering the public with selective information, have now tapped into more creative channels. This has happened with the release of certain politically charged films like Uri and The Accidental Prime Minister, right around the Lok Sabha elections. While these films impact the public’s perception of the NDA government and draw a skewed comparison with the UPA regime, films like Kesari and Ram Janam Bhumi appease the right wing nationalists that constitute a major vote base for the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The agenda set by the BJP during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections — which ultimately brought them to power — was about the Congress’ corruption, the nepotism that marked the elite political culture of Delhi, India’s timid response to terror attacks, and the lack of development under the rule of a single party despite being elected to power twice in a row. Five years later, Bharatiya Janta Party’s stance has shifted from offensive to defensive. In order to curb the opposition’s narrative around the agrarian crisis plaguing the country and the constant chant of “Chowkidaar Chor Hai” because of inconsistencies in the Rafale deal, one finds a well planned shift to a nationalistic “Josh”. The calls for defending the nation and spewing hatred against Pakistan holds a direct electoral incentive for the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the election campaign planned by them constitutes some primary issues—uniting people under the guise of patriotism, going beyond the class/caste divide and aggressive polarization along religious lines.

The NDA government has never shied away from tooting their own horn. It was the first time in this country’s history that surgical strikes — that are not BJP’s gift to the country — were publicized and marketed in this opportunistic fashion. Furthermore, the Pulwama terror attacks followed by alleged airstrikes in Balakot successfully managed to drown out the allegations of a questionable defense deal. They also allowed the government to project their response as more fierce and powerful than that of any of the previous governments — thus making them more suitable to fight the constant challenge that cross border terrorism and infiltration by Pakistan pose.

In addition to uniting people along patriotic lines, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has always been projected as someone who rose out of the commoners by the Bharatiya Janta Party. From “Chai wallah” to “Main Bhi Chowkidaar”, both the campaigns seem to have a common goal — to highlight the elite political structure that Congress represents and portray Narendra Modi as a more suitable option because of his greater understanding of the issues faced by the masses. All of this then, becomes a part of the larger goal to show the great divide between the elitist party that has indulged in dynasty politics and has made it inaccessible for anyone who doesn’t have a powerful identity.

Lastly, the speeches given by some of the most prominent leaders of Bharatiya Janta Party have followed a trend of drawing distinctions over religious lines. Yogi Adityanath who is currently the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh has branded Imran Masood — Congress’ candidate from Saharanpur — as the Son-in Law of Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist Azhar Masood. He further, asked the public if someone who speaks Masood’s language should be allowed to win. In contrast, he projected the BJP candidate as the poster boy of hindutva. The Ayodhya temple-mosque conflict is another channel via which the ruling party has time and again tried shifting the public agenda to communal and religious issues. Over the course of their rule, the country has witnessed a constant state of tension between people of different communities which manifested itself in the form of mob lynching and cow vigilantism in some parts, and violence against the minorities in others. Thus, it can be concluded that the factors for deciding the ideal candidate or more importantly the ideal party have been laid out and caste, class, religion and nationalism seem to be at the forefront.

Picture Courtesy- Hindustan Times

This article is a part of the ‘Of Tugs and Tussles: General Election 2019’ feature series where we focus on quality content written and chosen to focus on specific areas surrounding elections. Find a link to other articles of this feature series here: 

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