I have postulated in my earlier writings that at the conceptual level, the essential difference between the Congress appeal and the BJP appeal to their voters is that while the Congress tries to seek votes from people at their divided default level, the BJP asks people to connect at one level above their default divided level and then vote.
Despite proclamations to the contrary, policies promulgated by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty-led Congress are designed to keep people divided in their ghettos of caste, religion, region and race. Divided people can be threatened. The greater the division, the greater the fear in each subgroup. The dynasty can then morph itself as the protector of each subgroup. This is why Rahul Gandhi proclaims his Brahmin credentials in one rally and lets the world know, for the first time, the caste of Sam Pitroda in another rally. This is why Sonia Gandhi seeks support of Imam Bukhari by stoking communal fears.
The BJP, however, believes in connecting people and then seeking votes at one level above their default level. Whether it was mobilisation in name of cultural nationalism in the 1990s, or more recently on the agenda of development, good governance or regional pride, such as Gujarati ‘asmita’, the central theme of the BJP is to connect and unite people at least one level above their divided default level.
This conceptual thesis has been backed by empirical evidence from previous election campaigns. But how do the parties’ respective manifestos for the 2014 elections stack up against the premise? Do they offer evidence to support the postulate?
One of the central promises in the Congress manifesto is the early enactment of the Communal Violence Bill. This is part of the 15 key promises in the manifesto. What does this proposed bill say? In the event of a communal riot, criminal law will be applied differently to rioters, depending on their religion. BR Ambedkar, the father of the Indian constitution, mandated the uniform application of criminal law irrespective of caste, creed, religion or gender. He dreamed of a uniform civil code as well, and put it in Article 44, as one of the directive principles. The Congress, 67 years after Independence, is not only intent on defying Ambedkar’s wishes, it is even willing to subvert them by reversing the uniform application of criminal law.
The BJP on the other hand commits itself to following the letter and spirit of the Constitution and Article 44, as it believes that, apart from other reasons, gender equality cannot be achieved without a uniform civil code. The Congress is putting its best foot forward to further divide the people; the BJP in contrast is connecting them in the spirit of the Constitution.
Is this then enough evidence to support the postulate? Consider 10 key themes in the BJP manifesto which are distinct and different from the Congress one:
1.) The proposal of a single ‘national agriculture market’. Farmers across the country simultaneously free to sell their produce where they choose, united in one national market
2.) The concept of “Team India” which will include the prime minister and the chief ministers as equal partners, united in one common purpose: to develop India
3.) A regional council of states, based on common issues and challenges, such as a council of coastal states, hill states and so on
4.) A first time commitment, even at the idea level, to develop eastern India on a par with western India and remove the division of disparity
5.) The commitment for the abrogation of Article 370, which has prevented the complete assimilation of the aspirations of the people of the state of Jammu and Kashmir with the larger Indian narrative
6.) A detailed emphasis on technology as a unifier through means such as the deployment of broadband in every village, high speed digital highways connecting every nook and corner of the country, a national e-library, and the “eGram, Vishwa Gram” scheme
7.) Administrative reforms such as networking all the police stations of the country, the proposal for holding the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections together, and a special emphasis on developing the 100 most backward districts and bring them on a par with more the developed districts of India
8.) A national madrassa modernization program, assuring home, electricity and sanitation to all, the creation of 100 new cities, pucca housing to all by 2022, and the idea of ‘rurban’ – all aimed at widening the platform of those connected by common aspirations of a better quality of life
9.) 50 new tourist circuits based on themes like Himalayan, desert, spiritual and so on; all weather roads connecting every village, the promise of connecting the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir through the rail network, a national gas grid and national optical fibre network, a national logistics network, a proposal to interlink rivers, and the flagship scheme of the Diamond Quadrilateral of bullet trains – new generation infrastructure connecting people faster, better and more efficiently.
10.) Finally, the vision of a Brand India of 5 Ts: trade, tourism, talent, technology and tradition – to connect the larger Indian diaspora with the narrative of the rise of India in the 21st century
The key thread running through all these themes is ‘connectivity’. It is the central thread and the promise of the manifesto, to connect people and let them be masters of their own destiny while the government plays the role of an honest facilitator. The match between the electoral rhetoric of Narendra Modi – Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas – and the written pledge in the form of manifesto could not have been more complete.
Akhilesh Mishra is an experienced marketing professional, having worked in many multinational companies. He is also a volunteer for the BJP's 2014 election campaign. He tweets at @amishra77. All views are personal.