By Obaidur Rahman Naufal and Anas Ali
Elections are an important feature of liberal representative democracies all over the world. Narrative building is a key strategic method used by political parties in the realm of electoral politics. In electoral politics, slogans and speeches are extremely important for building up political narratives. Each party has its own slogan and narrative, which also reflect the party’s ideological position. These slogans and narratives mobilise citizens to vote and support the candidates.
Electoral politics has resembled an advertisement competition in which different political parties compete to sell the most valuable product. Almost all political parties spent a significant amount of money to build their public relations and media teams. The role of public relations and media teams is becoming increasingly important in post-pandemic politics, as election campaigns shift from physical to virtual spaces. Slogans and memes, too, have become popular narrative-building tools for audiences with short attention spans.
This article seeks to examine the BJP narrative by analysing the slogans and speeches used during their electoral campaign in recent assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The BJP won the majority of constituent assembly seats in both states. This analysis may aid us in understanding what were the key issues on which voters voted, as well as in understanding voter psychology.
The two main electoral contenders in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, were the BJP and the SP. Their slogans and narratives were quite different, demonstrating the parties’ ideological differences. The main narrative of the BJP, which is a Hindu nationalist party, was related to security and law and order. The rest of the issues, such as development and employment, were sub-narratives.
In BJP leaders’ speeches, Muslims, in particular, were frequently portrayed as a threat. They attempted to construct a narrative in which Muslims were given free rein during the reign of SP. They were encroaching on poor people’s land, eating rations, taking advantage of welfare programmes, and teasing Hindu sisters and daughters. The BJP government has put a stop to this hooliganism. In a poster series titled “Farq Saaf hai” (the difference is clear), the BJP compared the work of the SP and the BJP government, and wherever there is mention of riots, molestation, hooliganism, etc., it is linked to Muslims through clothing and suggestive words.
Instead of samajwad, (socialism, which is considered the core ideology of the party), the SP was linked to mafiavaad, tamanchavaad, and parivarvaad. Only Muslims were targeted as mafias in Mafiavaad, most notably Mukhtar Ansari, Azam Khan, and Atiq Ahmed. The BJP government has severely damaged the three’s properties, destroying them with bulldozers. Surprisingly, bulldozers were also politically celebrated, and Yogi was referred to as Bulldozer Baba. Yogi’s remark to a Muslim leader in Kirana that “Garmi shant ker ke Shimla bana denge” was part of a larger narrative of Muslims as a threat.
The BJP’s main narrative was one of law and order. Leaders of the BJP were repeatedly accusing the SP of tamanchavaad and warning the public that if the SP won power, hooliganism would return. At the same time, Yogi ji was claiming that one of his government’s greatest achievements was putting an end to hooliganism. The thugs were imprisoned, their property was confiscated, and their homes were ransacked by bulldozers.
Aside from that, the BJP was successful in gaining the political ground with the slogan of parivarvaad. The SP has already been accused of familism, with the result that Akhilesh reduced the seats of his family members in this election. In contrast to the parivarvaad, the BJP presented itself as a nationalist party, which prioritises the country and its security.
Even the Ukraine war found a home in the UP-Assembly elections. PM Modi attempted to entice voters in one of his speeches by drawing their attention to the changing unstable international political scenario and the importance of national security in such a situation. To quote the prime minister himself, he said: “Is samay duniya mae, kitne uthal puthal machi hue hai, aesa mae Baharat ko takatwar hona chaiye.”
Abba Jaan was also mentioned by Yogi, a senior leader of the BJP. Through Abba Jaan, he accused the SP of Muslim appeasement and created the narrative that in the SP government, only Muslims benefited from welfare schemes while the rest were deprived, whereas his Sarkar provided rations to all and transferred money to everyone’s accounts. “Bua Babua tere raaj me – gareebon ka rashan mafiyon k gudam m,” was written on one of the BJP’s election posters. This narrative was also quite successful, and a new breed of BJP voter known as Labh Arti emerged. Beneficiaries are those who have benefited from welfare schemes, they are also presented in such a way that they have eaten Modi-Yogi’s salt and will now make Yogi the Chief Minister of UP again to pay for the salt (Namak Halali).
‘Laal topi wale’ are a red alert in Uttar Pradesh, according to Modi. SP was also accused of having ties to terrorism. In another political rally, Modi stated that SP and Congress leaders referred to Osama bin Laden (a terrorist) as “Osama Ji” (with respect). He went on to say that terrorists used bicycles to carry out bomb blasts. This is how he associated the party sign of SP with terrorism.
In short, the BJP’s main narrative was that the SP government gave free rein to mafias and hooligans (particularly Muslims). They used to riot, violate people’s rights, and prevent welfare programmes from reaching the poor and needy. The BJP government put an end to this practice. The hooligans and mafia are now either imprisoned or eliminated, and needy people are receiving welfare without the use of intermediaries.
While the SP’s entire narrative was one of progress and prosperity. The SP emphasised the issue of unemployment and price increases. They conveyed that under the BJP government, the students did not get jobs, youths were not recruited, and the farmers’ situation deteriorated. Inflation has risen, and the price of essential commodities has risen dramatically. Instead of focusing on development and prosperity, the BJP government is more concerned with renaming things.
In the previous election, the SP’s main campaign slogan was “Kaam Bolta hai” (work speaks). They had presented the SP government’s developmental efforts. This time, the SP’s narrative was that the work of prosperity and development began by the SP had come to a halt during the BJP’s rule and needed to be restarted.
The BJP won 47 of the 70 seats in Uttarakhand. It is the first time in Uttarakhand’s history that a political party has won two consecutive state assembly elections. The main opposition party Congress was only able to secure 19 seats. In terms of vote percentage, the BJP received 44.3 per cent of the vote, while the Congress received 37.9 per cent of the vote. There is also a significant difference in vote percentage between the two.
The Facebook campaign page of the BJP Uttarakhand clearly reveals some of the major issues on which the BJP was campaigning in Uttarakhand. These issues can be categorised into three categories. The first is related to development schemes such as Jan Aushdai Pariyojna, Ayushman Yojna, and Vatsalya Yojna, among others. Second, there were issues designed to conciliate the state’s Hindu majority population, such as the development of Kedardham and Badri Dham.
Another point that can be mentioned in this regard is that, because a large number of people in Uttarakhand work in defence forces, the BJP designed issues specifically for them, such as the construction of Sanydham and one rank one pension. The third type of issue, which is somewhat concerning and problematic, is anti-Muslim rhetoric. A significant portion of the BJP narrative in the state was anti-Muslim rhetoric. This rhetoric was used not only to demonise Muslims but also to discredit the opposing Congress party. The BJP portrayed Islam and Muslims as a cultural threat to Uttarakhand. In BJP’s narrative Congress and Muslims had some kind of secret pact under which Congress is going to assist Muslims in Islamising Uttarakhand. To prevent the Islamisation of Uttarakhand, it was necessary to prevent Congress from gaining power.
“Tushtikaran (Muslim appeasement) ki rajnati ko devbhoomi ki janta nae diya nakar,” it is clear from this slogan used by the BJP during the election campaign that the Congress was targeted for appeasing Muslims. Harish Rawat, the Congress Party’s candidate for Chief Minister, was chastised for giving Muslims a day off for Friday prayers, saying, “Devbhoomi mae aarti hogi ya Jumme ki Namaz.” The issue of the Uniform Civil Code was also used by the BJP to project the Muslim threat and to protect the Uttarakhandi culture, “Saman Nagrik Sahinta laenge, Uttarakhand ki sanskriti ko bhachenge.”
The issue of Muslim University and Kaliyar Sharef were two other issues raised in this anti-Muslim rhetoric. Again, Congress was targeted for appeasing Muslims, with accusations that Congress intends to open a Muslim university in Uttarakhand, bringing the state one step closer to Islamisation. Similarly, it was claimed that if Congress comes to power, instead of working for the betterment of Chardhams, Congress will work for the betterment of a Muslim saint’s shrine in Kaliyar (known as Kaliyar Sharif).
Elections were held in UP and four other states. The BJP won four of them. In terms of narratives, we see the BJP’s narratives shifting from state to state. The BJP’s main narratives in Manipur and Goa were of development and prosperity; the rest were sub-narratives. The development works in Goa, including government buildings, hospitals, roads, sports stadiums, and universities, were highlighted under the ‘built by BJP’ slogan. The BJP had government in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur, and Goa before the elections. The slogan “Double Engine Government” was chanted loudly in all four locations.
In Punjab, the BJP’s main narratives were national identity and security. On security issues, the BJP slammed Congress and other parties. This narrative was bolstered following the Prime Minister’s security lapse. But despite this, BJP could not win in Punjab.