A debate has two sides

NEW DELHI :After the first phase of campaigning, a puzzle looms. While most surveys suggest that the BJP has an edge, the campaign rhetoric of the BJP suggests that it is on edge. A party riding on the popularity of its leader would have been expected to be confident, if not gracious. Given his popularity and penchant for going down in history, Narendra Modi had an excellent opportunity to steer the campaign into a debate on development. Even if he wanted to take advantage of Pulwama, he could still engage in a serious debate over what constitutes security and what needs to be done.

At least the first round of campaigning indicates that this is not the case. The idea of security is employed only to whip up the BJP’s traditional ideological anxieties — on nationalism and Hindutva. And this is being done in ways unbecoming of a truly popular leader — or it is betraying the limits of his popularity.

The campaign opened with almost trickery — the prime minister’s address to the nation on the achievement of the DRDO. Subsequently, a chief minister described India’s armed forces as Modi’s sena. The PM began his attack on the Congress by talking of constituencies where the “majority is in minority”. As the campaign for the first phase was set to conclude, he chose to violate the exhortation of the Election Commission by asking for votes in the name of the martyrs of Pulwama and the brave soldiers who participated in the air strikes. If these are not signs of nervousness, then the definition of confidence needs a revision.

All this shows the so-called electoral smartness of the ruling party and its willingness to bypass rules and institutions. These virtues of the current establishment do not need fresh advertisement. But why would the BJP want to display these in the very first round of campaigning when it appears that it has probably overcome the adverse public sentiment setting in until a few months ago?