Lok Sabha 2019: How academics are the new political warriors
Students aside, prominent intellectuals and academics have also taken public stands for or against a particular party. This will generate discussion about key ideas. But it will also amplify the noise.
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India is kicking up the heat and dust of national elections yet again. Electioneering in the country is fast reaching a crescendo. There are claims of unprecedented work done under the Narendra Modi government. There are counter-claims of the country having been pushed into greater chaos than ever before. There are assertions that in the last five years, India has begun to unite under the nationalistic banner — only to be fervently refuted by an insistence that the secular fibre of the country has been shredded to pieces and that Indian society today stands divided like never before.
The heat is on: Election fever is only rising across the country with poll dates drawing closer. (Source: PTI/Reuters)
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the challenger Congress, with a clutch of strong regional outfits, are out and about wooing voters. Elections 2019 is seeing a pitched battle being fought in the name of ideas and ideologies.
While the Left so far enjoyed an edge when it came to dominating the political narrative by virtue of having many intellectual leaders and social media influencers on its side, the Right also began to find a more articulate voice of its own with two major developments – Modi coming to power with an unprecedented mandate in 2014, and social media emerging as a strong tool for the exchange of ideas. This allowed many scholars and intellectuals with rightward leanings the scope to voice their opinions and put forth their ideas of India.
Even as PM Modi is going to town seeking a second term in the name of a host of programmes launched under him, which include the Ujjawala scheme, the Swachh Bharat mission, the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana et al, brandishing muscular nationalism as the hallmark of his government above all else, his supporters are busy chiselling the political narrative in a bid to give voters a sense of where the party wants to take the country in the years ahead.
An online initiative called Academics4Namo is inviting researchers, faculty members, authors, columnists, panellists and thinkers to come forward and support Modi for another five years as Prime Minister.
Over 300 academics from 30 universities across 15 Indian cities, including the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and Banaras Hindu University (BHU), have come together in support of Modi. They are trying to “dispel the misconceptions” and “negative notions” surrounding the Modi government through their writings.
According to a report in ThePrint, Vandana Mishra of JNU’s School of International Studies is part of the initiatives because of the work done by the Modi government for women. “We want to garner support for Narendra Modi from the intellectual fraternity because he has come up with many initiatives for women from different sections, including the Ujjwala scheme [subsidised LPG connections to eliminate dependence on polluting cooking fuels] for poor women, six-months’ paid maternity leave, and commissioning of women in the forces,” the professor told ThePrint.
Indian universities have seen the political heat rise with groups belonging to different ideologies clashing frequently — sometimes even violently. These clashes saw not just students but professors too voice their opinions fervently in public.
The voices in India's ideological battlegrounds are getting sharper. (Source: PTI)
At a time when the Mahagatbandhan, which is still taking shape, has failed to present any coherent roadmap for the future, beyond making ousting Modi their common cause, the BJP’s reaching out to thought shapers through what can be called 'Track 2 campaigning' can well give it an edge in the battle of narratives.
The initiative is trying to clear the clutter through the din of charges and counter-charges in election season by keeping the focus on what the government succeeded in achieving during its tenure.
Delhi University professor Swadesh Singh, a core committee member of the Academics4NaMo group, said, “The initiative is an attempt to take to people the BJP’s idea of India. This idea sees India as a strong, development-oriented nation. Our electoral wins in the northeastern states have ensured that slogans of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ are being raised there. For us, it is nation first.”
How is this narrative being challenged?
According to a News18 report, (JNU) professor G Arunima is running a counter campaign that aims to get 3,000 academicians on board.
Professor Arunima’s campaign reads: “In the past five years of the Narendra Modi-led BJP government in India has marked one of the most dangerous periods in Indian history. We have witnessed a vicious campaign that has undertaken myriad forms of saffronisation, and has affected every aspect of Indian life, ranging from political freedom and liberty, the economy, education, culture, health, environment, and just the safety of large majorities of Indians.”
The founding members of Academics4Namo, meanwhile, are reaching out to people to provide their ‘positive perspective’ on the five years of the Modi government.
While party spokespersons raise the heat in TV studios and political leaders rake up emotive issues in their campaign speeches at rallies, initiatives trying to focus the discourse on key issues are welcome.
Will this bring votes?
We will know when the votes are counted on May 23.