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BJP Wins The Media War

In the perception war the BJP was able to put the embarrassing drubbing it got from the Nitish-Lalu alliance in Bihar and the legal defeat in Uttarakhand behind immediate recall, and prepare itself for the all-important UP elections next year

Photo Credit : PTI

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It was not just an electoral victory in the recent five-state assembly elections for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP); it also made a clean sweep in the media war. The journalistic hyperbole has consigned the ‘Congress to the dustbin of history’, while the BJP’s media machine has managed to seize hold of the narrative and get itself declared as the ‘star’ performer in the state elections. More than that Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared with conviction: “BJP’s ideology is being accepted, appreciated and supported by more and more people”.

On the face of it, the PM has made a reasonable proposition. The BJP-led alliance in Assam trounced the Congress, winning the state for the first time, and grew its seat tally from 26 to 86. On the other hand, the Congress lost both Assam and Kerala; and the only consolation was Puducherry, where it won with a simple majority.

But what does the fine print say? Does it support the thesis that BJP is being “accepted and supported by more and more people?” Hard data points in the other direction. Of the 812 seats contested by the Congress in the five assembly polls, the party won 115 against the BJP’s 68. Of these, 60 alone were accounted for by Assam, while all the other states returned just eight MLAs. In terms of popular vote, the Congress got almost thrice as much as the BJP.

Of all the quixotic ironies the actual vote share of the Indian National Congress in Assam was marginally ahead at 52.39 lakh votes compared to the BJP’s 49.92 lakh. Where the Congress lost out was its shoddy strategy in shunning winning alliances with the Muslim groups who then landed up dividing the anti-BJP vote.

Compared to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP’s vote-share in the latest Assembly elections moved south. In Assam, it fell from 36.5 per cent in the 2014 to 30.1 per cent in the 2016 state poll; in West Bengal it dropped from 17.2 per cent to 10.2 per cent; in Tamil Nadu from 5.56 per cent to 2.7 per cent. In Kerala, however, the BJP did manage to increase the vote share marginally to 10.7 per cent from the earlier 10.33 in 2014.

In contrast, the Congress actually increased its vote share. In Assam, it went up from 29.6 in the May 2014 Lok Sabha poll to 31 per cent in the recent assembly elections; in West Bengal, it was up to 11.9 from 9.58 per cent and in Tamil Nadu to 6.5 from the earlier 4.3 per cent.

However, mass perception works differently. The BJP got one state when it had none of the five. On the other hand, the Congress had three states in the bag, but after the vote it was left with the one small enclave of Puducherry. The fact that 230 of 232 BJP candidates lost their deposits in Tamil Nadu was lost in the media din.

Most important, in the perception war the BJP was able to put the embarrassing drubbing it got from the Nitish-Lalu alliance in Bihar and the legal defeat in Uttarakhand behind immediate recall, and prepare itself for the all-important UP elections next year.

If there is a message that mass media lost in the five state elections, it is: First, the perceptible decline in BJP’s vote compared to the euphoric numbers of May 2014; and, second, if there was a victor in these state elections it was regional politics at the expense of the two big national parties. Mamata Banerjee shocked all exit poll pundits by her thumping score of 211 of 294 seats; and J. Jayalalitha, again proved all pollsters wrong (with the exception of C Voter).

In a fractured polity, where political promises are broken and demand for change produces anti-incumbency waves, it is never safe to write off the Congress; or for that matter any other party. The swinging pendulum is ironically the symbol of Indian politics today; but media analysis should be made of harder mettle, and better long-term perspectives.


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