Abki Baar, Psychological War!

1st Feb 2024: In the interim budget speech, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that in the full budget in July, the government will present a detailed road map to becoming Viksit Bharat!

10th Feb 2024: In his last speech of this term in the Lok Sabha, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he would return to power as the head of the BJP-led NDA government for the third consecutive term. He also said that BJP as a party will win 370 seats and NDA as an alliance will cross 400 seats.

18th Feb 2024: In his address at the BJP’s National Convention, Modi said that he is already getting invitations from foreign countries for July, August and September visits, weeks before the general elections. He said the invitations show the world knows that the BJP will form a government at the Centre for the third time.

7th Mar 2024: Speaking at the Republic TV Summit 2024, Home Minister Amit Shah said that for the next 10 years, the PM will be Narendra Modi only.

31st Mar 2024: In an interview with Thanthi TV, to a question if Modi 4.0 can be expected to happen, Modi tells the interviewer that he can say 4/5/6 or whatever but his mind is fixed on 2047!

If you closely look at these utterances of Modi and his colleagues, what is the common theme?

It is that the BJP is articulating in different ways that it is certainly coming to power in this election in 2024 beyond a doubt.

We all know that like Cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties, if there is one thing certain about politics it is uncertainty.  In India, we all remember what happened during the 2004 General elections. In what was expected to be a certain win for the Vajpayee-led NDA government and its return to power, the reality turned out to be a shocking defeat for the NDA with BJP winning a few seats less than the Congress. More recently in the state elections for Chhattisgarh, where the Congress was to garner a certain win that too a comfortable one at that, it lost the state by a big gap. So, when Modi and his think tank in the BJP like Shah and others are very much in the know about this unpredictable nature of Indian elections, what made them go all out to declare a certain win for the BJP in 2024?

Is it overconfidence as even some BJP supporters feel? Is it arrogance as some opposition leaders feel? Has any party in recent memory in India tom-tom about its prospects as demonstratively and repetitively as the BJP before any Lok Sabha elections?  Considering the fact that the BJP is getting panned (wrongly though) even today for its “India shining” campaign of 2004, why would the BJP risk again a backlash if it ends up losing or comes short of the majority?

Among various aspects of war, one of the non-conventional ones is psychological warfare. Psychological warfare, of course, encompasses different techniques aimed at influencing the perceptions, emotions, attitudes and therefore the behaviour and reaction of the adversaries. But in a competition involving rivals and being judged by a jury, psychological warfare techniques are deployed to influence the jury as well. In politics and elections, psychological warfare may be deployed to influence your rivals and the voters at large.

In my opinion, with its “We are already winning” narrative for the upcoming 2024 polls, this is what the BJP has embarked to do.  But this ploy is not aimed to demoralise the opponents and give a walk-over like many commentators make us believe. That is just a collateral by-product. The actual reason for the BJP to deploy this technique is to work on the minds of the “Swing” voters. Let me explain.

In 2014, when the goal for the BJP was to come back to power at the Centre by winning more than 272 seats as an alliance, it went on to win a simple majority by itself. In 2019, when it set out to retain power by ensuring a repeat of its 2014 performance, it ended up doing far better, crossing 300 on its own and 350 as NDA alliance. In 2024, the ruling party’s aim naturally is to first to win a majority by itself and then go on to do better than in 2019.

Now, if BJP and NDA have to better their 2019 performance, apart from maintaining their superlative performance in the Hindi belt, they have to increase their tally from states like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Telangana, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh – in essence, the South, where their strike rate was pretty poor in 2019. In these states, it has a dominant regional party to contend with – DMK in Tamil Nadu, YSRCP in Andhra, the Left in Kerala, BJD in Orissa and so on and not the Congress like in the Hindi belt.

The normal reality of any election is that the loyal, faithful and core voter base of any party will vote for the party come what may, in any election. It is the ideologically non-inclined, swing voter who makes the difference between winning and losing. It is this lot of swing voters that the BJP is targeting in its weak states with its “We are anyway winning” psychological warfare tactic.  Truth be told, in this election, for a swing voter, there is no visibility of a viable party that could challenge the BJP or a towering leader who could take on Modi on a national level. With the probability of an opposition alliance coming to power being remote even if NDA loses most of South (like in 2019), what is the motivation for a swing voter to vote for the opposition alliance?

By carpet bombing the “We are anyway winning” message, the BJP is wanting to make sure that the bulk of these swing voters do not “waste” their vote by electing an MP from some other party who will anyway be not part of the governance equation for the next 5 years. This is the reason for sticking the neck out to do the “Abki baar 400 paar” war cry on the floor of the house in parliament. Not just there. Modi and team have been repeating this at every opportunity since then.

Call it propaganda, deception, disinformation or Psyops, “Abki baar, psychological war”!

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