Pulwama attack and the security is are two crucial factors in the ongoing 2019 Lok Sabha Election, believes Yashwant Deshmukh, a psephologist and founding editor of stakeholder research firm CVoter. Deshmukh says people seem to be willing to forgive Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policy failures as honest mistakes of ‘a risk-taking, dynamic prime minister’.
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Unlike today, in the past decade, security has not played much of a role in Indian elections. Despite the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Manmohan Singh was re-elected as prime minister. Deshmukh said terror attacks and security issues have, for the most part, remained a non-issue in CVoter Tracker data. “Before the Pulwama attacks, the recall rate of these issues was a mere 3 per cent. This has risen to a high of 26 per cent.” This clearly shows the ‘changing India’. And for the first time, security issues are competing with bread and butter ones in India’s post-independence history.
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At the start of 2019, Deshmukh says 37 per cent of the people surveyed believed their living standards had improved over 12 months, while 31 per cent felt they had declined. And soon enough the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) got a rude awakening when it lost three states in the Hindi heartland, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Rajasthan. Fearing that Modi would lose like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP took on the Pulwama terror attack narrative and the Indian Air Force’s pre-emptive action as its own. Being an arch pragmatist, Modi went on a populist spree. He was applauded and appreciated as well as criticized for giving reservation to economically backward upper-caste families. This was especially designed to retain the traditional vote base of his party. By March 7, 2019 Deshmukh says 45 per cent people reported improved living standards and only 22 per cent said their standards had declined. And 51 per cent respondents claimed to be very much satisfied with the working of the Modi government in comparison to the 36 per cent on January 1. “The combination of sops to voter and patriotism post-Pulwama boosted the fortunes of Modi. His personal popularity ratings doubled between January 1 and March 7. People repeatedly compared Modi’s bold action to Singh’s lukewarm response to the Mumbai attacks.” Pulwama attack has worked against the Congress and Gandhi. Deshmukh says people believe the party has been ‘soft’ on Pakistan since 2004. And in turn, the party’s inability to guarantee security during its time in power and soft approach on terror is haunting it.