Santosh Ingale of Dabhadi Village in Yavatmal district of Vidarbha is a first-time voter. He is son of farm labourer. When Newsclick met him in his village, he was praising Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his action against ‘Pakistan’.
“What he (Modi) has done to Pakistan is unprecedented. No PM had dared to do this. Addal Ghadavalich Pahije Hoti. Modi te karun rahyla. (It was needed to teach lesson to Pakistan, Modi is doing that”, said Santosh, who is a daily wager in nearby villages and cities. Nowadays, he is workless. Yet, he believes that Modi is the right choice. Newsclick met him on April 5.
Interestingly, Santosh was the only one in his village who was saying so. The elders and other youth were not so sure about the importance of ‘military action’ in the election. “We need work. What will we do with this Army and all. It is good for you (journalists) guys to discuss. Not for us,” villagers gathered at roadside shops were heard saying.
Indian Air Force (IAF) planes ‘reportedly’ attacked Pakistan-administered Kashmir on the morning of February 26. It was termed a ‘revenge’ of the terror attack on a CRPF bus in Pulwama on February 14 that killed over 40 personnel. By February 26, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its followers created a hype on the issue. It was clear-cut attempt to draw mileage for electoral benefits.
In a few days, it was clear that there were various loopholes in the narrative over the Balakot action, which was mainly driven in large part by television news channels as well as the BJP-fueled machinery of social media influencers. Serious questions, like the number of casualties in the strike and whether IAF missed the target started raising their head despite the flood of ‘disinformation’.
In the middle of all this, Modi started talking about it everywhere. In an interview to Hindi TV news channel, Aaj Tak, he said “Jab Maine Jake Waha (POK) Jakar Ke Atankiyo Ko Mara” (“When I went there and killed terrorists). No other leader has so blatantly tried to take credit from the soldiers by claiming that he himself did that.
But, the reaction of Santosh was on April 5. Modi’s interview was on April 25. A lot changed in these 20 days in Maharashtra. Most importantly, the gravity of BJP’s ‘military nationalism’ declined and the ‘seriousness of real issues’ re-appeared in people’s reactions.
Swapna Kambale is also first-time voter in Kalyan’s Kolsewadi in the outskirts of Mumbai. It is one of the few constituencies in Maharashtra that witnessed the lowest voting percentage. Swapna voted on April 29. “Did she kept the air strike in mind while voting?”. NO, said Swapna vehemently, adding that “For me, jobs are more important. It is clear that TV channels tried to fool us with number of casualties and all. This image building of Modi is enough now. I have my issues and I voted on basis of that,” she said.
Be it Santosh from a village and Swapna from a town, the issue of air strikes is being talked everywhere. These two reactions bust two key narratives. One, that the rural youth is totally against Modi and urban youth is totally for Modi. Second, that this is the first time the voter is totally ‘pro Modi’. Both are a big ‘NO’. There is division everywhere, be it urban or rural as well as among first-time voters.
Why did we start with first-time voters? Because Modi made an appeal to first-time voters to vote for soldiers and martyrs. In his rally in Latur, he asked first-time voters if they would vote for the martyrs of Pulwama as a homage. His attempt to swing first-time voters, almost nine crore in entire country, over ‘military nationalism’ is clearly visible. But the age group he is eying is not voting for him en bloc.
When it comes to other age groups, the story was similar. Ashok Thorat of Jalgaon, a banana growing farmer, was more worried about his drought-hit farm than India- Pakistan tension. “It is the government’s duty to do all these things. (looking after diplomatic issues.) What is he (Modi) talking about? Any government is supposed to do that. He should speak what his government has done for development in last five years. That he is not speaking on at all,” he said. Newsclick met him in his farm on the outskirts of Jalgaon city on April 18.
Abdulla Mansoor is originally from Gazipur, Uttar Pradesh, and resides in Bhiwandi. He works in a metal shop in main city. On voting day, when Newsclick asked what the most important issue for him was, he said the “fear of losing his job”. He has seen many labourers and helpers like him in Bhiwandi city losing their jobs in the last two years. “Humko sirf kaam chahiye. Aur kuchh nahi,” (I need only work. Nothing else) he said. When asked about the military action, he kept quiet. “Aise chijo par hume na poochho to hi achcha hai. Sabko sach aur jhooth pata hai. Garib se kyu poochhate hoi? (Don’t ask me anything about such issues. I don’t want to talk. Everyone knows what is right and wrong. We are poor, spare us from all this.) he said. Newsclick met him on voting day, April 29.
On the same day, while covering voting, when Newsclick went to Kandivali west Dahanukar Nagar area, there were large queues outside the booths. Krisna Shah, 34, a bank employee, when asked about the most important issue for this election, said ‘national security’. “If the nation survives, we will survive,” she said. When asked what the difference was as nothing had happened to the country in the past 70 years, she said the government was never “so strong and decisive.”
Maharashtra is almost 40% urbanised state. The national political narrative of urban versus rural in this election is pushing the state in favour of the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance. Though we will get to know the results on May 23, one thing that can be clearly senses is that Modi’s ‘military nationalism’ will not be the ‘most decisive point’ in the state -- be it urban or rural areas.