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March 2019


DECADES ago, when I was sitting with Harmohan Dhawan, the then minister of Civil Aviation in the Chandra Shekhar Government, I was told that the latter had asked the relevant ministers to give 5,000 telephone connections and 5,000 LPG connections to win the Lok Sabha election from Chandigarh constituency. I suggested to him, “You cannot win a Parliament election with only largesse. What you really need is a political narrative that can appeal to and woo the masses.” He ignored me; he also lost the election. A leader needs a compelling electoral narrative to enhance his support, especially with the growing population of fence-sitters and first-time voters. Similarly, decades ago, Narasimha Rao, the former Prime Minister of India, was asked by his party colleagues on what could be done to stop the rising popularity of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after it embraced the Ram Mandir strategy to win the elections.

Rao’s answer was simple, but insightful. “Who can fight Lord Rama?” he asked. In other words, who can fight the politics of religion, which is the opium of the masses? That narrative became quite powerful, actually powerful enough to help the BJP to form the government at the Centre in less than 10 years, not once but three times in a row.