By Nardeep Dahiya
It was the winter of 2016 when a Supreme Court bench headed by the now Chief Justice directed that the national anthem be played before films are screened in cinemas across the nation. The purpose of the order, the court said, was to instill “committed patriotism and nationalism” and “reflect love and respect for the motherland”. That order was softened by the court in a week; by January this year the playing of the 52-second anthem was made optional for cinema owners, and an inter-ministerial panel is now examining the entire issue.
All that may be decided soon enough but the big-screen summer of 2018 has seen another pre-feature insertion bundled with the solemnity of the national anthem: short films that showcase the achievements of the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government. You could be settling down with popcorn and a fizzy drink to watch Jurassic World or even Veere di Wedding, but these ‘shorts’ will have to be seen in the darkened theatre when the doors have been closed.
These ‘shorts’ are part of the government’s fourth year celebrations; each highlights a specific initiative of the government, like Swachh Bharat or Jan Dhan Yojana, or a sectoral thrust area like agriculture or road-building. All are available on https://48months.mygov.in/, a part of mygov.in, a website launched by the government in July 2014 to engage with citizens.
Setting the Stage
About a minute long each, these are slickly made, with production values far better than is usual in the standard chest-thumping of Indian politics. Modi is the thread that ties all together, appearing in each as the spearhead of all good things coming our nation’s way.
The headline is the same across shorts: Saaf Niyat, Sahi Vikas. This is the slogan the Bharatiya Janata Party has settled on to ride into the battle of 2019.
It sounds pretty tame at first, but it may just turn the trick that ‘India Shining’ of 2004 could not. The slogan starts with a subliminal anti-Congress message, encapsulating in two words the anti-corruption theme of the BJP’s 2014 campaign. Saaf Niyat: Clean Intent.
Sahi Vikas—Right Development— follows, like an unfinished story, more a continuum of a higher duty than the preceding terse statement of intent, but complementing it like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle.
The message common to every short: What couldn’t be done in decades has been achieved in four years. As the year rolls by, this will have been drilled and drilled and drilled yet again into India’s crores of cinema-going heads.
Saaf Niyat, Sahi Vikas may not have the gale force of Indira Gandhi’s punchy and catchy ‘Garibi Hatao’ of 1980, but it does make the BJP’s ‘Achhe Din’ of 2014 a similarly distant memory. It turns the page.
On the negative side, it’s reminiscent of the ‘India Shining’ that put the BJP down for the count in the big surprise of 2004. And spookily so. The economy was spooling into higher gear then, India had gone nuclear, and then sorted out Pakistan in a short but vicious war. But the BJP lost.
In any case, the BJP is off the blocks with a well-crafted message of development and promise of more to come. The Opposition’s order of battle will be in place only when battle is joined; their message till then can only be ‘Oust Modi’.
Built into all this is the possibility of general elections being called early, this winter, with due state elections in BJP-held Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Congress-held Mizoram added to the mix. Then, there’s buzz of the Kejriwal-BJP war endgaming into a climactic dismissal of the Delhi government soon, and recent events in the Capital only strengthen such speculation. On Tuesday, Jammu and Kashmir was added as a possibility as the BJP broke up with its coalition partner, the Peoples Democratic Party.
Saaf Niyat may turn out to be highly miscible with the BJP’s desire to hold simultaneous national and state elections after all. And that would be Sahi Vikas as far as the ruling NDA is concerned.