A retired police constable, Prem Singh, made a very pertinent point when speaking to The Citizen’s reporter in Barmer, western Rajasthan - close to the India-Pakistan border. “Barmer is close to Pakistan and the Indian Army is already doing its duty on border. The people of this town need water. Who will vote if we die of thirst?”

“The Congress is talking about people issues whereas Modi is talking about security. Both are important but we need water to survive,” Prem Singh continued - highlighting a forgotten promise of the BJP government, that of vikas, or development.

The BJP won the political mandate in 2014, with the slogan ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas.’ Five years later, well into the 2019 lok sabha elections, vikas seems to have disappeared from the ruling party’s narrative - replaced by a heavy focus on the issue of national security.

It was in drought hit Barmer where Prime Minister Modi thundered that “India too has nuclear weapons, is capable of using it and haven’t kept them aside for use on Diwali.” Referring to India’s nuclear capability, the Prime Minister said that his government, unlike the Congress, refused to be intimidated by Pakistan’s nuclear threats and had given a “fitting reply” through the Balakot air strike.

In Chittorgarh in Rajasthan, PM Modi said that voting for the BJP was akin to voting against terrorism. “We killed terrorists in their home,” he said - despite international reports that the strikes in Balakot caused no casualties.

A quick assessment of BJP leaders’ speeches corroborate that in the 2019 polls, vikas has given way to the issue of national security. In states without major regional parties, where the BJP is locked in a direct fight with the Congress - the discourse has focused on the ruling party’s hard line on terror. In Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Haryana - which account for 91 Lok Sabha seats, of which the BJP had won 88 in 2014 - the narrative offered projects the Congress as a weak alternative. (It’s worth noting that BJP lost Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh to the Congress in recent assembly elections, and retained Gujarat with a narrow victory).

National security has then come to replace job creation, “profitability in agriculture” and even economic growth.

In 2014, the BJP promised the creation of one crore new jobs - but employment schemes such as Make in India, the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojna (PMKVY), also known as Skill India, the Pradhan Mantri Employment Generation Programme (PMEGP), the Pradhan Mantri Mudra Scheme (PMMS) and the Pradhan Mantri Rozgar Protsahan Yojana (PMRPY), are all far behind targets.

On the contrary, unemployment has risen. A January 2019 report by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, reveals that as many as 1.1 crore people lost their jobs in 2018, while the unemployment rate shot up to 7.4 percent in December 2018, the rate increased sharply from the 6.6 per cent clocked in November, the highest in 15 months. Following the job loss in both urban and rural India, an estimated 91 lakh jobs were lost in rural India while the loss in urban India was 18 lakh jobs as per the report.

Agrarian distress has culminated in nationwide farmers protests, with farmers demanding a special parliamentary session to discuss solutions - including a full loan waiver and higher crop prices. “‘The Congress government was stealing from our pockets, but this government is slitting our throat,” a kisan from Maharashtra told The Citizen’s reporter at a protest in New Delhi.

And perhaps the biggest blow to the ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ promise is the indication that the Indian economy is slowing down.

The focus on national security, then, shouldn’t come as a surprise this election season. In addition to revving up the Balakot rhetoric in specific key states, the BJP has played up the issue of illegal immigration in others. The North East and West Bengal became the focus of the BJP’s anti-immigration rhetoric, with Amit Shah referring to immigrants as “termites” and vowing to throw them out if the BJP comes back to power.

At a rally in Raiganj, Shah said that the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal was only interested in appeasing minorities. "The illegal immigrants are like termites. They are eating the grain that should go to the poor, they are taking our jobs. The T of TMC stands for Tushtikaran, (appeasement), M for Mafia and C for Chitfunds," Shah said.

In Assam, where the National Register of Citizens was implemented amidst much controversy, Shah promised to extend the NRC to every state of the country. "We would ensure that each and every Hindu and Buddhist refugee gets citizenship of this country," Shah said. "It is our commitment to bring in NRC across the country to chuck out each and every infiltrator. Unlike Mamata Banerjee, we don't treat infiltrators as our vote bank. For us national security is supreme.”

“When we say we will bring NRC, Mamta didi starts scaring our Bengali refugees claiming that they will also have to leave the country. Let me assure you that BJP has brought in the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. Whether it is from Bangladesh or Pakistan, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jain refugees who have come here, we will not send them back,” said Shah (leaving out Muslims).

The BJP’s discourse on national security is exclusionary - pitting a majoritarian nationalism against the country’s Muslim minority. It’s worth remembering that in 2014, the BJP’s slogan of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ included the narrative of ‘samajik nyay’ (social justice) and ‘samajik samrasata’ (social harmony).

Since coming to power, however, that narrative of social justice has given way to communal majoritarianism, with the flash point being the 2015 Dadri lynching - when Mohammad Akhlaq was beaten to death following a rumour that his family had consumed beef (forensic reports later confirmed that it was goat and not beef - as if that should matter in a lynching).

The Dadri lynching was followed by several other attacks on minorities, led by self styled ‘gau rakshaks’ (cow protectors). In March 2016, two cattle traders were lynched and their bodies hung in Jharkhand. In July 2016, four Dalit men were assaulted in Una, Gujarat for skinning dead cows. In 2017, a daily wage labourer, Pehlu Khan was lynched in broad daylight in Rajasthan; meat trader Qasim Qureshi was lynched by a mob of 20-25 people in Uttar Pradesh's Hapur. These are just a few of many such attacks.

The logical culmination of the BJP’s majoritarianism meets exclusionary national security is the candidature of Sadhvi Pragya Thakur - who is contesting on a BJP ticket from Bhopal despite being charged with terrorism. Thakur is among the alleged conspirators in the 2008 Malegaon blasts case, where explosives hidden in a motorcycle killed six people and injured more than 100 others in Maharashtra. Thakur’s candidate is the first time in Indian political history, that a terror accused has been granted a lok sabha ticket. Both PM Modi and Amit Shah have publicly defended Thakur’s candidature, with Shah saying that Thakur was framed in false cases by those who had coined the term "Hindu terror" and pandered to vote bank politics.

"A Hindu can never be a terrorist. They have fabricated false cases to frame her. It was a conspiracy for vote bank politics," Amit Shah said at a rally in Rajnagar.