By Valson Thampu
The good thing about television coverages of elections -or issues in general- is that you only have to look at the faces of the experts. You don’t need to listen to what they say; for you know exactly what each one of them would say, down to the last syllable. They are so very predictable. And are so, even when they deal with an election which was not all that predictable.
At the time of writing this, the BJP seems to have romped home. Not a triumphant march, but a sort of sneaking back into the seat, still warm from its contact with a dishonourable part of the human anatomy. And that, I believe, is the most significant feature of this election; especially thinking long-term.
The key to the unfolding significance of Gujarat election -because of which Himachal results became a non-event- is how the BJP sees what it has thrown up. It could be roughly as follows:
The development rhetoric has outlasted its utility. It is now at a point where it is becoming electorally counter-productive. Counter-productive, because it raises the expectations of the common man, which are, in point of fact, not meant to be met. But, damn it, they expect them to be met.
The problem with the rank and file is that they mistake what is meant for their ears as what is meant for their stomach; whereas the elite is always clear on this vital distinction. That’s why they don’t mind what Modi says for popular consumption. They know that, once the crowd disperses, only they will remain around the table, where the bounties of development are piled up.
The message of this election is not that Rahul has lost to Modi. It is that Gujarat has lost to UP. Gujarat is no longer the prime Hindutva laboratory. UP has just de-throned Gujarat in that respect. So, Gujarat will follow, henceforth, the UP model. Between the Gujarat model of development and the UP model of sweeping elections, an unbridgeable gap has opened up. Since winning elections is all that matters to any party, it is inevitable that UP shoos Gujarat out as the valid model.
Yogi Adityanath knew this a few months ahead of Modi. That was why he went to Kerala and exhorted the people there to emulate UP. The people Kerala, being politically heretical, got the message instantly and settled the issue in light of their local wisdom, which, if we go by Modi’s view of things, is far inferior to that of Somalia vis-a-vis the indices of development.
The good thing about Gujarat elections is that it allows a clear prediction on the 2019 general elections. That water-shed election will be fought, make no doubt, not on development. It will be strategized -no need to speculate- wholly on the communal polarization of voters. There is no opium potent enough to dull the seething frustrations of the masses than communal animosities. Nothing else will inhibit their ability to think rationally, as completely as this can.
I recall a television talk-show in which the effect of demonetization on people from various sectors of the society was being discussed. There was -surprise of surprises- an ordinary farmer from UP. Yes, he was badly hit, he said. He looked angry at the privations he had to put up with. The loss he has had to swallow was great. But he also went on to say that he voted for the BJP. Here’s exactly what he said, “When dharam ka mamla was put on me, nothing else mattered. I voted accordingly.”
I could see, then and there, several faces chuckling hugely on this very valuable insight. What the farmer said was simple: but for the effect of communal polarization on him, he would have voted differently.
Close to the polling dates, BJP realized that the going was tougher than they had presumed. A fear was born that the outcome might even be embarrassing. That left the Modi-Shah duo with only one bullet train to victory. Being a familiar track, it was driven to perfection to the desired destination.
No one can doubt that this is a Modi-Shah victory. This claim that the BJP spokespersons are making is beyond any dispute. What can be disputed is only how this victory has been won. It was won, certainly, not on the ‘development’ card. It was won on the polarization card. Polarization is the new ‘development’; indeed a significant development.
That is not good news for “We, the people of India…” Hard days are ahead for them.
Even a remote prospect that the BJP may not retain Gujarat made the markets jittery and the stocks began to tumble. What other proof do we need for the organic oneness between the present dispensation and the corporates? The unhindered victory march of the Modi-Shah juggernaut is a ‘corporates’ imperative. That being the case, the Gujarat election will take the State-corporates partnership to a new level.
At the same time, Modi cannot afford to overlook the fact that electorally it could hurt him badly if he turns a blind eye on the sub-text of these results. There are clear symptoms of rural distress. It has unveiled large and lurid rashes on the under-belly of the body-politic. The fact that the Gujarat elections did not succeed in affirming its reality, or honouring its electoral significance, will only cause this frustration to morph into a lingering, low-grade fever.
Low-grade, because it lacks, notwithstanding the emergence of Rahul, a point of coherence to fashion it into a flash-point. But a time will surely come when human distress will refuse to be anaesthetized any longer by the prestidigitations of propaganda and the polarizing canards of improvised communal narratives.
So, hard days are ahead for Modi too. He is going to require unprecedented skills to walk the tight-rope between the corporate masters and the desperate voters, from the middle class down.
Remember the old saying, “No champion ever returns from the ring.” One day he will take the hit. Today you may dance like a butter-fly and sting like a bee. But tomorrow?
(Valson Thampu is the former principal of Delhi’s St Stephen’s College)