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Silly Point

Comedy of campaigns

THE elections that we saw this time around were one long laugh. Even those of us who are born sour pusses and cannot see the humour in a situation despite packaging by Raju Srivastava or Kapil Sharma and loud canned laughter will also agree that we have been witnesses to the ultimate comedy show bordering on farce.

Look at the way the BJP conducted its campaign. There was a single motif; the adulation of a single individual. Just as Sachin fans chanted, “Sachin, Sachin!” at the time of his retirement, the devotees of the demi-god, Narendra, chanted, “Modi, Modi!” even at the beginning of his campaign. The religious flavour could also be tasted in the “Namo, Namo!”mantra.

As the campaigning progressed, the managers got bolder and bolder. They presumed that “Abki baar Modi Sarkaar” (this time around, a Modi regime) was already a reality. Modi’s kurtas became smarter and smarter, his achkans got a designer cut and his body language spoke of a foregone victory. He told his mammoth audiences that they had tolerated the Congress for 60 years, this time around they should hand over the country in his charge for only 60 months and see the miracles he would perform. It was as though if there were more time for the polling, he would up the anté and promise the moon if they made him Prime Minister for only 60 minutes!

This was positive thinking at its best. A Stephen Covey or Shiv Khera would have nodded their sagely heads in emphatic approval. By the time we went to the booths, Modi had convinced the entire nation about his magical Gujarat model of development. He made tall claims about the benefits of the Gujarat model. Strangely enough, many experts (including Nobel laureate Amartya Sen) differed and quoted chapter and verse to disprove his claims.

They asserted that Gujarat had always been a leader in the pace of economic growth and there was little evidence to prove that the pace had accelerated during Modi’s regime. In fact, 5,874 farmers had committed suicide in the past decade. This figure was published in the official report of the National Crime Records Bureau. Modi blithely dismissed this report as exaggerated and gave out that only one farmer had committed suicide. The status of women and children on the nutrition index was demonstrated to be very low. He dismissed the whole thing with a joke about Gujarati women not attaching importance to their physical beauty. He boasted of having provided employment to the youth. Official statistics showed that thousands of small enterprises had, in fact, folded up.

The extent of playing with figures bordered on the ludicrous. Modi claimed that in the Vibrant Gujarat Mahamela 2011, projects worth US$450 billion had been signed. The actual FDI flow into the whole country for 2010-11 was a mere US$30 billion and Gujarat’s share was a paltry 2.38 per cent. Modi alleged that he had two million Twitter followers. Independent investigators found that only 10 per cent were genuine followers, the remaining 90 per cent were a fabrication.

Modi’s realpolitik came to the fore in his treatment of the Lokayukta appointment. From 2003 to 2013, he did not permit the post to be filled. He would not approve the name suggested by the Chief Justice of Gujarat. Matters reached a point when he tried a daring coup by passing fresh legislation for the Lokayukta, by virtue of which he would decide who the Lokayukta would be and the said dignitary would not have jurisdiction over the misdeeds of the Chief Minister and his Council of Ministers. It took the combined prowess of the High Court and the Supreme Court to upset his plans.

Modi is a former pracharak of the RSS and as such well versed in the art of using language to achieve his political objectives. During the election rallies, he used the phrase ‘Shehzada’ for Rahul Gandhi and not ‘Yuvraj’ or ‘Rajkumar’. He knew that ‘Shehzada’ would make him sound like a Muslim and revive remembrances of Mughal princes like Salim and Aurangzeb. ‘Rajkumar’or ‘Yuvraj’ would have evoked memories of Hindu epic heroes like Rama and Bharat.

Narendra Modi’s realpolitik came to the fore in his treatment of the Lokayukta appointment. From 2003 to 2013, he did not permit the post to be filled.

One hilarious episode in the election related to the overwhelming demand that he apologise for the 2002 Gujarat riots. He was handicapped by the fact that Atalji had castigated him in no uncertain terms for violating his rajdharma. He repeatedly refused to express his regrets and, when cornered, took recourse in a simile by saying, We are saddened even when a puppy is crushed by our car. When some Muslims objected to being compared to dogs, Modi said, We Indians are very conscious of the rights of all forms of life and are pained even if we trampled an ant underfoot.

AN interesting sidelight concerns the way Modi and Rahul managed their TV interviews. Modi had a pathological aversion to interviews. Perhaps it was the result of his earlier experience of 2008 when he was interviewed by Karan Thapar for CNN/IBN and took the unprecedented step of walking out in the middle of the interview when Thapar starting putting the heat on him for the 2002 riots. He went to the extent of cancelling a recent Facebook interview promised to Madhu Trehan. He finally surfaced on the India TV channel, where a patently partisan Rajat Sharma, known for his Hindutva leanings, gave him a long rope. He even allowed him to import a studio audience totally devoted to the BJP and Modi, and did not prevent them from breaking into thunderous applause at every response from Modi. The hand-picked judge also made sympathetic noises and found no charge proved against Modi.

Rahul Gandhi, on the other hand, offered himself as a sacrificial goat at the blood-spattered altar of Arnab Goswami. As expected, Goswami made mincemeat of the young tyro and made him look a fool. His interview made him the favourite whipping boy of every anchor and commentator of the country. It took another interview by Javed Ansari to somewhat redeem Rahul’s reputation.

The Aam Aadmi Party unwittingly generated dollops of merriment in political circles. They were unable to grasp what kind of animal Arvind Kejriwal was. Initially, many believed all that Kejriwal stated. The AAP administered a high voltage shock to the political class by winning 28 seats in the elections to the Delhi assembly. That is when the drama began.

Kejriwal’s problem was that he gave categorical assurances and fixed unreasonable timeframes for fulfilling them. He then unwisely started to implement the assurances.

KEJRIWAL started by refusing to form the government, but the BJP and Congress raised such a shindig at his reluctance to assume office, that Kejriwal had to change tack. Having stated his gut feeling that he would not take the outside support of any party, he decided to see whether he could extract a written assurance from the two giant parties on a 16-point agenda. The BJP gave a verbal and the Congress a written assurance. Kejriwal then took the unusual step of going back to the voters to elicit their mandate. When he gathered that most people wanted to see him in office, he stepped up.

Kejriwal’s problem was that he gave categorical assurances and fixed unreasonably tight timeframes for fulfilling them. He then unwisely started to implement the assurances overnight. In this he was egged on by his political rivals.

Any fool could have told him that the Congress would pull the rug from under his feet. When he tried to have his Jan Lokpal Bill passed, both the Congress and BJP refused to give support and brought down his government. Then they went about the country, tom-tomming the lie that Kejriwal had found it impossible to govern and had run away from his responsibilities.

It was the strategy of his rivals that they would tie him down to Delhi and not let him spread the AAP virus in other parts of India. At best he would have time to put up candidates in a few urban centres. By his resignation, Kejriwal belied their expectations. He toured the length and breadth of the country and put up 300 candidates. He went to Gujarat and bearded the lion in his own den. He said he would oppose Modi wherever he stood from.

Then, Modi took the highly unpopular step of throwing out party stalwart Murli Manohar Joshi from what was felt to be a safe BJP stronghold of Varanasi and filing his own nomination from there. When Kejriwal dared project himself as his rival from Varanasi, Modi supporters tried all the tried and tested techniques of blustering and bludgeoning rivals. They organised black flag demonstrations, threw black ink and eggs at Kejriwal and his supporters, and roughed them up in many locations across the country. When questioned on these dubious fascist tactics, they alleged that Kejriwal was himself having these attacks organised, as he wished to remain in the headlines.

To top it all, a propaganda blitz was launched that Kejriwal was a highly ambitious person and he had resigned from the Chief Ministership of Delhi with the sole objective of projecting himself as a Prime Ministerial candidate. Simultaneously, it was announced that surveys did not give the Aam Aadmi Party anything beyond three seats in Parliament, if at all they were able to open their account.

In between, there were sideshows like the SP alleging that Modi was a Hindu fanatic as he refused to wear the skull cap of the Muslims and Modi calling its leader Netaji Maulana Mulayam.

Priyanka lashed out at her cousin, Varun, and Maneka came out like a tigress to defend her cub.Sharad Pawar apologised to the Election Commission (EC) for having advised (in a lighter vein, he claimed) to master the art of removing the indelible ink from their fingers so that they could vote from two different places.

Amit Shah apologised to the EC for having threatened to take revenge upon the Muslims and said he was only paraphrasing Barack Obama’s comment that one could best avenge oneself through voting.

To sum up, this election, which was supposed to be the harbinger of a new era in India’s political history, reduced itself to a huge farce. A 63-year old, grizzly-haired, almost-unmarried RSS pracharak who spent most of his life selling tea is declared by most pollsters to be a sureshot winner. He will easily trounce a 43-year-young prince charming schooled in Harvard, Cambridge and Oxford and possessing almost hereditary rights over the prime ministership of the country. Plus, he has made an IIT alumnus and former Additional Commissioner of Income Tax a butt of national ridicule.

Let the dudes of Youngistan playing with their apps and gizmos put that in their pipes and smoke it!

MK Kaw is a former Secretary, Government of India

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