From the high-mindedness showcased at Mamallapuram, the prime minister plunged straight into the low-mindedness of electoral rhetoric in Haryana and Maharashtra – sticking diligently to the role crafted for him by BJP president, home minister and the ‘second Sardar Patel’, Amit Shah. An endorsement was sought from the voters of the new muscularity in the New India.
With characteristic flourish, the prime minister threw the gauntlet down to the Congress and the opposition: dare to promise a roll-back on the hollowing of Article 370. In Maharashtra, Article 370 was flaunted as the much-delayed resurgence of a particularly uncompromising, aggressive nationalism, once personified by that great cultural icon Chhatrapati Shivaji.
In Haryana, the land of the brave, the prime minister even accused the Congress of being responsible for the death of so many soldiers in Jammu and Kashmir for not having had the guts to gut Article 370.
He was at his elegant best when he cursed his opponents to “doob maaro” [go drown yourself] for allegedly providing aid and comfort to Pakistan. And, in a moment of grand megalomania, he thundered, “Modi will stop Haryana’s water that the Congress governments had all these years allowed to flow out to Pakistan.”
This was an eight-octave pitch on the nationalist scale. The idea was to overawe one and all. The script of a victory ordained was complete. And, making a virtue out of its overwhelming advantages in financial resources, governmental machinery, desertions and defections from the Congress and the NCP camps, BJP leaders took turns at pitying, deriding and ridiculing the opposition for its ‘absence’.
It was left to Shiv Sena columnists in party mouthpiece Saamana to inject a note of realism and wonder aloud: if the battle was so one-sidedly tipped in its favour, where was the need for so many big guns from the BJP – national and regional – to go for such overkill?
Expectedly, the media also allowed itself to be mesmerised by the prime minister’s so-called muscular leadership. Anchors and editors who presume to speak for the nation sang the ‘unstoppable’ BJP song and castigated the opposition for its impending decimation. When Veer Savarkar was suddenly and abruptly introduced as the most potent and defining issue, these insightful commentators and analysts were mightily impressed with the BJP election managers and manipulators’ tactical cleverness.
Lastly, the exit polls were cooked up to oversell the notion of an inexorable BJP juggernaut. It was just sheer coincidence – perhaps too much of a coincidence – that on the eve of voting in Haryana and Maharashtra, the army chief allowed himself to confirm that his boys had, once again, destroyed those ‘terror camps’ in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
The most crucial question to be asked here is: for how long can an ultra-nationalist fervour be whipped up efficaciously to make the voters forget their economic deprivation and destitution?
By all indications, the economy has been grossly mismanaged and misdirected these last five years; in Maharashtra, the plight of farmers has relentlessly gone from bad to worse. Rather than finding a fix for massive unemployment and economic slowdown, the BJP leadership sought to pass the buck on to the UPA governments.
It was left to soft-spoken Dr. Manmohan Singh to tell the BJP to stop blaming the previous governments even after five and half-years in office and, instead, to start listening to sensible advice from competent economists.
‘Enemy at the gate’
The voters also obviously did not allow themselves to swept off their feet by all the invocations of the enemy at the gate. A sobering repudiation of political loud-mouthism.
Haryana is a loud slap in the face. A bumbling politician was sought to be dressed up as a sterling administrator. Despite the divisions and disarray in the Congress ranks and the un-hinging of the Chautala clan, the Haryana voter refused to fall in line with the Modi-Shah’s chosen satrap. All that high-pitched summoning of venom and vehemence against Pakistan failed to make the Haryana voter overlook five years of underperformance.
And, perhaps one of the reasons why the ‘uber-nationalism’ card did not work as decisively as the saffron camp had hoped, is that it was the first “Gandhis-less” campaign in a long, long time. Barring a very token participation by Rahul Gandhi, the Congress leaders in the two states were left very much on their own. Local leaders found their voice, their tongue, their idiom, and their issues.
More importantly, Narendra Modi and other BJP leaders did not have a Rahul Gandhi to kick around. Sonia Gandhi’s health did not permit her to make her presence felt. The third Gandhi, sister Priyanka, kept herself conspicuously away from the two states. There was no ‘Modi versus Rahul’ choice.
The implications are all too obvious, mostly for the Congress leaders and activists and cadres.
New India’s tricks of coercion and intimidation are no longer enthralling the masses. The ‘corruption-free India’ plot got overdone when the Enforcement Directorate – our New India’s answer to the Old Soviet-era KGB – sought to humiliate Sharad Pawar, the tallest Maratha leader in the country. With a familiar sleight of hand, the ED besmirched Sharad Pawar’s reputation. But unlike the Congress leaders targeted by the agencies, Pawar stood firm, called the ED’s bluff and threatened to take the matter to the streets.
The nameless petty-tyrants backed off, but ended up creating an impression of an arrogant regime out to unfairly target its political rivals.
Not done. The politics of calculated use and misuse of power stands rebuffed.
The results in Haryana and Maharashtra are a timely warning to the new bosses that there are definite limits beyond which the citizens and the voters cannot be taken for a ride. Irrespective of who gets to form the government in the two states, the outcome is anything but a ringing mandate for its policies and politics that was sought by the ruling coterie.
Indeed, the bottom-line is a definite rebuff for the new arrogance of the new rulers of New India.
Harish Khare is a journalist who lives and works in Delhi. He was, until recently, editor-in-chief of The Tribune.