Saturday, May 23, 2009

Three myths and an election

Kanchan Gupta / Comment

This year’s general election will be remembered for three myths that determined its amazing outcome, catapulting the Congress to an awesome 206 seats and reducing the BJP’s tally to a paltry 116. The first is about the BJP ‘failing’ to break free of its ‘Hindutva agenda’ and coming up with proposals that would appeal to the masses and be in tune with the aspirations of India’s young. This is entirely incorrect. None of the BJP leaders who campaigned across the length and breadth of the country talked about those issues which are identified with what is crudely referred to as the party’s ‘Hindutva agenda’. I don’t recall any leader promising to abrogate Article 370, introduce a Uniform Civil Code and build a ‘grand temple’ dedicated to Sri Ram in Ayodhya. So how did this perception gain ground? The answer to this question lies in the manner in which the media, especially 24x7 news channels, portrayed the thrust of the BJP’s election campaign, wilfully misleading readers and viewers by perpetuating falsehoods in the most brazen manner, beginning with the party’s election manifesto.

Till the day of its release, only the top leaders of the BJP (you can count them on your fingertips) were privy to the contents of the manifesto. To prevent motivated leaks, the manifesto was printed the night before it was released. Yet, for nearly a fortnight before that, newspapers and news channels ran jaundiced stories about how the manifesto would focus on the BJP’s ‘core Hindutva issues’, how the Ram temple would figure prominently in it, how it was meant to revive the ‘Hindu card’, and how all this had caused a rift in the party! I happened to run into one of the peddlers of this fiction a couple of days before the manifesto was released. How do you know all this, I asked him. “Someone who is involved with drafting the manifesto has told me,” he replied haughtily. Really? The poor, pathetic sod and his feckless editor obviously had no clue about who was drafting the manifesto, what were its contents, and yet they manufactured and published stories which they knew were patent lies. I should know because I drafted the manifesto.

And when the manifesto was released, journalists didn’t even bother to read the 48-page document. Instead, they picked up three lines on page 47, which said, “The BJP will explore all possibilities, including negotiations and judicial proceedings, to facilitate the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya,” to put out stories on how the party had returned its “old hardline Hindutva”. During prime time news that evening, anchors aggressively confronted BJP spokespersons with taunting questions like, “So, the BJP, bereft of any issue, has fallen back on Ayodhya? It’s communal politics once again?” They grinned as the party’s representatives, ill-prepared and inarticulate, mumbled inanities. A news service that prides itself on being ‘different’ ran a story that was all about the BJP’s previous manifestoes. Others followed suit. And that was it.

The manifesto talked about the economy, foreign policy, strategic affairs, climate change, education, agriculture, science and technology, gender equality, minority welfare. But all that was overlooked because for media those three lines on Page 47 were of overwhelming importance. Tragically, since media chose to ignore the substantive portions of the manifesto, which would have found a resonance with ‘young India’ had they been publicised, those leading the party’s election campaign also abandoned their own governance agenda. Instead, they talked about frivolous issues far removed from popular concerns — for example, setting up cyber cafés in impoverished villages.

And thus was the perception created that the BJP cares only about building a temple in Ayodhya and nothing else. The power of perception over reality was demonstrated when during a television debate actress Nandita Das, asked by a feisty member of the audience what exactly had Mr Varun Gandhi said in Pilibhit to merit her censure, stuttered and stammered, bit her lips, looked at her nails, tossed her head defiantly and said, “You know all those awful things he has said...” or words to that effect. Where did she read or hear about those ‘awful things’? “It’s all over the place... on TV, in newspapers. Look, we all know what he has said.” End of debate. Clearly she didn’t know what Mr Varun Gandhi had said, nor did those in media who painted him as a monster and thus sought to hobble the BJP.

The second myth that did the BJP in is the so-called ‘consciousness’ of India’s middle class whose concern about real life issues like terrorism, inflation, job loss, credit crunch and corruption, vocally articulated by those who claim to represent ‘civil society’, has turned out to be totally bogus. Nothing else explains why the middle class should have voted for the Congress and thus endorsed its poor record of governance over the past five years. We can only surmise from the voting preference of the middle class that people who are educated, well-informed, and alert to what’s happening around them, are least bothered about corruption in high places, the relentless loot of public money, the sagging physical infrastructure, the dire straits into which the previous Government has led the national economy, the repeated terrorist attacks and India’s diminishing stature. Indeed, middle class ‘morality’ and ‘consciousness’ have turned out to be figments of our collective imagination; the next time you hear somebody waxing eloquent on how Transparency International has rated India as one of the most corrupt nations in the world, or how our country has become the favourite destination of terrorists, kick that person in the face. There is no percentage in being polite.

The third myth is about ‘good governance’ fetching votes and electoral victory. Had this been true, the BJP’s tally in Gujarat would have been much higher than 15 and Mr Naveen Patnaik’s BJD would not have swept the polls in Orissa. It would be gross exaggeration to suggest that the BJD Government has delivered on its promises or turned Orissa into a wonderland of rapid development and galloping progress. India’s single largest FDI, which was to have come by way of Posco’s steel plant, remains on paper. There has been no perceptible decline in poverty in Orissa. Anybody in Bhubaneswar will tell you about rampant corruption in the bureaucracy and how BJD Ministers had their snouts in the trough. Yes, Mr Patnaik’s image remains untarnished, but so does Mr BC Khanduri’s, yet the BJP lost all five seats in Uttarakhand. If quality of governance was really a criterion in deciding the people’s choice, the BSP’s vote share would not have increased in Uttar Pradesh, taking it way ahead of others. That this did not translate into seats is because of the quirks of the first-past-the-post system.

Yes, the Congress has won a stupendous victory. But for all the wrong reasons.

[Reader response to this comment as it appeared in last Sunday's Pioneer has been overwhelming.]


indian_indian said...

Hi Kanchan,

The myths you have listed seem to be correct. But what are the real reasons for the BJP losing? Conservatives like me are at a loss to explain the Congress sweep. I expected a close contest but never expected the 262 vote tally that the UPA finally got. Unless the BJP does a thorough analysis of the reasons for the defeat, they are unlikely to make any headway in the next election. If the BJP remains complacent, the only things that can lead to a UPA defeat in 2014 are public anger because of (a) Widespread Islamic terrorist/Maoist attacks or (b) Invasions by China or Pakistan.

Corruption is no longer a hot-button issue to the apathetic Indian voter and a new Bofors-like issue is not likely to lead to the failure of the UPA to win.

I have a list of possible reasons for the UPA victory and BJP rout:
a) Personality politics where the BJP could not produce a charismatic leader. Unfortunately, the average Indian voter still feels overawed at the Gandhi name. Maybe Varun Gandhi needs to be polished-up and sent to the front of the BJP!
b) Lack of a concerted effort by the BJP to push the real issues like national security, the economy, etc.
c) Lack of a right-of-center media presence to support the BJP (like FOX News does in the US for the Republican party).
d) Electronic voting machine fraud.
e) The apathy and lack of nationalism in the average Indian middle-class voter -- probably because of the Macaulay-ite education imparted to them in the schools they attend.
f) Creation of permanent voter-pools by UPA-socialists through populist schemes like NREGA and farmer loan waivers that will bankrupt the nation in the long run but are vote-getters in the short-term.
What do you think?

indian_indian said...

And the sad part of the story is that abrogation of article 370 and creation of a uniform civil code are looked upon as Hindutva. The pseudo-secularists in the leftist Indian media play dumb when one tries to explain to them that secularism in the true sense of the word would actually include things like uniform civil codes and equal property rights.

Anonymous said...

The way RSS handled Advani after Jinah comment, he hardly looked as Loh Purush. RSS(K.S. Sudarshan) should be given Nishan-e-Haider by ISI and Congress.
RSS undermined their tallest leader at every opportunity.Kudos to their anti-Personality based politics.

Anonymous said...

I like what the person above me has commented, the RSS is behaving like a made to order fool when it insists on anti-personality politics. How can a CM or PM not become individually popular among the people. PM, CM etc are all public figures. RSS fools must understand this basic fact and stop thinking from their butts.

Anonymous said...


I agree with your views.. however, the single most reason for the congress is the hi-fi rigging of EVMs at a higher level.

Please read my post on the same

Anonymous said...

Btw, since you are a columnist & journalist, i am asking you a question.

Why hasnt BJP/ BJP supporters start our own News Channel..

Or else, why there is no protest over the deliberate tampering of news by the medias..

We could have taken it to Press Trust of India, or by formal protest to those news channels or by taking on them directly in their live telecast and exposed their bigotry..

Why there is no such counter action taken on the BJP side..

See how Modi thrashed those medias in his own way.. In none of his interviews, he blabber..

Should we develop the inherent leadership, that we dont leave easily those who insult us?

Bhavananda said...

@indian_indian: The reason why congress won is pretty much all over the "Hindutva blogs". And the answer is simple - the people choose the "original secular party" instead of the fake secular party who grew on Hindutva and then dumped the core Hindus for the sekoolar votes. Sometimes I think, BJP deserves it - no one trusts a betrayer and BJP has truly betrayed the Hindu cause.

Manu said...

Its time for the BJP to have a mouth peice of its own. Today this is the only way to get ur ideas and thoughts across to the general public.

Look at examples of Sun TV doing wonders for DMK in south not just for this elections but the previous elections too. We know how AIADMK was thrown out of power in the recent past due to all allegations and scandals and we also remember the arrest drama of DMK Chief Mr.Karunanidhi.

And the so called secular media who are all grand children of Lord Macaulay and his thoughts are proving today to be too costly to the India's development

Its time for BJP to start seriously to think about its own mouth peice.

Manu V.

Siva said...

To say the media (english) corrupted BJP's image is absolute bunkum. Even IPL 2 managed 12-15 million viwers, then one can arrive at what would be the viewership for NDTV Barkha's. The truth is half of the population is illitrate and don't even watch their regional channel, let alone news channel. So get over this media bashing and even so they don't influence the urban/rural voters. It's because the BJP's ideology and manifesto is so esoteric to even hindu (non-brahmin, non-sanskrit illiterate voters) as well as non hindi. If people understood 370, uCC, why such a dismal performance in uttrakhand, where brahmin constitute 40% of electorate?