The morning after the election results were out was chilly, not just because of the chilling results. A chill wind was indeed blowing, one that could bode ill for the country. The BJP’s electoral sweep in U.P. had chilled me to the bone, so I was trying to catch a little sun in the garden.
My reverie was disturbed by a rustling sound in the shrub in front of me, where the turtle doves have their nest. To my horror I saw a large black crow emerging with a white egg in its beak. I tried shooing it away, an act that alerted my dog. But it was too little too late. The nest egg had been stolen and I was a hapless spectator.
As a nature lover and a keen bird watcher there should have been nothing unusual or unnatural in this event, to warrant disturbance. This was one of the laws of nature – survival of the fittest; and big fish eats small fish. But post election results my mood was sombre, and so were my thoughts. I could not help but compare the two events.
A pliant media tells us that the Modi magic swept U.P. What we are not being told is that only 60% of the electorate voted, and of them less than 40% voted for Modi (yes, Modi, not the BJP). Therefore just 24% of the electorate, not the population, voted for Modi; that is less than 1 in 4. Yet a euphoric media would have us believe that this was a tsunami, now rechristened tsuNAMO. We must be gracious in conceding that Modi has won both U.P. and Uttarakhand. The crow has the nest egg, as of now. So should we remain mute spectators, or beat our breasts in woe?
Can we not see the whole picture? Yes, the BJP emphatically won two States, but it got only 3 of 117 seats in Punjab. The tsuNAMO didn’t work there. It also came off second best in Manipur and Goa. If by coercion and allurement (terms freely used in several “Freedom of Religion” Acts) the BJP does form the Govt in these two States it would be but a pyrrhic victory, proving once again that it is not a party with a difference, but just another political outfit desperate for power; where the ends justify the means. That is something that the Father of the Nation strongly disapproved of.
My home State is U.P., and I have been active in my hometown Kanpur in promoting voter awareness and preparing a Citizens’ Charter of Demands, before the elections. In the last two elections I did support the Congress, though I do not owe allegiance to any party, and have voted for various left of centre parties in the past.
However, in this election, in my capacity as Convenor of the Kanpur Nagrik Manch (Citizens’ Forum) I spearheaded the campaign by highlighting various issues and events in both nation and State; and appealed to voters to give preference to the character and track record of the candidate, rather than to the party of allegiance. Yes, I did highlight the devastating effects of demonetisation, and the clumsy attempt to attribute recent rail accidents in the vicinity to terrorists (read Muslims).
I am not a macro level political observer or analyst, but I can draw some lessons from the micro level, of which I have a better grasp. During our awareness campaign we had concentrated on two of the six urban constituencies, of the 10 in the district. Interestingly in both these constituencies, the tsunamo notwithstanding, the sitting BJP legislators were defeated, one by the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the other by the Congress. The latter is the Kanpur Cantt constituency in which I now reside. It is the only urban constituency in the whole of U.P. that the Congress won. Again, of the 6 urban seats the BJP won just 3, very different from the current trend.
I take pride in my city because it has a mind of its own, and has often bucked the trend. In the first flush of Independence, when the Congress was at its peak, we had thrice elected an independent candidate, a trade unionist. He was a Bengali, not part of the caste arithmetic. Mayawati’s blue wave of 2007 left us untouched. She didn’t win a single seat. So too in the SP win of 2012, the honours were divided evenly with the BJP and the Congress. I am therefore convinced that enlightened citizens do make a difference. Unfortunately most such “enlightened” ones limit themselves to social media with likes on Facebook. They are not able to interact with people face to face.
Civic activists also need to resist the temptation to jump into electoral politics. The latest casualty is Irom Sharmila in Manipur. She was considered a demi-God during her several years of fasting for withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act from her home State. But when she switched to politics, even claiming to become the next Chief Minster, she came a cropper, garnering a measly 60 votes.
In 2011 something similar happened to another high-voltage activist – Anna Hazare. Remember him? On 10th April 2011 I had led 1000 citizens of Kanpur in a day long fast for India Against Corruption. However, I disassociated myself from the movement when I found that it was more anti-Congress than anti-corruption. Hazare’s main supporters – Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and Gen V.K. Singh (Retd) all joined politics.
Discreetly backed by the RSS, Hazare thought that that he was a modern day Gandhi. His popularity went to his head. On 31st December that year, at a rally in Mumbai, he gave a clarion call for “Jail Bharo”. His high-voltage campaign ended with a whimper. Mumbaikars preferred their New Year Eve parties to cooling their heels in jail. Pride always comes before a fall. That is why the Mahatma remained humble to the end. A lesson for all in public life.
Coming back to U.P., the BJP victory has been described as a thumbs up for Modi’s policies, including demonetisation. I beg to differ. Modi himself gave credit to his Man Friday, Amit Shah, saying that years of hard work had paid off. This was long before demonetisation. What had Shah worked on? It was U.P.’s caste arithmetic – identifying leaders and caste groups that were not bound to Mayawati’s BSP (non-Jatav Dalits), or the SP (non-Yadav OBCs). This was Shah’s social engineering, not Modinomics.
What other factors helped Modi in U.P.? Despite several political pundits saying that Mayawati was the dark horse in the race I did not subscribe to that view, because during her tenure as Chief Minister all she had done was to erect her own statues. Had she actually worked for Dalit empowerment, instead of doling out tickets to Brahmins and Muslims, her vote bank would have been intact.
I feel really sorry for Akhilesh Yadav. He took on his own father and uncle to script a new narrative of “development”, moving away from the tried and tested caste arithmetic. He showcased his achievements. In defeat, with a tinge of bitterness he said, “Assurances seem to work more than achievements”, when it comes to electoral rhetoric. Manmohan Singh could have said the same (had he chosen to speak, that is)! Some commentators said that Akhilesh’s development activities were limited to the Lucknow region. In that case he should have won all those seats. He didn’t.
What then of Rahul Baba and his Congress? If Modi won U.P. for the BJP then, in equal measure, Rahul lost the plot for the Congress. In 2009 Shobhaa De had called him the Dimpled Darling of aspirational youth. Today he is more like pimpled acne on perspirational faces! Three years ago I had written that he should quit politics. He is just not cut out for it. He should learn from Sharmila and Hazare, and just fade away into the sunset. He hired Prashant Kumar (PK) because of his earlier successes with the BJP campaign in 2014 and subsequently for Nitish Kumar in Bihar. What he didn’t realise is that the BJP knew PK’s approach and was ready for it this time around. Look at some of PK’s hair brained ideas – projecting Shiela Dikshit as the Chief Ministerial candidate; promoting Raj Babbar, a yesteryear’s cine star, as the head of the organisation, and having Khat Panchayats. The khats (cots) were not a bed of roses, and became the laughing stock of the nation.
If Capt Amarinder Singh pulled off a stunning victory for the Congress in Punjab, it is because he stoutly resisted PK’s forays, something that Rahul Baba did not take kindly to. Rahul just about saved two seats in his pocket boroughs of Rae Bareli and Amethi. Can he or his mother hope to win from there in 2019? Doubtful.
I have no love lost for the Congress or for Rahul Baba. But I love my country, which needs a strong opposition and a viable alternative to a rampaging BJP. In 2004 Rahul’s mother listened to her “conscience” and asked Manmohan Singh to be the Prime Minister. It is now time for Rahul to listen to his conscience and make way for more competent persons in his party. He owes it to the nation.
If not, the raucous crows will continue to rob the nest eggs of the peace loving doves. I cannot be a silent spectator to that. After finishing this piece I noticed that the bulbuls were now building a nest near the abandoned one of the doves. Is that a portent of things to come? I sincerely hope so.
(The writer is the Convenor of the Kanpur Nagrik Manch.)# (Published on 20th March 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 12)