The Meaning of Change

All opinion polls and media reports suggest that the Narendra Modi-led BJP could emerge as the single largest party and form the next government

Sanjay Kapoor Delhi 

In april-may last year, an opinion poll by an agency, which was subsequently disgraced in a sting operation, claimed that if the BJP wanted to touch 220 seats in the Lok Sabha polls — a feat it had not accomplished even at the height of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement — it should fight the elections under the leadership of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. The UPA stood to lose about 60-odd seats if Modi led the charge.

A year later, and after innumerable surveys on TV channels and in newspapers, testing this forecast has become a national pastime. For months now, everyone has an opinion on how many seats the BJP, under Modi, will win. Starting with those who gave not more than 150-160 seats to the BJP, claiming its limited geographical spread, the figures are slowly rising in the circuit of pollsters, political journalists and bettors. Nearly all bets now are on Modi and how he could bring the BJP to power after being in the opposition for the past 10 years. Nearly all of the satta market claims that it will be the NDA that will get 200-odd seats and Modi will head it. In contrast, no one is really offering any bets on Rahul Gandhi and his party save on how low its tally will fall — below or above 100.

So, is the change finally here?

By all reckoning this is a remarkable transformation in the fortunes of the Congress, that had seemed so invincible when it got 200+ seats in the 2009 elections, and of the BJP, racked by self-doubt, which had seemed on the verge of decimation after successive losses.

The BJP’s rapid rise has been attributed to the high-voltage media blitz and the manner in which Modi was presented as the man the country is awaiting to turn around its fortunes. He was declared as the person who could kick-start India’s halted development and provide jobs to a large mass of the youth, facing a bleak future.

In fact, the push and legitimacy for Modi came from the growing bulge of job-seekers who thought that the slow growth had something to do with the weak government at the Centre. It also came from millions who fell for the spin about the Gujarat Model, imagining it to mean growth, governance, 24/7 power supply and, yes, jobs — plenty of them. The appeal of the narrative worked for the ‘aspirational class’ in different cities racked by the slowdown and the collapse of dreams. It also worked for those who lived in small cities in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and wanted better roads and urban infrastructure, and a government that provided an environment that could help them self-actualize.

Several reports and studies have proved that most of the assertions about the Gujarat Model are a lot of balderdash. But there is a massive anti-incumbency feeling sweeping the country on the issue of corruption and weak leadership. People don’t want to have anything to do with Manmohan Singh and the Gandhi family anymore. A fierce campaign by the BJP and the Aam Aadmi Party each have de-legitimized Manmohan’s government and laid to waste all its achievements.

Modi and his spin doctors also resorted to half-truths that could not be challenged by an extremely weak Congress leadership, which was mostly trying to play catch-up. The Congress could not protect its gains and defend the core issue of secularism that had brought it to power in 2004 — two years after the Gujarat riots.

In 2004, the media and pollsters were giving 350 seats to the NDA. The Congress seemed weak and lost. The only thing that Sonia Gandhi had done was to stitch a few alliances with the DMK and Lalu Prasad Yadav. The NDA, too, had its share of alliances. What worked for the Congress was the minorities rallying around the party after the 2002 Godhra incident.

There are about 100-odd constituencies where the minorities are major players. Some believe that these numbers, in their own way, go up to about 200. This is a significant number and the BJP in 2004 and 2009 realized it to its mortification. The Congress managed to win 140 seats in 2004 and 200+ in 2009.

Can the minorities, in trepidation over the rise of Modi and his manifest exclusionary politics, help the Congress salvage some honour and pride? The minorities have to ride on a social constituency to be meaningful. In UP, they had a coalition with the dominant Yadavs or Jats in some areas. If this social compact breaks, they lose their influence.

The 2014 polls threaten to differ from the 2004 and 2009 editions as the BJP, helped by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has gone about threatening the very core of the strategy of the minority communities that used tactical voting to remain relevant. SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav’s narrow and sectarian ways have allowed the BJP to implement many of its strategies in the socially volatile state of UP. Astutely, they used their cadres to feed the grievance amongst caste Hindus that Mulayam was ignoring their interests to curry favour with the Muslims. Instances of how even FIRs were not filed against Muslim criminals were used to foment hostility. Riots were an outcome, which polarized the Hindus and the Muslims. In western UP, the traditional alliance between the rich agriculturalists, Jats and Muslims collapsed. Lower-caste Dalits were also sought to be weaned away into the Hindu fold. Violence and fear of it have a way of reconfiguring social reality.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: MAY 2014