Debating India


You Can’t Buy The People Of India


Monday 24 May 2004, by MEHTA*Vinod

Even Vajpayee proved no match in the Byzantine complexity of Indian reality where class, caste, ethnic and religious loyalties change every 200 km.

Although I am tempted to declare that pseudo-secularism has triumphed, it is Indian democracy (pseudo-secularism included) which has triumphed. Not only has the country been stunned by the awesome verdict, the entire free world must learn from the courage of the poor, the illiterate, the voiceless and the underprivileged of the earth’s largest democracy as they punish rulers who thought their realm consisted of 150 million for whom India was definitely ’shining’. That this resentment against a callous, corrupt, divisive government, with a seemingly benign leader, was not picked up by the news media or political parties should keep researchers engaged for a few years. Since the news media is made up of people comprising India Shining, it did not submit the dubious slogan to the scrutiny and scepticism it deserved. This magazine’s record in exposing the slogan is better but that does not absolve us of all responsibility.

It is often observed that oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them. As a shocked BJP introspects, two major miscalculations (plus a belief in managerial infallibility) seem to have been made by a party which has a known habit of going over the top. India Shining was a smart idea if it had been used in short, selective bursts and then withdrawn. Similarly, the Atal Behari Vajpayee factor, on which the BJP staked its last sari, went completely out of hand with the party putting all its eggs in the Vajpayee-is-supreme-leader basket.

It is no one’s case that Mr Vajpayee is not an asset for the BJP. Alas, even he is no match for the Byzantine complexity of contemporary Indian reality where class, caste, ethnic and religious loyalties change every 200 kilometres. Atalji’s personality failed to negotiate that ground complexity. The master tacticians, the smug whizkids with data-rich computers, ignored the fact that in a sense not one but 25 elections were being fought to select MPs for the 14th Lok Sabha. Nobody understands that better now than Chandrababu Naidu who unsuccessfully sought to conceal his lack of concern for the urban and rural poor of his state through the charisma of the poet-PM.

The other fatal error was the decision to concentrate the party’s firepower exclusively on the Gandhi family-Sonia, Priyanka, Rahul- not on the plausible charge of dynasty or inexperience, but on the charge of suspect integrity. We were told they would "sell" the country. Even though Mr Vajpayee rebuked his merry men and women for indulging in vulgar vilification, the abuse continued. This was not only a waste of energy because all the BJP was doing was preaching to the converted. It is probable that the relentless and crude Sonia-bashing was hugely counter-productive. The wiser in the BJP realised that attacking Priyanka and Rahul was self-destructive, but the damage was done by then. I believe the BJP got really alarmed when they saw that these two young and fresh faces could draw the kind of crowds they did, while no one in their party-not even Atalji-could generate such spontaneous and wild affection.

You can manage the media, you can prop up independents/rebels to cut votes, you can arrive at secret deals with so-called secular icons, you can carpet-bomb constituencies with money muscle, but you can’t buy the people of India. Long live people’s power.


in Outlook India, Monday, May 24, 2004.

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