The loss of an idea called India

Frontline newsmagazine, from the stable of the Hindu newspaper, is known for its serious, in-depth reporting as well as incisive analyses. It may not be as visible as its more glitzy peers but it is distinguished by its good, old-fashioned journalism and professional integrity and objectivity.  The magazine’s latest cover story, done in the midst of the 2019 General Elections, is understandably focused on the world’s largest and longest democratic exercise involving an incredible 900 million voters 

Based on the first-hand accounts of its reporting team from the battleground states of the Hindi heartland and elsewhere, this Frontline story aptly titled ‘Rude Awakening’ should make disturbing reading for the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

It captures well the mood of the nation including its mounting anxieties over the unemployment crisis, the acute distress of farmers and the mess on the economic front amidst persisting effects of demonetisation and badly botched GST, noting how Modi’s party has been forced to shift its narrative from muscular nationalism and the much hyped “strikes” across the border to the good ol’ hate mongering and vilifying Indian Muslims in the middle of the campaign.

With its eyes forever on the ball, the BJP has been quick to realise that its hard-sell of the Balakot strikes and the bid to cash in on the return of IAF fighter pilot Abhinandan are not generating the kind of response they had hoped for.

The Dear Leader’s elaborate charade of addressing the nation to claim credit for shooting down ‘enemy satellite’ in space has not gone down well with the voters either with many seeing through the game of brazenly politicising matters of national security for votes.

As Frontline reports from Uttarakhand, a state that sends a significant number of men to fight in the Indian Army, many there are upset that the saffron brigade has been brazenly trying to politicise the security forces and openly demanding votes in the name of Indian Army.

Uttar Pradesh’s saffron-robed chief minister Yogi Adityanath, who himself faces numerous cases of rioting and hate speech, went so far as to declare the Indian Army “Modiji ki Sena” (Modi’s army) claiming that only because of the current leadership the security forces now feels confident enough to take on Pakistan!

As has been his signature campaigning style and that of his party, the militant monk has been queering the sectarian pitch calling these elections a clear contest between Ali — the Last Caliph and great hero of Islam known for his valour — and Bajrang Bali, another title for Hanuman, the monkey god.

If you think this is bizarre, what would you make of the BJP’s decision to field Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, who faces serious terrorism charges and has spent long months in detention for her role in the 2008 Malegaon blasts case, from the Bhopal parliamentary constituency in the heart of the Madhya Pradesh capital?

After repeatedly complaining to the world how Pakistan and its agencies have been turning a blind eye to activities of extremists like Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar, the BJP sees no irony in nominating a known terrorist as its candidate in these polls.  At least in Pakistan, if it is any comfort, all those fielded by Saeed’s nascent ‘political party’ found no takers and had to lose their deposits.         

Soon after her initiation, the so-called Sadhvi went on the offensive proudly recalling her role in the destruction of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.  Although both Yogi and Sadhvi have been pulled up by the Election Commission for their pronouncements after a media storm, the poll body has been utterly powerless in dealing with the BJP’s star campaigner and candidate from Varanasi and his relentless mockery of the electoral code of conduct and basic norms of democracy and civil discourse.  

While the Dear Leader has always been known to revel in Muslim-bashing and rather artful, inventive invective against a voiceless and helpless minority, he has been particularly vicious in these elections, communalising the whole campaign of the BJP.  Indeed, he has been acting as a shining role model for the party as it goes on and on against Pakistan, Indian Muslims and their imagined appeasement by the Congress and others.

In fact, given the BJP leadership’s obsession with the Western neighbour and the powerless minority that is often accused of being its fifth column in India, you would think the BJP is fighting these elections against Pakistan and Indian Muslims.   

Speaking in Latur, Maharashtra last week, the Prime Minister openly demanded votes in the name of “brave soldiers killed in Pulwama by Pakistani terrorists.”    

Campaigning in Gujarat on April 21, Modi thundered had Pakistan not returned the IAF pilot, it would have been a “qatal ki raat” (night of slaughter).

He has been reckless and callous to the extent of openly threatening the use of nuclear weapons against Pakistan. At an election rally in Barmer, Rajasthan on April 21 again, he proclaimed: “India has stopped the policy of getting scared of Pakistan’s threats. Every other day they used to say ‘we have nuclear button, we have nuclear button’. What do we have then? Have we kept them for Diwali?”

He has been equally uninhibited in his personal attacks on the Congress leadership, repeatedly accusing Rahul Gandhi of fighting his election from Kerala’s Wayanad because of the significant Muslim presence there. 

In a strongly-worded complaint to the poll watchdog, the Left leader Sitaram Yechuri pointed out: “The brazen, reckless invocation of armed forces, armed action and then threats of nuclear war, as something that is a partisan political act he (Modi) would push for and something on the basis for which a vote is sought compromises the integrity of the electoral process as laid out by the Election Commission.”

Many of such memos and pleas to the poll watchdog by numerous opposition parties have, however, fallen on deaf ears. In the face of a dangerously belligerent BJP’s determination to win these elections at any price, the poll body appears singularly stymied and ineffectual.

As Barkha Dutt notes in Washington Post, “in 2019, he (Modi) is sounding less like the man who campaigned in 2014 and much more like his previous avatar – the abrasive, vitriolic and inflammatory chief minister of Gujarat.”

Since the BJP and its leadership have nothing but disasters on every front to show for the 5-year-long rule of ‘ache din’, it has fallen back on its core agenda of hate, strife and conspiracy theories, pulling out all steps to communally polarise and divide the electorate in the world’s greatest democracy. 

This election will go down in India’s history as the most communally toxic and hate-filled one.

In its desperation to latch on to power, the BJP has not just thrown out such niceties as electoral norms and basic decency, it is wrecking India’s vibrant democracy and its fine, formidable institutions and even the rule of law. In the end, Modi and the BJP may manage to win these elections and retain power beyond May 23 thanks to the massive support from big business, the media and a hopelessly fractured, self-serving and shortsighted opposition.  However, it is India that would be the real big loser. 

aijaz.syed@hotmail.com