This Article is From Sep 17, 2014

In By-Election Result, A Lesson For Cult Politicians

(Pawan Khera is a political analyst with the Congress party.)

BJP leaders out-shouted each other to give credit for the victory of student wing ABVP in the Delhi University to Narendra Modi. In less than a week, the rout of the BJP in by-elections is being blamed on local factors with no connection to Modi or the BJP-led government at the Centre.

The argument given after the Uttarakhand and Karnataka by-elections, where the Congress did well within weeks of the formation of the Modi government, was that by-elections are normally won by the ruling party in the state.

The same argument was liberally offered and accepted by a willing media in the context of the Bihar by-elections too. This round of by-elections saw the ruling BJP in Rajasthan ceding 3 out of 4 seats and in Gujarat three out of 9 seats to the Congress. Wherever the Congress has a presence, it has asserted its relevance and where it is weak, the voter opted for the stronger regional party.

Political pundits had internalized the slogan of a 'Congress-Mukt Bharat' since it was repeated, not a trillion or zillion but a Goebbelsian times. Commentators underestimated the vibrancy and fluidity of our multi-party democracy.

The hubris was that the country had become Congress mukt and the Gujarat model was the only model to be emulated. And in the face of this hubris, the voter insisted on his or her agency as well as his or her autonomy.

The by-election results make it easier now to deconstruct the Lok Sabha elections of 2014. First anger and then hope was carefully constructed in the minds of a restless people. It was neither Modi's grandeur, nor Amit Shah's famed strategy. An angry people voted the incumbent government out.

In 100 days, both the hype, and hope are fading.

Has the voter failed to see a stake in the grand dreams of bullet trains and 100 smart cities? In the rhetoric of 56-inch bigness, did the concerns of small towns and villages get eclipsed? Where is the much-touted Rurban? Jan Dhan and toilets is the closest he has come to rural.

From price rise to the much talked about policy paralysis, Narendra Modi does not show any interest in appearing to change the perception of a hopeful people. Instead, he is preoccupied in his ego chamber and grappling with an image created by a PR steroid.

There is a lesson for cult politicians here. If public memory is short, so is the time between elections. There is not enough time for people to forget the promises made to them. Nor enough time to fulfill them. Grand over-reaching is a sure recipe for disaster.

People were trying their best to prolong the dream for as long as they could. They would have continued to be in love with the mask, had the true face not been unleashed on them so early in the day. Narendra Modi's script writers forgot to write the next chapter in the saga they created for him. Amit Shah was left alone to script the campaign and electoral strategy for the by-elections.

From Aditya Nath's Love Jihad to Maneka Gandhi's Beef Jihad, the attempt was to recreate the Gujarat model of politics. Even if it was expected to find resonance in the paranoia of Hindu parents, the bogey of Love Jihad was taken to an absurd level. This manufactured paranoia ensured the rejection of Love Jihad as an election issue.

In less than 100 days, the narrative shifted from 'Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas' to addressing the 'demographic challenge' posed by Muslims.

When Ayodhya began to lose its election appeal, the Gujarat model was scripted. Western Uttar Pradesh was converted into a mini laboratory of communal engineering. Now that has failed too. The danger lies in the BJP walking away with the wrong lesson from the results.

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