Citizens must continue to dream of a better future, irrespective of exit polls and election results
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures during a roadshow in the final phase of the Uttar Pradesh state assembly elections in Varanasi town on March 4. (Photo: Sanjay Kanojia/AFP)
No one would link the life and death of India, and of its two main religious minorities, merely on the continuing rise of the RSS-BJP hold on state governments.
Even if a political party with a clear secular ideological mooring gets no seats, it is present at the grassroots. It wins municipal or ward elections, or the occasional seat in the legislative assembly, surprising friends and foes in equal measure.
As important, it leads protests, holds demonstrations. It stages that popular Indian dharna or peaceful sit-in at police stations and before embassies when untoward things happen at home and abroad to the people of India. It issues situation white papers. Above all, it calls press conferences to draw the media’s attention to unfulfilled official promises and the crisis of confidence.
The reference to press conferences is not a veiled, sarcastic reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and to the fact that in the years he has been in office since May 2014, he has never addressed an assembled press.
He prefers to chat casually with some chosen television reporter, most often from a news agency of his choice, on items as diverse as biting into a ripe mango or reminiscences of his childhood selling tea on a railway platform — a modern-day Abe Lincoln of log cabin fame.
He also addresses young and old citizens in a monthly monologue on government radio akin to the president’s fireside chats in the Western tradition. There is no opportunity to ask him a real question.
"They do not agree with the ruling party and its leader’s definition of nationalism and patriotism, the Islamophobic rant and apparent lack of concern for the poor, the outcasts and the working class"
Coming back to the story of the opposition, the public interaction their leaders have with people and the media is solitary evidence that India has a thriving democracy.
The noise of the opposition motivates ordinary citizens, especially those not captive to the Hindutva ideology of the ruling dispensation. They do not agree with the ruling party and its leader’s definition of nationalism and patriotism, the Islamophobic rant and apparent lack of concern for the poor, the outcasts and the working class. It may or may not translate into votes for them.
If everyone were to agree with a majoritarian government, we would end up as Hitler’s Germany, El Duce’s Italy or a Latin American dictatorship.
We in India recall that every major industry and bank in Germany supported Hitler. Crony capitalists, so to say, benefited the most. Among them are today’s major German companies.
But a colonial, racist and anti-worker Winston Churchill, who had supreme powers as British prime minister in the war years, was immediately thrown out of office after the war as he was then seen as an anachronism. That happens in functional democracies.
This generates hope in India. Modi won the general elections of 2014 and 2019 with a surcharged campaign targeting Congress leader Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first and possibly most popular leader, and his "dynasty."
Modi then focused on medieval India’s Muslim emperors, conflating lineages with roots in Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia into an omnibus Moghul family with Babar as the founder and Aurangzeb as his successor.
Aurangzeb’s name has long been wiped out of road signs, while a 500-year-old mosque named after Babar was demolished back in 1992.
With all that engineering with historical timelines and occasional war talk against neighbor Pakistan, Modi has never been able to entice a majority Hindu community.
"Each one of them remains strongly opposed to the BJP in general and to Modi in particular. Most have been warm to Muslims and Christians"
On the other hand, the main opposition to his ideology has come from the Hindu community. Much, though not all, of the left's support is from various sections of the Hindu population. Every single one of the caste-based political parties of northern India is of the same religious identity.
These include the various segments of socialist parties that were part of the Jai Prakash Narain movement against the Congress of Indira Gandhi in the seventies. They were empowered by the implementation of the Mandal Commission report on backward communities in the 1990s and rose to rule two of India’s biggest provinces, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Each one of them remains strongly opposed to the BJP in general and to Modi in particular. Most have been warm to Muslims and Christians.
That too is the stance of the many groups formed in several states by splinters of the old Congress party. These include the Trinamool Congress that rules Bengal, the Nationalist Congress Party that has ruled Maharashtra in various coalitions, and the ruling parties of the two Telugu states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
These grassroots realities come to mind in the face of the high-octane media blitz of exit polls televised this week that show Modi’s BJP likely to retain power in several of the states that went to the polls recently. These include the largest among them, Uttar Pradesh, its tiny neighbor Uttarakhand and Punjab, all in the north, the state of Manipur in the northeast and Goa on the west coast.
Currently, the BJP rules in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur, while the Congress is in power in Punjab. The Congress won a majority in Goa in the last election, but its legislators defected to the BJP. Many of them were rich Catholics, but that is incidental. Exit polls say it may win nowhere this time.
The no-holds-barred campaign by Modi and his lieutenants, including Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, again verged on the incendiary. The Election Commission of India has been accused of selective loss of faculties in disregarding violations of both the penal code and the code of election conduct.
The counting of votes now deposited in the silicon memory chips of electronic voting machines is to be done on March 10.
Remembering the temperature raised in the campaign, it will be a surprise if Modi’s party is deposed in the elections. But the battle was tough. Modi understood this and campaigned as if it was the most important war of his political career.
"The situation of religious minorities is all too well known to need narration. The years of mob lynchings segued into institutionalized vengeance in further expanding and weaponizing anti-conversion laws"
The exit polls — the Supreme Court of India had banned them for the duration of the campaign and polling — resumed their cacophony within minutes of the last vote being cast in Uttar Pradesh on March 7.
This is meant to demoralize common voters still reeling under the aftermath of pandemic lockdowns followed by industrial and business shutdowns.
The government has withheld unemployment data, but it is common knowledge that people have been hard hit. Millions remain jobless. The worst sufferers have been working women and those in the rural and unorganized sectors.
Tens of millions of children of the poor have lost two years of school for want of a smartphone with an internet connection required for virtual classes. In the process, they also lost that crucial and free midday meal that provided them vital protein and vitamins.
The situation of religious minorities is all too well known to need narration. The years of mob lynchings segued into institutionalized vengeance in further expanding and weaponizing anti-conversion laws.
Karnataka and Haryana were the latest to pass laws against religious conversions even as the election campaign was at full throttle in Uttar Pradesh.
The campaign rhetoric and now the din of the exit polls, it is presumed, will so dishearten political parties and their cadres to render them comatose. That could be fatal with general elections just two years away, in 2024.
It is in this context that the intelligentsia and civil society have called upon all sections of the population not to give up hope. They must continue to dream of a better future, irrespective of the exit polls, and the actual results.
* The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.
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