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Modi is unsure if the surf's up

April 10, 2014 12:37 IST

If the wave has become a tsunami, why is the BJP's prime ministerial candidate playing safe by polarising voters along communal lines, asks Bharat Bhushan.

Americans have been using indoor wave pools for over half a century now. Patrons ride their surfboards over artificial waves, created by machines, pretending they are ocean waves. Could the so-called "Modi-wave" also be a man-made one, helped along by a co-operative media claiming that the surf's up for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate?

There is undoubtedly a strong anti-incumbency sentiment against the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. The BJP is the party most likely to benefit from this negative sentiment. In this overall context, however, the marketing machine behind Narendra Modi has tried to build up the idea that there is a positive wave in favour of their client. But Modi and his lieutenants seem to be unconvinced. They are buying insurance by polarising voters along communal lines.

An electoral wave should cut across caste, community, religious and other identities. Communal polarisation, on the other hand, tries to consolidate narrow religious identities. One is spontaneous and unites the electorate, the other, produced by machinations, divides people. Both may give electoral dividends.

No wave was ever established before election results were out. Even Indira Gandhi could not have known beforehand that she would wipe out the old Congress completely in 1972. This was equally true of the 1977 general elections, which she called in the mistaken belief that people appreciated the declaration of a state of Emergency and would vote for her. She was routed despite a short campaigning time of a mere 29 days. There were no premonitions of a wave in favour of reinstating Gandhi before the election in 1980; in favour of the Third Front in 1989; in favour of the BJP in 1999 or the public sentiment against it in 2004.

This general election, then, has to be the rare one where everybody claims to know the results beforehand.

If there is a Modi wave in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar where the BJP expects to win a handsome number of Lok Sabha seats, then surely any candidate fielded by the BJP should win irrespective of the caste, community and religious considerations. Where, then, was the need to ride on the riots in western Uttar Pradesh, field riot-accused candidates from that area and exhort people's basest sentiments to vote for the BJP?

Why would a supremely-confident Modi riding the surf, need to send subliminal anti-Muslim messages about meat exports (read beef) being subsidised by the incumbent government ("the pink revolution")? Why would Modi's infamous lieutenant Amit Shah (accused in three murder cases, forbidden from entering his home state of Gujarat and out on bail) need to tell the people of riot-affected Muzaffarnagar for a revenge vote to avenge their "honour"?

They are trying to polarise voters along communal lines -- a lesson well learnt from the 2002 Gujarat assembly elections where it paid rich electoral dividends.

Acutely aware since the inception of his campaign that far from a wave, caste and community identities still determine voting preferences on the ground, Modi has used a mix of strategies to garner support. His past infamy -- call it ‘Hindutva social capital’, earned through hate speeches against the minorities and overseeing organised communal riots in Gujarat -- was encapsulated in the veneer of a growth-oriented moderniser.

To the rising middle classes and his corporate backers, he is selling a dream of economic growth touting Gujarat's example. Nevertheless, communally divisive signals have also been sent out. He has refused to accept accountability for the 2002 anti-Muslim riots, used coded anti-Muslim language in public by referring to his political opponents as "mian" or "shehzada" and refused to accept a Muslim cap or a scarf.

He has also tried to appropriate the legacy of Sardar Patel, whom the religious right idolises for ordering police action against the Muslim-ruled princely states of Hyderabad and Junagadh, which had opted to join Pakistan after independence. He frequently abuses his political opponents as Pakistani agents, as he did recently to Defence Minister A K Anthony and political challenger Arvind Kejriwal.

His marketing team went into overdrive when they compared him with Lord Shiva -- by giving the slogan ‘Har Har Modi’ on the lines of ‘Har Har Mahadev’, projecting him as the equivalent of the Hindu god who could destroy the woes of the people. The Hindu prayer to the mother-goddess, Durga was modified.

The popular shloka of Durga Saptshati says, ‘Ya devi sarvbhutesu matri rupen sansthitah, namastasye, namo namah’ (the Goddess who is omnipresent as the personification of the universal mother, I bow to her again and again). This was modified to – ‘Yo Modi sarvabhuteshu, rashtrarupen sansthitah, namastasmay, namastasmay, namastasmay, namo namah’ (Modi, who resides in every human being in the form of "rashtra" or nation, I bow to him again and again).

This transformation of the prayer equates Modi to the nation itself. These attempts reach into the religious recesses of the subconscious of Hindu voters in a bid to polarise them.

Even where the BJP is on a winning wicket, such as in Rajasthan, their Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje has gone on to threaten the minorities. Reacting to the Saharanpur Congress candidate, Imran Masood's threat, to chop Modi to pieces (he is in prison for this) she warned, "We will see who will be cut into pieces after the elections."

This is being done to consolidate the vote of the majority community. It is shocking that it comes from someone who holds a constitutional office and has sworn to "do right to all manner of people in accordance with the Constitution and the law without fear or favour, affection or ill-will".

After such campaigning strategies, Modi's claim that the wave in his favour is turning into a tsunami shows that his speech-writers have lost track of where the marketing hype ends and the reality of electoral politics begins.

Have they have also forgotten that a tsunami is a natural disaster, leaving death and destruction it its wake?

A tsunami should give the party upward of 400 seats. Why, then, only aim for "272 plus" and that too underwritten with overt communal appeals?

Image: BJP supporters perform a havan for their prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. Photograph: PTI Photo.

The writer is a journalist based in Delhi.

Bharat Bhushan
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