Election 2014, most acrimonious
The election pitch for the 16th Lok Sabha has reached a proportion that was never seen in the 67-year history of the world’s largest democracy. The electorates, media – including the foreign media, analysts and even election watchers from abroad have shown keen interest in the campaign that has been arguably the most bitter ever. Sentiments are strong, enthusiasm among the voters is high, and all eyes are on only one-person, Narendra Modi, who is busy crisscrossing the country and addressing people on the frailties of the previous regime and the good work he did in the state of Gujarat. His critics, friends included, are busy running him down.
But the focus on one leader is not unique in 2014. In the first three national elections it was Jawaharlal Nehru who had been the cynosure of all eyes. It was the spectacular demonstration of people charmed by Nehru. In the first ever general election of independent India, Nehru had travelled ‘25,000 miles in all: 18,000 by air, 5,200 by car, 1,600 by train, and even 90 by boat.’ May be Narendra Modi has travelled more given the fact that he begins and ends his travel from the western state of Gujarat. But he is no Nehru with the unchallenged position in the nation’s heart, which ensured his great-grandson leading the grand old party even today. It was not Nehru alone who towered over all in the electoral contest. Indira Gandhi was a ‘gungi gudiya’ in 1967 when she was a shadow behind the ‘syndicate’ in Congress. But in 1971 when she opted for early election after splitting the party it was she all the way. Like her father Nehru, Indira Gandhi emerged as the towering personality vanquishing all her detractors. After her assassination when Rajiv Gandhi took over there was such an overwhelming sympathy that Rajiv received a mandate that his grandfather Nehru could not win. Without branding their election campaigns as presidential type, all election campaigns by the Nehru-Gandhi parivar had focused on one leader towering over everybody else. Viewed from this angle BJP campaign is an imitation of the family-ruled Congress style.
There is nothing unique in projecting Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial aspirant and place him to lead the campaign. The only difference is the fact that Narendra Modi is an outsider to the politics in the capital. Barring H D Deve Gowda all Indian prime ministers had come from the inner circles in Delhi. All had worked in the centre in some capacity or other. Deve Gowda also did not occupy the position by virtue of his leadership ability or presence but perhaps as a desperate effort to break a deadlock among the various contenders within the Janata Dal. In the annals of political history of India, Deve Gowda remains an insignificant accidental leader. If elected Narendra Modi will be the first prime minister from outside the capital’s established political ‘diwani-khas’. Could this be the reason why voices against Modi are so bitter and sound so desperate? But Modi as a target is not the only distinctive factor in election 2014. Even earlier India has seen Indira Gandhi in 1977, Rajiv Gandhi in 1989 and Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2004, used as favourite punching bag of the opponents. The only subtle difference is the fact that in all these cases they had been the incumbent prime ministers. Narendra Modi is just one of the chief ministers in a state in the most populous democracy. More important he is the leader of the opposition party BJP. Yet those who oppose the ruling Congress, the regional leaders like Mamata Banerjee, Jayalalitha et al and also the new kid on the block Arvind Kejriwal, all are busy attacking Narendra Modi. The election 2014 has turned into a fight between the opposition leader Modi and his opponents – a singularly unseen event in any democracy so far.
Forgotten in the process is the incumbent prime minister of ten long years, the third longest in the history of the country. Few remember him, including his own political party, fewer call him to campaign and hardly any media attention is wasted on Dr. Man Mohan Singh. This is another unique feature of campaign 2014.
Long after the campaign fever rests when analysts will try to introspect and research the acrimony generated in 2014 one curious factor will haunt many: that is the curious case of a state government filing FIR against a central government decision and its minister. Kejriwal’s unconstitutional act of filing FIR against Veerappa Moily, the Union P&NG Minister, on the issue of the Union Cabinet decision to raise the price of natural gas is a queer act that went unchallenged in India’s ‘alert’ media. One reason could be the spin that the decision received. The Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Industries Ltd is widely seen as rooting for Narendra Modi as India’s next prime minister. Therefore Modi, too, must be guilty for the rise in gas prices. The argument may apparently be tortuous but amidst the heat of the election anything against Modi deserves to be noticed. Never before in the history of democracy a leader from the opposition had been held accountable for the decision of an incumbent government.
So strong is the sentiment against the challenger that even a respected international weekly The Economist, in its leader, opined that the magazine cannot endorse Narendra Modi as India’s next prime minister. The venerable leader writer winked at the fact that his non-endorsement is not even worth the ink he used to write the piece. In India we have a right to endorse or not endorse Narendra Modi, unfortunately the Economist has no role in it. Relatively Washington proved matured. White House used the opportunity to retire its ambassador and send someone, more suitable, to the crease.
Whether Narendra Modi wins or not, he has rewritten the rules of politics in India through his high voltage campaign. It now needs to be seen if he succeeds in the end or not.
The author is a communication consultant