Test of both voter and party : The Tribune India


Test of both voter and party

Will Muslim-bashing and campaign of hate win elections?

Test of both voter and party

Long shot: The RSS-Sangh Parivar has long dreamed of a land that would vote 80:20. That has not happened and I am sure never will. PTI

Julio Ribeiro

The Assembly elections in five states, including UP, has the nation riveted. At present, ministers and MLAs are at their favourite game of swapping loyalties whenever they sense defeat at the hustings. It could be the individual’s defeat which has been sensed or the defeat of the party to which the legislator is presently aligned. Simultaneously, party tickets are being distributed and announced. Those out of favour immediately think of crossing to another party that will welcome them but that is not going to be easy as no party will entertain a loser.

The outcome of the elections in UP, Punjab and Goa is unpredictable. The Congress, which had a clear opportunity in Punjab and Goa, has lost a lot of ground to AAP.

In Goa, where voters number roughly 30,000 per constituency and individuals matter to voters more than parties, the Aaya-Ram-Gaya-Ram factor started quite early. In UP, the actors in similar dramas obviously like the dramatic gesture, the sudden surprise! They kept their cards close to their chest till the list of candidates was to be released. By their unexpected announcements, the two ministers in the Yogi Cabinet, and their six or seven MLA friends who followed them out of the BJP, created quite a flutter. An unexpected exodus would disturb any political party, but specially ‘the party with a difference’ that had poached so many malcontents or ambition-driven leaders of other parties over the past few years. More than the ignominy of seeing it done to itself, it was the challenge to its grand design of social engineering that has the party worried.

If the BJP has not impressed its newly minted OBC supporters, who were the key to its social engineering project in the very heartland of the proposed Hindu Rashtra, all that its leaders have strived for and planned so meticulously over the past seven years would be wasted. And that would be much more traumatic than losing a couple of ministers and MLAs and the few votes these worthies would take with them.

The outcome of the elections in UP, Punjab and Goa is now unpredictable. The Congress, which had a clear opportunity in Punjab and Goa, has lost a lot of ground to the AAP. In Goa, for instance, the less affluent, like taxi drivers, electricians, plumbers and restaurant employees, seem to have gravitated to the AAP. The party is likely to open its account there this time around. The locals feel that the AAP is popular in the bigger towns.

Arvind Kejriwal has capped his efforts by introducing the caste factor into the equations. The reference to the Bhandari community, which is the most numerous among all castes, both among Hindus and Christians, is perhaps the first time in Goa’s elections. It did exist, of course, even among the Christians but was never mentioned earlier, and that, too, as openly as Kejriwal has done by announcing that his party’s candidate for CM is a Bhandari!

The AAP seems to be inching ahead in Punjab also. It may emerge as the single largest party. If the BJP had found traction with the large Hindu population, it could have benefited from the division of votes among the Congress, the AAP and the Akali Dal but that wholesale transfer of loyalty to the BJP does not seem to have happened. And my old friend, Capt Amarinder Singh, does not seem to have made much headway.

The RSS-Sangh Parivar has long dreamed of a land that would vote 80:20. That has not happened and I am sure never will. The ranks of my Hindu friends, who disapprove of the hate and divisiveness being spread in society by the present dispensation for electoral gain, are slowly growing in numbers. Voices are being raised not only by the usual suspects — the left-leaning liberals — but also by students, middle class, respected families of right-thinking Hindus and generally those with no axe to grind.

The BJP seemed to have had its nose in front in UP but now with OBC leaders unfurling the banner of revolt, and openly calling their followers to open their eyes to reality,  Akhilesh’s Samajwadi Party has stepped forward. The BJP banks on a division of opposition votes among the Congress, the BSP and the SP. That is possible but the social engineering that the Sangh Parivar was banking on to divide the voters 80:20 may have to be abandoned. 

In Uttarakhand, the BJP has smelled a rat. If it had not, it would not have unleashed the sadhus and sants with their intemperate rhetoric on a helpless minority. How much traction this hate will generate will be known when the results are announced. My view is that a resort to faith at the time of elections may not cut ice with voters who are more concerned with the mundane than with the spiritual. The AAP, like the Congress,  which practices soft Hindutva, seems to be making inroads into this state also.

The BJP may succeed in Manipur.  The small states of the Northeast depend largely on the patronage of the Centre for their finances. Local economies do not generate the income required to pay even the salary bills of the administration. So, whichever local party is in power, like in Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram, all three Christian-majority states, has to cosy up to any government ruling at the Centre to shore up its finances.

I am no psephologist, and can’t boast of much political sense. My interest was initially kindled by the fact that Goa and Punjab were going to the polls. Goa is where my ancestors settled some thousand years ago, and Punjab is where I left a small remembrance of how terrorism needed to be tackled — winning over the hearts and minds of the common peasants. But these elections are important for another reason — the outcome will answer the question that many citizens ask: Will Muslim-bashing, the spread of hate in our beloved country win elections? For my country’s sake, I hope not.

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