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HindustanTimes Fri,22 Aug 2014

On poll issues, Rahul got it right

Vir Sanghvi, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, May 17, 2009
First Published: 23:19 IST(17/5/2009) | Last Updated: 23:22 IST(17/5/2009)

You are probably going to notice this in my writing as well, so let me point it out before you do. Don’t you think that there is a huge gulf between what we considered the issues of the election during the campaign and what we now regard as the issues that swung the election.

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Read the election analysis and all we seem to talk about these days is how Rahul Gandhi’s strategy paid off; how the youth factor decided the election; and how the voters rejected the politics of extremism.

But go back to the campaign and what do you suppose we in the media were obsessed with? The 1984 Sikh riots, perhaps. The (so-called) victimization of Narendra Modi by the Supreme Court. The red-corner notice against Ottavio Quattrocchi. The claim by Amar Singh that Sanjay Dutt carried out a sting operation against the law minister.

The Congress’ ‘disastrous decision’ not to align with Lalu Prasad, Ram Vilas Paswan or even the sting-crazy Mr Amar Singh. The effect that 26/11 had on the educated voters of Bombay. And how the country wanted a stronger line on terrorism.

Here’s my question: did any of these issues really matter?

Of course, it’s easy to be clever in retrospect. Hindsight is always perfect. But even as we encourage politicians (the BJP and the Left in particular) to introspect and learn from their mistakes, perhaps we in the media should do the same.

Let’s take up the issues we were so obsessed with. Even before the campaign was launched, the Sangh Parivar suddenly discovered a new-found sympathy for the Sikh community. Every time Gujarat was mentioned, BJPwallahs would bring up 1984, trying to establish some kind of bogus equivalence. When the CBI exonerated Jagdish Tytler (and somebody threw a shoe at the unflappable home minister) the 1984 riots suddenly became the centre-point of the campaign.

You could argue that the issue ceased to matter when Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar were denied tickets. But I am beginning to wonder if it ever mattered at all. Not only did the Congress sweep Delhi, it also did extremely well in Punjab. The BJP was still shedding crocodile tears for the Sikhs even as its candidates were wiped out in Delhi and Punjab.

We were told that Narendra Modi would become a hero in Gujarat because the Supreme Court had ordered an enquiry into his role in the riots. Modi used the court order to claim that he was being targeted.

But did anyone really care? Modi has been the dud of this campaign. The BJP only improved its position marginally in Gujarat and nearly everywhere else Modi campaigned, the BJP candidate lost.
I remember watching Sudheendra Kulkarni, probably the most erudite and decent man among BJP’s spokespeople, declare on television that the day on which the red-corner notice against Ottavio Quattrocchi was withdrawn would go down as the darkest day for Indian democracy.

Darkest day, eh? Forget about the Gujarat riots, the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the attack on Parliament, etc. It was Quattrocchi who posed the greatest threat to our democracy.

I will not insult your intelligence by telling you how foolish this was. Nobody cared about Bofors except journalists and BJP spokespeople.

Amar Singh knows how to manipulate the media. And when he appears in the company of Sanjay Dutt, it makes for a good story. But was any of the stuff this Laurel and Hardy duo did for the benefit of TV cameras of any consequence? Even the famous scam tape was never revealed. Poor Sanjay was dragged around the country to inflame Muslim sentiments but despite his speeches Muslims deserted the Samajwadi Party for the Congress.

We jumped up and down about the Congress’ failure to strike alliances in UP and Bihar. “The UPA is breaking up,” we hollered.

Did it make any difference to the Congress? Ask Mulayam. Or Paswan. Or Lalu.
The great Malabar Hill con has now been exposed. Basically, lots of third-rate, page three people wanted to get on television and the media cheerfully obliged. There was no political awakening in Bombay. The independent candidates were jokes. But because we wasted so much time on these people, we missed the two big stories in Bombay: the electoral rise of Raj Thackeray and the Congress wave.

What about the effect of terrorism on the electorate? Each time I was called to a TV studio, I repeated the same mantra: of course people care about terrorism but they do not believe that one political party is better equipped to handle it than the other so it won’t be an electoral issue.
I think I have been vindicated on this one.

And finally, now that we are all hailing Rahul Gandhi as a genius, let’s not forget the sneers that greeted his press conference (described as a coming-out party by the Delhi press, which likes to pretend that press conferences in Calcutta and Kerala don’t count).

Almost everything Rahul said was picked on. When he talked about the Congress’ willingness to accept allies if they came on the Congress’ terms, he was called a political infant. Mamata would storm out of the UPA, we were assured. The DMK was on the verge of leaving. Lalu was incandescent with rage. Young Rahul had insulted and driven away the very people the Congress needed, etc., etc.

I could go on. But since Rahul is the media’s man of the moment, I cannot do better than quote what he said in response to questions about Bofors, etc. at that press conference.

“These were not the real issues,” he said. “Nobody would decide how to vote because of them.”
On balance, I think he got it right. Don’t you?


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