As the assembly election results roll in, it’s clear the Congress stands firmly rejected in Uttarakhand as well as in Uttar Pradesh along with its recently acquired ally, the Samajwadi Party. Uttarakhand and UP are actually erstwhile conjoined twins separated in November 2000. But in the classic manner of such twins they obviously continue to think alike. Both have finally chosen to vote in a BJP government that both had rejected in the past elections rejecting the secular politics and/or older caste based vote banks offered by the incumbent chief ministers and their parties. With a jubilant BJP happily set to swear in chief ministers in both states, the voters have given Prime Minister Narendra Modi the power to choose who he wishes to govern them for the next five years.
As the adrenaline subsides, a sense of fear among Modi’s detractors will be followed by a realisation that the opposition to the PM in the mainstream and social media did nothing to diminish his charisma. The BJP’s communication in the rural hinterland, through Hindi-speaking right wing cadre, was successful. A section of English media may have been was soft on them, but the Congress, the BSP and the SP failed to persuade the poor, the day-wage workers, the jobless young to vote against those they portrayed as the perpetrators of notebandi, communalism and Manuvad.
Why did the tribals in eastern UP, in the hilly regions of Uttarakhand, almost invisible in the English media so far, who had vociferously protested against large dams and outsiders and the mining mafia in their area, choose Modi and his party? Fear of the rulers such as they have harboured for decades may not be a good guide to political wisdom, but latest results reveal that when poor people act on their fears, they usually end up opting for the rule of those that rule by fear. Think Maharashtra, think Tamil Nadu .
This election has proved that Modi is right: When all is said and done, what the marginalised will respond to and cheer – be it in films or rallies – is a spectacle. Lenin said of Stalin “This cook will give us peppery dishes”. In Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, all the macho talk of nation building, tricolour flying, and Modi’s branding of the party has been like a peppery dish. People have lapped it up. In 2014, and again in 2017, the peppery dishes he served, helped Modi reduce his opponents to figures of fun while allowing his party to gloss over several serious questions: The Ram Mandir, Kairana, beef ban and last, but not the least, demonetisation.
The questions to be asked dispassionately now are: How did Uttar Pradesh pass so quickly from samajvad to Hindutva and reject a youthful leader it seemed to like a lot? And why did Uttarakhand, being led by a seasoned Harish Rawat, revert to the BJP it had rejected five years ago on grave charges of corruption and nepotism? The glib answer – that the majority remains deeply religious, and therefore, communal, is only half-true. Remember this same communal majority denied Vajpayee’s government a second term and gave two consecutive terms to the Manmohan Singh-Sonia combine.
Lesson for the media and pollsters: Only double checked facts and linguistic felicity will rule. Rumour and crowd-sourced scholarship will only create Greek choruses for prime time slots, which wail and heckle in English, signifying nothing to the common man.
Mrinal Pande is former chairperson, Prasar Bharti and a senior journalist.