Thursday, May 6, 2021

LET US PLAY COVID TOMORROW, IT’S EXIT POLL TIME TODAY

The Indian TV media has an onerous task this evening (April 29) and till May 2. That is to put up a brave face on behalf of the BJP and the Modi-Shah duo.

The polls are finally over. The Duo tried to drag them as much as they could, thanks to a cowardly Election Commission. If it were left to them — like the fate of Delhi is in the pockets of a rubber stamp LG — they would have covered one West Bengal constituency per phase, with the Duo camping in the district headquarters.

Exit poll results not surprising

This evening’s exit polls have something preordained about them. The exit poll outcomes — they cannot be termed results because the data is tweaked depending on the ideological strength of the respective news channels — were not a surprise for the BJP and the Duo. They knew it, always, that they were taking a bashing in most states, confident of performing decently in highly communalised Assam. They need an NRC for that, but that is a different matter.  West Bengal was a bastion they wanted to conquer.

Start from the civilised South first. Kerala. The result does not matter to the BJP, whether the LDF returns to power or the UDF replaces it.

Tamil Nadu. Amit Shah learnt a big lesson of life in this state: Not to punch beyond his weight. He may have thought the parties would lick from his hands. He thought wrongly. He may have thought RSS’ Gurumurthy would do the trick for him by delivering the AIADMK to the BJP. He thought wrong. Gurumurthy throws his weight around, irrespective of whether anybody is noticing or not. He let his personal whims lead him. They led him astray.

Wrong tactics in Tamil Nadu

Gurumurthy should have correctly advised Amit Shah to try and rope in the DMK as an alliance partner. How? By talks and shaking of hands and hugs? Of course, not, silly. By using the ED, the CBI and their star chamber tactics — notices, midnight knocks, raids, arrests, and so on. They were resorted to, but half-heartedly. Because Grumurthy’s heart was not in the DMK. Apparently, he signalled Shah to go with the AIADMK. Perhaps in the confusion he forgot how the late Jayalalithaa promised she would prefer death to an alliance with the BJP.

To cut a long story short, the BJP found itself holding the short end of the alliance rope. The wrong end too. The AIADMK itself was a mutilated body, the various parts nursing their own wounds. They knew long ago they would lose. The BJP was never interested in Rajinikanth. He still does not know if he is coming or going. Kamal Haasan is no different.

The BJP had, much before the polling began, resigned itself to a post-poll scenario where it would give MK Stalin a choice: To be like KCR or Telangana or Naveen Patnaik of Odisha.

Polarising elections in Assam

Up in the east, there is Assam. For the last two-three years, Amit Shah was trying to tell the Hindus in the state the BJP is their friend in good and bad times.  Lulled by him thus, they forgot to ask him what the good times were, but were sufficiently scared by the anti-Muslim harangue of the right-wingers to polarise the election communally. That is the only way the BJP could dream of returning to power in that state in the face of a concerted attempt by the Congress. The Congress put up a formidable fight, thanks in no uncertain terms to a communal understanding with those peddling Muslim votes. If there were more constituencies where over or nearly 70 per cent of the Muslims voted for the Congress, the latter would have stood a chance to grab power.  But let us not get ahead of ourselves. Let us wait for May 2.

That leaves us with West Bengal. Modi-Shah realised one thing right at the beginning: Mamata Banerjee begins the poll campaign with an advantage: an overwhelming percentage of the state’s Muslims may back her. That assumption set the target for the Duo: Whip up the Hindu sentiments — or anti-Muslim, if you wish — to such an extent that the counter-polarisation towards the BJP equals the Muslim polarisation towards the Trinamool. Game over for Mamata. 

Perception war

The Duo got the trick right, in theory at least. But where is the human resource? Dilip Ghosh? Laughable. They had no choice but to beg or borrow or steal the resource from the Trinamool. Let nobody get carried away by the BJP’s online profligacy and conclude that politicians left the Trinamool voluntarily. They left for a consideration. The consideration depended on the worth of the politician. A Suvendu Adhikari cannot be swayed by money or a CBI notice. A Mithun Chakrabarty can be swayed by an audience with the Duo. The rest fall in between. They brought in their intellectuals, their bhadraloks, their educated Bengalis and fielded them in the elections. All this was part of the perception war.

At the core, it was — is and will always be — communal polarisation.  What else did the Duo do on West Bengal? You think they talked about Achche Din? The phrase raises smirks, not aspirations, even within the BJP these days. They had the Indian television media on their side. And they launched their assault on Bengal.

The election results will tell us if the counter-polarisation worked for the BJP and if so, to what extent. Remember, Mamata was ahead when the first phase began, assured of 70 per cent plus of the Muslim votes. The BJP, like the teams batting in the second innings of a cricket match, had to first overcome the deficit and then gain from a polarised Hindu vote. The worry was that Hindus would also vote for the Trinamool, though not the Muslims.  That is why the BJP campaign needed to be shrill, shriller even. It became the shrillest to date. No holds barred.

West Bengal is no longer an exception

That is what will decide the outcome of this election. It is not about Mamata winning or retaining power. It is about BJP rising from three seats to whatever it can garner this time, whether 50, a 100 or as the Duo dreams, 200. But at the end of the exercise, history will record that India is a fully communalised country as far as electoral politics is concerned. Till now, West Bengal was the exception. But no longer. Ironically, the intellectuals who introduced India’s political, cultural and social renaissance are the very ones to play the communal dirge. That was always their creed. They merely lived up to it. So, don’t make too much of the Bhadralok theories and Bengali intellectualism. The question is, how many of them voted as illiterate, unthinking Hindus!

Half of the Union Cabinet in Bengal

If you have half the Union cabinet led by the Prime Minister and the Home Minister focus only on Bengal for a couple of months they can move mountains. You simply cannot underestimate the kind of machinery they have on their side. Mamata will tell you she had a wheel chair on her side.   

In this round of assembly elections, the BJP was fighting with its back to the wall. That is the only reality. In half the states it never mattered. In the other half, it could depend not on itself, its leadership or its policies — which are non-existent — but only on the polarisable communal commodities.

Now, one can appreciate the uphill task the Indian television media has: To come up with a narrative that will keep the BJP happy and brand Duo in currency, even if that means dusting the political reality under the carpet. That is what has been happening on your TV sets since 6 pm on April 29, 2021.

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