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Published in the 1-15 June 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Salute to the unknown voter in the villages

The stock market in Mumbai continues to plunge and show the signs of uncertainty. It reflects the growing influence of the corporate world in our political life and that it is disturbed of a mandate which is necessarily against the new economic policies of globalisation without a human face. In this way, the people's power not only defeated NDA but also the powerful corporate-backed media which never raised the issue of people's discontent with the defeated dispensation and most importantly which tried to hijack the people's issues by injecting their own on their platform, through their vicious campaign, opinion and exit polls. 

BJP's top brass deluded itself that people would vote for it in large numbers because of the absence of a viable alternative. It ignored the vital factor that Indian elections have always thrown alternatives. In 1989, VP Singh cobbled together an alternative even when Rajiv Gandhi was the most popular person in the country. Before him in 1975, Moraraji Desai and Janata Party came to power defeating Indira Gandhi. Vajpayee had been witness to these events and yet became pawn in the hands of his 'electronic' kids who overexposed his face to the people. 

The second shameful episode began with the Sangh Parivar raising the bogey of 'foreign born' being prime minister of the country. Sushma Swaraj, former Information and Broadcasting Minister and an articulate middle class leader threatened to resign from Parliament, tonsure her head and become a 'sanyasin', if Sonia became prime minister. An upper caste Brahmin, Sushma was imposed on Delhi by the BJP High command but she was rejected mercilessly by Delhi voters. Sushma's over-enthusiasm to take on Sonia was rejected in Bellary where she went to the public against Sonia Gandhi. For years the women movement in India has been trying hard for women to get out of the clutches of the patriarchy while Sushma and her kind reimpose the same values where women worship for their husbands, keep Karwachuth fast for the long life of their husbands, keep Sankatchauth fast, for the long life of their sons, put full-size Sindoor over their head again for the long life of their husbands and die along with their husbands when they die as Vijaya Raje Scindia, mother of the present chief minister of Rajasthan wanted, when she supported Sati in Deorala. None of these 'ideal' women have ever spoken against violence against women, dowry system and the continuous assault on women in India. It is irony that the Indian political establishment imposes people of one community over others and then talk about natural citizens of India. In Tamilnadu most of the nationalists came from non-Tamil background. MGR belonged to Kerala, Rajnikanth to Karnatka and the current Amma from Andhra Pradesh. It is more ironical that Jayalalitha talks about inborn citizen while leading a Dravidian movement. Needless to say that there is no room for a Brahmin in the Dravidian movement. And then comes the issue of women's reservation. All upper caste women were opposed to give separate quota to Dalit, backwards and minority women saying that women have no caste. Sushma Swaraj herself said it so many times that women are women and have similar problems. Parliament must give representation to women from different caste groups as upper caste women and particularly the Brahmins cannot represent the vast majority of Dalits, Adivasis and other women. They must represent their own communities and reject the Brahmanical values being thrust upon them by the Nagpur-born RSS and its stooges who have no interest in real India.

These are the internal power problems of the BJP which has still not recovered from the shock of the defeat. The second-rung leadership in the BJP is not yet ready and hence politicians are positioning themselves to take over the leadership from Vajpayee who is over 80. His deputy Lal Krishna Advani is already 77 and hence younger generation leaders though most of them are in their sixties are coming up with ridiculous issues which were battered in these elections and hence the issue of Sonia's foreign origin will be there for quite some time and perhaps even until the next elections. 

The surprise return of the Congress Party to power in the South Block has many lessons for political parties as well as politicians. That the voters have become wiser as well as too demanding has been reflected in the results. Vajpayee had never thought that he would lose these elections so miserably. But there lies the dangers of depending too much on 'electronic channels', pseudo-journalists as well as shady pollsters. 

The entire focus of the BJP and its NDA partners was on 'India shining'. Even in his public meetings the prime minister talked of friendship with Pakistan when he spoke to audiences in Muslim localities. The problem with the NDA and BJP was that they speak in multi-voices to confuse the voters. The Sangh Parivar is an expert in such doublespeak on various issues but voters in India have understood the game plan.

There are various interpretations to the current verdict. Journalists have become party-hoppers with political ambitions, hence they failed to report the events in an unbiased manner. It was not the people but the mediamen, who were thoroughly impressed by Vajpayee and his NDA government. I traveled within over 10 states before the polls and found everywhere the disenchantment of the people towards the government and yet whenever there was a poll survey we were given a fresh doze of 'how popular is Atal Bihari Vajpayee' and that these are presidential kind of elections. These half-literate journalists don't even understand as to what is important in parliamentary democracy: individuals are not important, policies and institutions are.

Vajpayee talked about great investments that we are getting, our NRIs, tele-revolution as well as his ambitious 'National Highway Project'. He failed to address the common concern of the people. In fact, the entire Sangh Parivar is expert in raising emotional issues instead of working for the uplift of the people. A number of members of Parliament of the BJP in the last Lok Sabha were elected on the rhetoric of Ram Temple but you cannot fool people all the time. This time the BJP focused on the issue of the foreign origin of Sonia Gandhi as well as promised to build a Ram Temple in Ayodhya. And look what happened in Ayodhya parliamentary constituency: they were trounced in these elections. Interestingly, BJP was also defeated in the constituencies of Varanasi and Mathura which are high on its agenda. The mascot of Hindutva in Uttar-Pradesh, Vinay Katiyar, who was member of parliament from Faizabad (Ayodhya) constituency in the previous Lok Sabha shifted to another constituency and was defeated.

BJP's top brass deluded itself that people would vote for it in large numbers because of the absence of a viable alternative. It ignored the vital factor that Indian elections have always thrown alternatives. In 1989, VP Singh cobbled together an alternative even when Rajiv Gandhi was the most popular person in the country. Before him in 1975, Moraraji Desai and Janata Party came to power defeating Indira Gandhi. Vajpayee had been witness to these events and yet became pawn in the hands of his 'electronic' kids who overexposed his face to the people. Those of us who have seen the misuse of government channels during Indira and Rajiv's regime found the poll managers of the BJP and NDA worse than the earlier governments. Journalists were co-opted in the Sangh ideology and each day we would found a BJP loudmouth appearing on TV and trying to demolish others as if all others are corrupt and dishonest except the NDA, a government which committed monumental blunder on every front, be it Kargil or breakdown with Pakistan and then take a U-turn to negotiations with Islamabad.

NDA's focus was on the urban population while it went to rural people on emotive issues like Ayodhya. It might have attracted the media and the paid journalists who rather than reporting the reality failed to judge the anger of the masses. Many of these 'paid' journalists are now interpreting the verdict as not in favor of Sonia and never against NDA. Vajapyee depended on these prostitutes heavily and lost because they had lost touch with ground reality. 

Media can expose the doublespeak of the BJP but it chose not to do so. It did not ask questions: how come BJP allows Narendra Modi to campaign for it when it wants good relations with the Muslim community. The party failed to take action against the Gujarat chief minister despite severe strictures passed against him by the Supreme Court and various other institutions. Former infamous chief minister of Uttar-Pradesh Kalyan Singh was brought into the party who had left it a few years back. The Ram mandir card failed to enthuse voters.

It will be blasphemous to consider people fool but that is what our political leaders do. The NDA government did not work for the rural poor. In fact, this government was seen as a government of the rich and for the rich who talks of Sensex in Mumbai Stock Exchange. Its ministers visit rural populations begging for votes and yet never visit their own constituencies. The policy of disinvestment might go down well with big industrial houses and their cronies, as Sonia Gandhi says, but the common man was deeply dissatisfied with the performance of the NDA government, which focused more on propaganda than actual work on the ground. The entire India Shining campaign was meant for urban voters and yet in all the four metropolitan cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai, the BJP and its allies lost miserably.

Despite a clear verdict against the party (it is so because its poll managers were saying all the time that the NDA would get over 300 seats while it got only 187), the party is still not ready to accept this defeat gracefully. The first reaction of the party was that they could not believe as to why people punished a government which 'worked'. To know the truth BJP leaders must visit the areas where people died of hunger, killed in the communal riots as well as where farmers committed suicide because of the failure of their crops.

Democracy is a great leveler and perhaps here is an example for all the counterparts in the Subcontinent that despite shortcomings, democracy does empower people. The fifty years of Indian democracy have empowered the Indian voters in such a way that it comes out with a vengeance against the rulers who maltreat him and consider him a fool. The biggest lessons of these elections are for every one that as a democratic nation, India has matured because it is the poor in which our faith lies the most, for he has voted against hatred and he wants solution to his basic problems of Bijli-Sadak-Pani and not just big talk of making India a mahashakti or saving us from 'foreign born', for every one of us knows that in the last six years, it is the Swadeshi champions of the BJP who invited foreign companies to India, opened up every sector including strategic ones for the multinationals while Sushma Swaraj and her ilk kept mum. Unfortunately for them, their targeted people, the urban voters have equally rejected their rhetorics and sent them back to the opposition benches to raise issues of public importance and not fan their emotions. ( - excerpts)

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