If this election campaign is to be remembered like a suspense drama, it must have a surprise end.
What a roller coaster it has been since June 2013 when all senior BJP leaders assembled in Goa to strategize for the coming elections. Instead of discussing the roadmap with senior leaders, Narendra Modi and his cohorts imposed on them a fait accompli: Modi will be the head of the party’s election campaign.
There was much consternation and beating of breasts until something was whispered in their ears. They fell in line - but only to regroup in L.K. Advani’s Prithviraj Road bungalow in New Delhi. “We do not agree, we do not agree” went the chant. Two days later RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat arrived from Nagpur. He put his finger on his lips. A hush fell on the congregation. They fell in line again.
This time they marched in step, only occasionally remembering the seniority they had surrendered. On one such instance they asked for their preferred constituencies. No, they were told. You go to Gandhinagar and you to Kanpur and so on and so forth.
Surrounded by brilliant directors and choreographers, Modi embraced the Method school of acting and became the prime minister, parallel to the one in Race Course Road.
On Aug 15, Independence Day, while Manmohan Singh looked pale, weak and quite out of place at the Red Fort, Modi looked like an ad for vitality capsules as he stood in his designer kurta at the Lalan College in Bhuj. It was a wondrous show. A split TV screen had two prime ministers: Manmohan Singh and the presumptive prime minister.
That was in August. Modi has since been offering performances at the rate of two every day without a break for the past nine months. In the old days even a circus never stayed in town for more than a month. To expect a nation to be riveted on a one-man show for months without a break, belied scant understanding of the Indians’ sense of fun. This is a country of fairs, nautankis (village theatre), folk songs, chutkulas (jokes), kahavats (sayings). It is unbelievable that a year long campaign yielded not a joke, a quip, a pun. Viewers had a surfeit of an aggressive, taunting, vicious, menacing Modi. There was no humour, no gentle touch. This, in a nation of the pastoral lyric. If the nation is not all cock-a-hoop with Modi, something must have palled.
Yes, we love our Gods and Goddesses, but not in our living spaces, mornings, noons and evenings. That would be tiresome. Modi was in our living rooms all the time for a full year. The blame will have to be placed somewhere here if the world’s most expensive election campaign does not deliver him the prime ministership.
What was conceived by TV script writers as a Modi versus Rahul Gandhi serial dialogue lost considerable audience appeal when Rahul Gandhi refused to come on stage. Even until December, when Arnab Goswami trapped Rahul Gandhi for his solitary interview, there was hope that he would be persuaded to duel Modi. Arnab asked him 18 times in the course of the interview to agree to a debate with Modi. But Rahul Gandhi was fixated on one theme: he was devoting himself to a system of primaries for selection of candidates. This reporter had written years ago that Rahul Gandhi’s eyes were set not on 2014 but more on 2024 when he would be only 53 years old and possibly more willing.
After a disastrous UPA-II, the Congress had reconciled itself to sitting in the opposition. But panic gripped the family when reports trickled in of the party dipping to double digits. Hence, the frenetic action by the Gandhi family in Rae Bareli and Amethi. The thinking around Congress president Sonia Gandhi is that a tally of 110 plus will enable the party to give outside support to a grouping and somehow keep Modi out.
But Rahul is singing a different tune. He would like to sit in the opposition and reconstruct the party according to his lights.
This would have been a sensible strategy and in harmony with the party vice president’s laid-back style, if Modi were zooming ahead, towards the magic figure of 272. He is not. The news from the game changing states like Bihar and Andhra Pradesh is not good for the BJP. Only Modi’s very reliable Amit Shah’s machinations are keeping the party in serious contention in UP. The BJP’s hopes hinge on this state. So, Rahul wake up. You may be required to be nimble.
The manner in which Modi, Arun Jaitley and Amit Shah have pitched their tents in Varanasi against the administration and the Election Commission does not make them look like a victorious trio. Have you ever seen a winning team abuse umpires?
With the Akalis fighting for their lives in Punjab, there is little of the NDA left to induce confidence. And before the party flaunts its Shiv Sena affiliations take a look at Saamna, the party’s mouthpiece. Gujeratis, it says, are not trustworthy.
If numbers do not help him ascend the Delhi throne, Modi would be loathe to have the “oldies” he sidelined in Goa be resurrected. That would fritter away the good he has accumulated in the course of the lengthy campaign. The Sangh Parivar is now in possession of new data on Dalits, how Valmikis, Lohars, Khatiks, Mallahs are willing to be Hindutva’s new infantry, deserting caste parties. This is a huge advance on the work among Dalits done by RSS social workers like K.N. Govindacharya in the 90s.
If Modi were interested in an enlarged NDA, he would not have burnt (or weakened) his bridges with Mamata Bannerjee, Jayalalithaa, Mayawati or Naveen Patnaik. But Murli Manohar Joshi has turned up in Nagpur to advance the interests of the BJP, in the event of Modi’s electoral eclipse. This signals a power struggle.
Just look at the awesome power of the Indian people, as the world waits with bated breath for the May 16 election results. Heaven knows what fate awaits all of us. And, as I asked at the outset, what surprise twist awaits the Modi tale?