Skip to main content

Amidst hype and hyperbole around Gujarat polls, the real story never gets asked: What does it mean for the people?

By Revati Laul*
Not all elections are equal. But the difference between the Bihar assembly election and U.P. and on this day, between Gujarat and Himachal is this. Some elections are the nerve centre of our body politic. And sitting in the heart of that nerve centre in Gujarat, I ask myself; what is the job of a political reporter? If I look at the way in which people are increasingly disdainful of `the media’ and `exit polls,’ 
I would say the answer is this: it is a barren and hollow place to be if it meant sticking a mike in the face of a BJP or Congress party spokesperson to extract one homilie after another. “We’ve won although we’ve lost,” or “We may have lost ground but we’ve won.” Because in all the hype and hyperbole, the real story never gets asked. What does all of this mean for the people? That as I see it is the job of every political reporter to answer. Feet in mud, noses in vada pav stalls and the sweat and the blood of the people.
Here is what the report from the trenches looks like. The one you won’t hear about on TV or read in the more arithmetic of politics type of writing. The palpable fear in the eyes of a tribal farmer who works seasonally at a construction site a hundred kilometres away. Who let go of two days of daily wages plus spent on bus fare and food to get to his village and vote. This is a man who earns 250 rupees in a day and cannot spend more than 20 or 30 of that so he can bring the rest back home and live off it in the next season. 
“Why have you spent about 2,000 bucks just to vote when you have no money for food and live in a tarpaulin tent on the road?” I asked him. Fear was the reluctant but honest reply. “Fear of what,” I persisted. “The fear of having your name struck off the ration card and BPL card and the panchayat coming to your home and threatening you if you don’t comply.” As he finished speaking, the other men – all tribals; standing with him nodded in agreement. 22 years of the BJP has driven that point home. It is a well-oiled machine, which does not mean that it delivers on any of its election promises. It means one thing only. It delivers fear with regularity and precision.
Far away from the tribal districts in Northern and Eastern Gujarat, an autorickshaw driver in Ahmedabad city brought home a few more truths. His gold earrings glistened in the midday winter sun as he spoke his mind. “These earrings,” I wanted to know where they were from. The aesthetics are always important. “Palanpur,” he declared proudly. And added – “Aadha tola sona” which is what they weighed. And finally, the price. “17,000 rupees,” he added without my asking. It wasn’t hard to guess he was a BJP supporter. Part of the aspirational middle class that believed the party delivered the one thing they wanted, in order to feel secure. 
The total and complete emasculation of Muslims in the state. The driver turned to me to explain. “Madam, Modi is like a dacoit.” He’s burned big holes in our pockets. We are in penury and now we’re going to pay even more when the bullet train he’s planned actually starts to take off.” This was some serious bile coming out. The auto-rickshaw driver drew a straight line between what he believed was a 88,000 crore loan that Modi inked with the Japanese Prime Minister to build a bullet train in the state; with an eventual drain of wealth. Was it the effect of demonetization and GST at work here? Did it mean that Modi’s popularity was on the wane? Yes and no. The vitriol against him has been spewing in the streets of Gujarat for a year or more, then disappearing like sludge into drains.
But it goes along with another factor that has yet again displayed itself in the current Gujarat election. Hindutva. Ever since the demolition of the Babri Masjid 25 years ago, the well-oiled machinery of the Hindu right has instilled the fear of the other in the minds of every aspirational, gold-earring wearing Gujarati. The auto-driver summed it up. “Madam, Modi is a daku. But he is doing one thing that is making us vote for him again and again. He is keeping the Muslims in their place.”
What does the verdict of a 100 and more seats say about the people who voted in favour, then? That thirty years of indoctrination by the Hindu right will take more than a few campaign speeches and visiting of temples by Rahul Gandhi to come unstuck. And that the fear of The Muslim as The Other hasn’t changed too much from the last election in 2012. 
In tribal villages I visited, as people gathered around tiny fires the night before they voted; they made one thing amply clear. “Hindustan is for Hindus.” Repeated over and over. And what has this Hindu-favouring regime done for the tribals, I asked. Much raucous laughter followed, making it clear that this election was mainly about a twin fear playing out in people’s minds. The fear of going against the BJP and the fear of the Muslim.
As the results started to trickle in, there was another kind of fear that rent the air. What if this is a close contest? What if the BJP loses? Will their supporters take to the streets and burn buses? Effigies? People? In private spaces in living rooms, where some watched the results on TV, there was a little bit of relief when the last votes were counted. It was over. There was no reason for right wing vigilantes to resort to violence. The party they support has won.
In the face of such extraordinary fear and such little hope from the opposition, it would be easy to forget the real heroes of this election. And indeed, they seem to have been quickly forgotten. The people who turned up in thousands, knowing that going against the grain and voting for the Congress may have their names struck from ration cards. Or grants put on hold. But who went out and voted for the Congress anyway. Not because they believed in the party or the speeches or Rahul Gandhi. But because they preferred to put their votes in a void, just to shake things up a little. It was enough dissent of enough people with no faith in the alternative or hope of their coming to power; for it to amount to over 70 seats falling off the ruling party’s grid. 
Considering the atmosphere in which this dissent was voiced, that was quite a resounding voice of dismissal. Dismissal of the BJP’s PR and that of the Congress. And of us media-wallahs that perhaps need to be reminded that we too are losing ground. The 70 seats worth of voters that went against the regime defied all the odds in their utter rejection of everything except their right to say, frankly my dears, we couldn’t give a damn.
---
*Senior journalist based in Delhi, tweets at @revatilaul. Originally published HERE

Comments

TRENDING

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Gyanvapi case: Use of 'illegal' lawfare to keep the communal pot simmering

By Venkatesh Narayanan, Bobby Ramakant, Manoj Sarang* With a steady drumbeat of bad news for the lives of ordinary citizens --  inflation at a multi-year high , rupee at an all-time low , negative job creation and when all forward indicators as seen by industry leaders point to recessionary clouds on the horizon , what’s a serially-incompetent government to do?  Dust out their time-tested-citizen-distraction playbook. The Gyanvapi-Masjid case is all of this -- as a weapon of mass distraction. This zeitgeist of our times is best captured by a recent opinion piece : "The idea is to keep the pot on a perpetual boil, simmering at the top, whirling feverishly beneath. A restless society forever living precariously on the precipice arouses distrst, uneasiness, fear and discomfort, That is a toxic panoply for manufacturing rage, which can then be effortlessly mobilized at short notice. BJP is creating an eco-system of real-time instant delivery of hate-mongers. That is how we are sudde

Upholding labour rights, Nehruvian scientific temper, Rajni Patel opposed Emergency

By Harsh Thakor*  Rajni Patel, who died 40 years ago, whatever his flaws, had one great quality: his human touch to offer selfless service and ability to galvanise or influence human beings from all walks of life. Few people would ever go out of the way to help someone or serve as selflessly without aim of personal gain. Rajni championed Nehruvian secular ideas and scientific temper. As a master in public relations he revealed utmost humility. As a barrister, he never appeared against the trade unions or workers. A Fabien Socialist he opposed liberal capitalism and radical socialism. Unlike most lawyers, he did not succumb to the lure of amassing wealth. Rajni was born in Sirsa, in Gujarat, on the very day Gandhi set foot on Indian soil, on 9th January, 1915. He gained his baptism through one of Gandhi's speeches calling for the boycott of foreign goods, which was the virtual turning point of his life. Rajni toed Gandhi to organise boycott of foreign goods. Rajni was able to cros

Targeting mosques, churches: 'Roadmap' for 2025, RSS' centenary year?

416 years old Our Lady of Health Church, Sancoale, Goa  By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*  Fascists use manipulative strategies aimed at whipping up sympathy and support from the majority community, to which they normally ‘belong’. They do so in a variety of insidious and subtle ways. In the past few months, they have gone overboard in their efforts to denigrate and demonize minorities in India, particularly Muslims and Christians. They have spewed hate and divisiveness through their venomous speeches; incited people to violence and have effectively used officialdom to further their vested interests. The results are there for all to see: greater polarisation of the majority community in a country which prided itself for its pluralism and diversity. Their meticulously planned agenda is in order to gain absolute power of the country in the 2024 national elections. More so it is also a roadmap towards 2025 when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) will complete one hundred years of its existence.

Vadodara violence: Fine Arts Faculty alumni raise fingers at Varsity's political appointee

Hasmukh Vaghela with PM Counterview Desk  In a statement, alumni of the Faculty of Fine Arts (FoFA), Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU), Baroda, Gujarat, referring to the “violence” by right-wing groups for displaying “objectionable” paintings that “hurt religious sentiments” at the one of India’s top fine arts institute May 5, have taken strong exception to “the assault and rustication” of one of the students, and lack of action taken against those who “violated” the institution and committed the act. Floated as an online petition seeking wider support, the FoFA alumni, in their statement, addressed to the vice chancellor, MSU, said, there should be “thorough” investigation in the whole incident and “immediate action” should be taken against syndicate member Hasmukh Vaghela, MSU, who sparked the assault, and “other co-conspirators” for breaching “university code of conduct and unlawful activities committed in broad daylight”. While the alumni statement doesn't say so, Vaghela

UK leader cites Indian farmers' struggle one of top global fights against neoliberal order

Counterview Desk  Jeremy Corbyn, member of the UK Parliament, former leader of the UK Labour Party and founder of the  Peace and Justice Project , in his  inaugural speech to the  Progressive International’s  Summit at the End of the World on May 12, 2022, has said, what is happening across globe suggests that "image of apocalypse -- bombs and raids, oil spills and wildfires, disease and contagion -- is a reality for people across the planet." In an adaptation of his speech, distributed by  Globetrotter , Corbyn, however, said, there are fresh examples action, too -- by Indian farmers forcing Prime Minister Narendra Modi to withdraw three neo-liberal laws;  by workers, communities and activists against the top giant multinational Amazon's "greed and exploitation"; and by Latin American people's struggle to say "no more to the domination by imperialism, the destruction of their communities and the abuse of their environments." Stating that this is n

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

This varsity succumbed to extra-academic mobocracy, 'ignored' Hindutva archives

By Shamsul Islam* Open letter to Sharda University vice-chancellor Sub: Discarding a Question on Linkages of Hindutva with Nazism/Fascism is blatant Academic Dishonesty! Dear Professor Sibaram Khara Saheb, Namaskaar! According to your esteemed University’s portal: “The name of University, 'Sharda' is synonymous to 'Goddess of knowledge and learning-Saraswati'. She is identified with 'veena', an Indian musical instrument and the ‘lotus’, where she resides. The lotus in our logo symbolizes the seat of learning that the University is created for.  "Variety of colours signify the variety of disciplines the university offers and the overlap between petals creating new colours demonstrate the ethos of collaboration between students and teachers of different programme, nationality, creed and colour working towards creating new knowledge…the University's cherished mission to provide education beyond boundaries and to facilitate the students and faculty to achie

Welfare? Govt of India spends just 19% of manual scavengers' rehabilitation budget

By Bharat Dogra*  While the Dalit community has been always known for higher levels of poverty as well as social discrimination, even within the Dalits there is a sub-section known for even worse levels of poverty as well as social discrimination. This is the section which was traditionally involved in manual scavenging. The shocking injustice they have suffered from over the years has been widely recognized leading to a ban on manual scavenging. At the same time there is urgent need for the rehabilitation of those engaged in manual scavenging. Hence a self-employment scheme for the rehabilitation of those engaged in manual scavenging was drawn up. The allocations and the expenditure for this scheme for the last eight years are shown in the Table below: Union Budget for Self-Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of  Manual Scavengers (in Rs crore) By Budget Estimate we mean the original allocation made when the budget is presented. It is clear from this table that the actual expenditure

A former Modi ally, Prashant Kishor wanted to enter Congress 'on contract, as trader'

By Anand Sahay*  The Congress Party and the election campaigns specialist Prashant Kishor, whose company has done strategic communications for a host of political parties across ideology, should both count themselves lucky that they could not reach an agreement for Kishor to join the party. News reports suggest that the Congress rejected Kishor’s terms. This is not wholly unexpected. People join a party because they are attracted to it, and wish to serve it in any capacity that the party may see fit. But that isn’t Kishor at all. He gave the impression of entering into a contract, as a trader might. If news reports are to be believed, he sought freedom to report directly to party chief Sonia Gandhi, and sought untrammeled control over party communications. When such ideas did not find favour, the consultant withdrew. It is clear he has no particular love for the Congress, and its ideas, ideology and politics. In contrast, look at the key personae in G-23. They