“Election results are decided neither by the bhakts nor by the Modi haters”

Election results are decided neither by the bhakts nor by the Modi haters. They are microscopic communities having high decibel output. People, who live and breathe in between, decide the fate of the democracy. For them, everyday materialities of life are far more significant than intermittent morphine of ideologies.

Does that mean this in between segment of the society remains immune to ideological warfare and media bombardments of images? Certainly not. Entire ideological machinery is geared towards capturing the attention of this social group. Capture attention, hold it and sustain the momentum and then convert it into electoral dividends.

However, obviously this is far easier and convincing in equation than on the ground. Barely, few days of Pulwama and Balakot and the everyday harshness has already resurfacing in the form of narratives which have been in circulation for quite some months now. These narratives are those of demonic effect of demonetization on economy which is largely organised along informal and organically evolutionary axis and not in the formal structures of the capital. These narratives are consisted of devastating and prolonged despair to lower and middle rank business groups due to the hasty and poorly implementation of GST. These narratives are made up of farmers’ distress and jobless growth. These narratives have swiftly regained their position. An indication of their murmurs puncturing the ideological cacophony is the ground reports one can gather when one reads against the grain about the crowd gathered to listen Modi in recent weeks. Piecing together other such clues convinces me that in all likelihood we are heading towards a closely contested election in coming months.

The first sign of this close electoral combat came from the home turf of the Prime Minister and Party president, from the ‘lab’ itself when the Congress despite its dismal organizational infrastructure in the state not merely gave tough fight but on a good number of seats the difference between the elected and the defeated was of less than a thousand votes. This photo finish like texture of the electoral outcome has been analysed by many pundits from various angles. One does not need to venture into all those layers of its complexities here. But, the very fact that the entire process was multi layered and explanations emerging out remain complex made it obvious that everything was not rosy in the camp which had so convincingly declared a marriage between ideology and development not so long ago. In Gujarat, while the urban landscape (despite its middle class urban and youth anger of Saurashtrian Patel community) remained largely loyal to the BJP, the rural and tribal social geography shifted and went against the party ruling both in the centre as well as in the state.

The Gujarat verdict was interpreted in euphoric temper by Modi haters who felt that a close defeat of the Congress in Gujarat will translate into massive and one sided victory of the Congress in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. BJP in these states were facing anti-incumbency. Yet, except, Chhattisgarh the electoral verdict was close and only marginally tilted towards the Congress. Earlier, we had seen a similar if not identical statistical closeness on the victory chart in the case of Karnataka election too.

However, all these results had made it clear that the charisma of BJP as a party and Narendra Modi as its sole spokesperson was on decline. Rahul Gandhi as a figure personifying the opposition had gained a lot of currency. He emerged as a leader who knew his limitations and was working gradually and steadily. At regional levels, in Uttar Pradesh, BSP and SP came together. In Bihar, there is enough indication that the electoral constituency of RJD (Muslim and the Yadavas) remain largely intact which forced JDU and the BJP to align together. Yet, none of these blocks can feel assured that the verdict will be one sided in Bihar in the coming Lok Sabha election.

In this pre Pulwama and Balakot scenario, when economic indicators (farmer unrest and demonstrations continued and joblessness was making huge media inroads along with massive yet highly under reported adivasi galvanization in a landscape which criss cross states like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhatisgarh) were not giving very encouraging impressions, BJP had all the reasons to get worried. Congress was increasing its pressure on Rafael controversy.

With the ghastly terrorist attack in Kashmir, all these multi-pronged criticism of the government got overshadowed by the narratives of anti-Pakistan. Suddenly, there was no oppositional space left. While the Prime Minister Narendra Modi continued to address BJP workers and the Party president never hesitated to refer to Balakot strike, the opposition was forced to retreat. However, within a short time span, one by one all these economic and political controversies seem to regain their lost momentum. In fact, they were never lost but were merely momentarily paused. Election battle is quite poised at this moment.

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Sadan Jha Written by:

Sadan Jha is a historian. His publications include Reverence, Resistance and the Politics of Seeing the Indian National Flag (Cambridge University Press), Devnagri Jagat Ki Drishya Sanskriti (Rajkamal Prakashan) and Half Set Chay ( Vani Prakashan). He currently works as Associate Professor at Centre for Social Studies, Surat.

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