The importance of the Gujarat polls


Cover image: Gujarat Assembly elections 2017: The BJP’s average victory margins were almost double the victory margins of Congress during 2012 Assembly elections in the state. (Express Photo: Bhupendra Rana)


13 December 2017

Jawhar  Sircar

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Jawhar Sircar is an Indian civil servant with 41 years experience, and last served as Chief Executive Officer, equivalent to the position of Secretary, Govt. of India, of Prasar Bharati, India's Public Service Broadcaster that is All India Radio and Doordarshan. He supervisedthe two broadcasting networks of India: All India Radio (AIR) & Doordarshan (TV); among the three largest in the world.  He has worked in the fields of Finance, Commerce and Industries for 17 of his 38 years in public service, where he has managed large corporations, including the multibillion-dollar Haldia Petrochemicals. On the other hand, he has also worked in the field of public communication: i.e., in Education, Culture and Media-related assignments, for over 11 years.  Here we have another well-researched article by Jawhar Sircar, courtesy The Telegraph Calcutta.   Isaac Gomes, Asso. Editor, Church Citizens' Voice.


December 18 will surely be an interesting day. Millions in India and abroad would love to know how Gujarat actually voted after displaying the first signs of dissonance in over one- and- a- half decades.

The Bharatiya Janata Party and its well-rewarded journalists have started taunting liberals and secular forces — they have been branded 'sickular' , a phrase that itself is rather sick — to 'wait for the results' . The liberals, on the other hand, are busy praying, or circulating videos of empty chairs at Narendra Modi's election rallies as evidence that his days are numbered. But except dreamers, few really expect the well-oiled and allegedly State-supported machinery of winning elections to capitulate easily. The Opposition does not even have a name for the possible chief minister. But then, Gujarat means a lot more than just a jackpot on the first hit.

When the ruling party took the unprecedented step of postponing the winter session of Parliament for the first time in our memory so that the prime minister and his cabinet colleagues could fight just one state election with all their might, it hinted at panic. The leader, who has gloated after each victory and has never displayed the magnanimity that keeps the Westminster system ticking, is worried.

This in itself is a major victory. When cracks appear on the invincibility that is flaunted by absolutist regimes that thrive within the democratic process, they signify that democracy is finally retaliating. The very fact that Gujarat 2017 has managed to galvanize so many demoralized liberals after three- and-a half long years is an achievement by itself.

They had lost interest in the elections post-2014. Even the last one in Uttar Pradesh had been left to the press and poll pundits to titillate us with fanciful analyses. But since Modi swept the polls in UP by convincing the poor that he had crushed the corrupt rich with his swashbuckling demonetization, some very significant developments have shaken India.

The first is the bombshell by the Reserve Bank of India that demonetization had, in effect, failed after much theatricality and avoidable pain. Then the growth figures nosedived for the first time in years. This was followed by the terrible mess that the goods and services tax created in which everyone was affected.

Besides, there was no sign of employment on a mass scale that the messiah had promised.

In September, the spell of mesmerizing demagoguery was broken and India found its lost voice back after three years. Suddenly, large territories in the social media that had been captured by trolls and delirious heroworshippers were liberated. Even the loyal mainstream media started making interesting noises. Gujarat is critical as it is the first poll after these multiple disappointments have become public.

Surprisingly, Gujarat also succeeded in shaking off the Congress's inertia. It fought tooth and nail to ensure Ahmed Patel's Rajya Sabha seat. Then Rahul Gandhi jumped into the elections with unusual gusto. He appears to be getting his act together — finally — and has taken Gujarat seriously to legitimize his political elevation. The party's seriousness is evident in its new social engineering with Patidars and the backward classes, however obnoxious such electoral strategies may be.

None disputes the BJP's or anyone else's claim to power and democrats actually celebrate changes in regimes that take place through bona fide processes. Incidentally, Atal Bihari Vajpayee remains one of India's favourite prime ministers. He upheld some of the highest traditions of plurality and tolerance even at the cost of annoying his own partymen.

And so did Jawaharlal Nehru during India's formative years. The once outlawed Left never tampered with the basic framework of the Constitution when it came to power.

But the electoral victory in 2014 brought in unprecedented threats to the constitutionally sanctioned principles of secularism and plurality for the first time in the history of independent India. Hatred is now sanctified by the mainstream and has become so respectable that one fears that even serious chemotherapy in the future may not be able to control its devastating spread. Since it is inconceivable that those who constitute the chief minority community in the country can ever be bludgeoned into submission, provoking them is bound to lead to counter- attacks. This is a strategy for inviting an endless subterranean civil war of the middle- eastern variety. Ceaseless strife suits killers and fanatics on both sides.

Lastly, Gujarat is important also because it is the crucible of the 'Hindus-only' model.

Someday or the other, the battle would have to be fought there. After Babri Masjid and its aftermath had almost settled down and India began reconciling itself to the Dawood Ibrahims that had been created, Godhra broke a new dam of hatred. The scalding heat that long years of stoking generated — from L. K. Advani's provocative rath yatra to the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the 1992- 93 riots — found its volcano in Godhra and its murderous trail. But to harness the whole into votes required the genius of one Machiavelli. To enter his den, rip apart his much- touted 'Gujarat model', which produces favourable numbers by facilitating the enrichment of big capital, and to get him to worry so much is a great victory in itself. This had been unimaginable in the last few years.

Liberals and democrats can celebrate whatever gains the EVMs bestow for the struggle to restore India is just beginning.

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