Thankfully, the Gujarat election is over. Not a day went by when verbal filth and pedestrian repartee were not heard, or mimicry was not on full display. The Election Commission tried to limit invectives by banning use of ‘Pappu’ but had no problems with words such as traitor, terrorist, brokers of martyr’s blood and Dalits’ woes, thief, looter, murderer, empty vessel, liar etc. It also had no problem when Thomas Macwan, Archbishop of Archdiocese of Gandhinagar, wrote to Christians not to vote for ‘nationalist forces’. PM Narendra Modi termed it a religious fatwa and wondered why Macwan wanted ‘anti-nationals’ to rule in Gujarat.
There was no respite from vocal slugfest. Irrepressible Mani Shankar Aiyar justified Rahul Gandhi’s election as president of the Congress party by arguing that even Aurangzeb succeeded Shahjahan. Modi did not let this remark go waste. He alerted voters to get ready to serve as slaves under a new Aurangzeb. Aiyar then dubbed Modi ‘neech’ to draw home a point that he was unfit to be India’ Prime Minister. Joining him, Salman Nizami, a Youth Congress leader, doubted that Modi’s pedigree was a suitable material for the job. Modi took it as an attack on Gujarat’s pride and incited voters to avenge the hurt at the ballot boxes.
As the news of a secret meeting at Aiyar’s residence between former Pakistani Foreign Minister and former PM Manmohan Singh surfaced, Modi accused Congress of allowing Pakistan to interfere in India’s domestic politics. And, when P Chidambaram’s meeting with a Taliban leader in 2013 came to light, BJP cautioned voters to stay away from the Congress that patronised terrorists. Not to be left behind, Kapil Sibal called Modi a non-Hindu. Another Congressman dubbed Amit Shah a Jain. It is hard to believe that they did not know that Modi and Shah are the two most committed Hindus in the country.
No serious debate was obviously possible in this ugly mood. No one seemed interested in knowing what was achieved, why promises could not be fulfilled, what factors were responsible for the shortfalls and where things could have been improved with a different approach. Rahul Gandhi only tickled voters; demonetisation is a loot, it has rendered millions of youths jobless, GST has brought businesses to a grinding halt, farmers are dying in heaps, land and money of poor have been siphoned off to crony capitalists, etc.
He reeled off tonnes of statistics to prove how BJP had cheated common man on all these counts. BJP promptly came up with their data to compare its achievements with the Congress’s pot-holed track record. Both could do so because no one in the captive crowd had the time or training to verify the numbers.
Promises, of course, had a field day. Rahul assured water and electricity to every home, jobs, free education, medical care and a shelter for all, drastic reduction in taxes, complete waiver of farmers’ loan etc. Taking a cue from Lalu-Nitish victory in Bihar elections, he cobbled up a partnership with Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakor—Patidar, Dalit and OBC leader respectively, and promised reservation to Patels in government jobs and limitless economic opportunities for Dalits and backward communities.
BJP just could not match the romanticism of these promises. It remains an everlasting mystery why voters forget repeated betrayal of promises by leaders and still flock to listen to more promises.
The most amusing part of the campaign was Rahul’s furious visits to Hindu temples, his identification of himself as a ‘Shiva bhakta’ and circulation of his photographs showing him wearing sacred thread and performing Hindu rituals.
BJP would not let him hijack their poll-winning formula. It called Rahul a Catholic Christian abroad, a spurious Hindu in India and a seasonal secularist. Muslims, already disenchanted with the Congress, felt further cheated. Everything may be fair in war, but his religious trips had no semblance of conviction.
Gujarat election mirrors our political immaturity. It had offered an excellent opportunity to the BJP and Congress to soberly carry out a course correction of political, economic and social priorities. But they turned it into a circus. They cared a damn how their behaviour would impact the minds of aspiring generations. In their cockfight, genuine concern for corruption, governance, development and people’s welfare got badly bruised.
It looks as if campaigning will become more lawless and disgusting in future. With the Supreme Court unwilling to put curbs on limitless freedom of expression and the Election Commission dropping its spine at regular intervals, elections may never be fun and a celebration of democracy.