The BJP has overwhelmingly won UP and Uttarakhand purely on the charisma of Narendra Modi, the factor of anti-incumbency, and the clever and manipulative use of a section of the media. The Congress has won in Punjab, Manipur and Goa, while the AAP will take a while to register its electoral power in the pan-India landscape. However, the BJP’s victory is more than what it appears to be.
The fact is that unlike Bihar, where both Modi and Amit Shah tried their best to rake up the communal card, UP has fallen for the bait. Let us not forget that Babri Masjid was demolished in Ayodhya in UP, and the state has been an epicentre of communal polarization since the socially engineered Muzaffarnagar riots before the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, with thousands of Muslims displaced, and many murders and rapes across the religious spectrum, but mainly targeting the minorities. Clearly, like the wounds which have not healed, the power of polarization has finally proved to be true in the assembly elections in UP.
To take credit for announcing the victory of BJP, as some journalists and experts are doing, is like rejoicing after a satta market victory in a 20-20 match. There is a clear perception that much of the media had created a pro-Modi ‘wave’ in the final phases of the polls, especially certain television channels. It was almost a repeat of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Noam Chomsky would call it ‘manufactured consent’.
Indeed, the media can create consensus or conflict, manipulate minds, organize waves, and polarize public opinion. It can supplement the politics on the ground by positing ‘fake news’ as real, thereby the fake actually turns out to be real. Post-truth is a media phenomena, including social media.
Surely, even while certain journalists predicted a BJP victory, hundreds of others, including veterans, were not sure of the ground beneath their feet, despite reporting from across the state. Also, there is an argument in terms of media ethics that journalists should not become prophets, come what may, or try to influence the results of the elections, as certain media organizations were openly doing, including one Hindi media outfit which did an illegal exit poll predicting a BJP victory. Did it influence a section of the voters? Yes, it did. And that is why it was done, even while the RSS machinery went on an over-drive to popularize the fake exit poll. Clearly, they succeeded in it, even when the trends on the ground showed no wave for any party.
Now, many journalists seem to be gloating that they have been proved right. Surely, they had the right to speak their mind or to predict a BJP victory, but others too had the right to be cautious and circumspect, and not fall into the prophecy trap. Journalists should report from the ground; they should not become prophets.
The best of the journalists, including veterans who have covered UP for many years, did not anticipate a clean sweep as big as what the BJP has gained. They were all convinced that either it will be a hung assembly or it will be a tight, neck-to-neck contest. Many of them clearly said that they really don’t know what’s the undercurrent or dominant mood, despite travelling across the hinterland.
Some of them were proved wrong, and it is quite possible that journalists can go wrong. They read between the lines on the ground, and they might read it wrongly sometimes -- it is an occupational hazard. The prophets who have been proved right should thereby learn to be humble in castigating those who questioned the media ethics of those predicting a BJP victory. Prophecies are also a kind of gamble. The gambler’s instinct should therefore not be presumed as the epitome of journalistic wisdom.
However, there are lessons to be learnt from the landslide victory of the BJP in UP. Sociologists have long argued that the regressive principle of caste and community politics have been able to resist the communal consolidation of Hindutva, as was witnessed in the Bihar elections in recent times. However, this sociology of caste versus communalism, with the minorities being used as a vote-bank, seems to have completely failed in UP, yet again.
For long the BJP has tried to create a larger consolidation beyond its upper caste-bania-trader constituency; it has tried to break the social engineering of Mandal versus Kamandal, and rope in the OBC and Dalits too in its big picture scenario, including the Jats in western UP who have been traditionally with the RLD. Indeed, with a Hindutva icon like Modi, the vast and well-oiled RSS machinery, and with considerable backing by the corporates and Media, they have been able to work out a strong and united alliance of caste and communal politics. This is Hindutva’s dream project.
Indeed, demonitisation was not sold as a card by the BJP. They first sold Modi, Ram Mandir, ‘Kairana’ and triple talaq. These cards failed, but the BJP works on many strategic fronts. Even if they fail, they are able to poison the minds of the masses, and create binaries whereby hate politics starts working on the ground.
In the final instance, the BJP used Modi as its biggest trump card, with him hopping across temples, and an open declaration of hate politics in using ‘kabristan’, ‘shamshan’ and kasab, targeting the minorities. Undoubtedly it was a gamble, and showed a certain desperation. However, in the final analysis, they have succeeded in UP while openly using the Hindutva and communal card, even while dumping the ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’, or ‘acche din’ slogan.
Indeed, it marks a new era in Indian politics. We might be still far away from the concept of ‘Hindu rashtra’, however, the Modi phenomena is a pointer that the possibility of Hindutva as a political philosophy is bound to become a dominant factor in the days to come. The fact is that people still believe that Modi will create a ‘new world’ for them, even though all his prophecies and promises have turned out to be fake, including bullet trains, Namoh Gange, the return of black money and depositing Rs 15 lakh in every account, jobs for the unemployed, the Jan Dhan yojana, and totally fraudulent projects like Stand up India, Skill India and Digital India, among other gimmicks.
Like the 31 percent in 2014 who voted for him, the people in UP obviously believe that he is the icon who will deliver. Mix it with a strong overdose of hate politics, and the need for mass psychology to adore and glorify an authoritarian personality, then the cult of Modi has obviously succeeded.
To blame the Congress will be like repeating a cliché. The Congress has won Punjab, Manipur and perhaps Goa. The BJP has earlier consistently scored in states where a discredited Congress has been the main opposition. UP is perhaps its second big victory, after 2014, with a different opposition party ruling the state, and facing anti-incumbency. While the Congress has totally lost its mandate in UP, and its leadership has proved to be an utter failure, it is too early to dismiss it completely from the radar. However, there is no doubt that the masses are looking for an alternative. And the Congress just can’t provide it under Rahul Gandhi.
India clearly needs a new counter culture to fight the hegemonic Hindutva hate politics and the open play of the communal polarization card. The RSS has a civilisational agenda; it uses all the tools available to demonise one community and plant the vicious and poisonous seeds of hatred in mass consciousness.
It has clearly succeeded in UP, yet again. Indeed, the Left, secular and progressive forces across the kaleidoscope, will have to mark a radical paradigm shift in their engagement with the people on the ground to redefine the political culture in the country.
The nature and content of grassroot politics, as much as the relationship with the media has to change. The beast that is the media, largely, has no ethics. It will continue to be diabolical and unethical. How to break this octopus-like stronghold of ‘manufactured consent’ is a challenge. It will take more than posturing to defeat the civilisational agenda of the RSS.
The battle is for the soul of the country. While one defeat might not be the end of the story, it surely is a strong indicator that the country is entering a dark phase under an authoritarian personality with a hegemonic ideology of hate politics and communal polarization. Indeed, the injustice of Gujarat 2002 or Muzaffarnagar has become a dot on the map. This is exactly how fascism operates; it eliminates memories and create new binaries and new memories. It is dark and diabolical, with no possibility of hope or redemption. Unless there is an effective, organic, imaginative and creative counter-culture to counter the Hindutva hegemony.
Surely, there is no other alternative, across the spectrum, and from ground zero. Or, else, fascism is here to stay.