Sunday, March 30, 2014

Pit stop Uttar Pradesh

Just back from a short trip of Kanpur-Lucknow-Delhi-Mumbai. Normally, I'd be reluctant to draw inferences from fleeting interactions and the odd encounters. But, I find, even journalists tend to to do that and pass it off as ground reports. Therefore, thought of jotting down my quick impressions on - what else but the coming elections.

In Central UP (tho Kanapur-Lucknow is regarded more East than Centre) the pro-BJP mood is palpable in the air. The Samajwadi Party rule of Akhilesh Yadav has been an unmitigated disaster - people regret pinning their hopes on the young politician, who they thought will bring a new vision to a state that has languished for such a long time due to poor governance. Even if these are not state elections - people see a new hope in Modi, not just at the Centre but one that will have a positive rub-off on UP's fortunes as well.

I for one was always skeptical - even till a couple of years ago - about Modi's acceptability in the "Hindi Heartland" ( or the "Cow-belt as one would call it colloquially). But, its amazing how he has captured the imagination of the whole nation. One can argue if that's due entirely to his magnetic charisma or the pits of despair the UPA and Congress have thrown the country in its 10 years of misrule. I had traveled through UP on a road trip - in January 1977 immediately after my school Class 10 (ICSE ) exams. I would compare the "anti-Congress" mood then in many ways to what I saw now. So, if you don't call this a wave - what else is ? 

Still questions remain on how much of this enthusiasm will translate into seats. Local BJP politicians, of course, see this as an opportunity of a life-time. They know if BJP doesn't make it this time - then regaining the same momentum would be near impossible in the foreseeable future. By, then the party itself may well disintegrate without the glue of power to hold it together. So, everyone wants to jump into the band-wagon - leaders both young and old, locals and paratroopers who wish to cash-in by exercising their seniority in the party (the likes of Murli Manohar Joshi). Therefore, there are bound to be disaffection on ticket distribution. But, how much of this will lead to under-cutting of votes due to internal factionalism or the overwhelming swing will sail the candidates through is a matter of conjecture.

Modi, of course, is carrying the battle almost singly on his shoulders. Everyone else seems to be riding under his shadow - knowing the limits of their influence. Therefore, much would depend on what the grass-root organisation of BJP and RSS are able to deliver. Realizing that - Modi has placed his trusted aide Amit Shah in-charge of UP. So, if BJP makes a turn-around in UP - as many expect them to - much of the credit shoul go to Amit-bhai.

In one of his rallies in Maharashtra today, Modi remarked - usually in an election one sees political forces realigning against the incumbent government. This time, it seems everyone is rallying together with the sole objective of keeping Modi out (and, tho he didn't say it, that would include some of his own party-men). I would suspect that it's not just politicians and other parties - even other forces inimical to India would be nervous about the ascent of Modi. It is incredible - how this man has been battling against such tremendous opposition to carry forward his mission practically on his own. It is this that makes me say - India hasn't seen another "political phenomenon" like Modi, perhaps, since independence. 

This brings me to Delhi and, where else, than the holy dipping point of political pundits - the IIC Bar. While I can understand - the antagonism of politicians towards Modi and BJP, also the near pathological dislike of the fashionable left-liberal intellectual set - I still fail to entirely fathom the hostility of the main-stream media for Modi. The argument that they are under the "pay" of the ruling party is too glib. If they were, indeed, so easily "purchasable" - the Modi's alleged 'big business' backers could have easily 'bought' their support. Yet, their objections doesn't seem to be so much ideological as political - sometimes even personal. 

Therefore, sipping my 100 Pipers perched on the bar-stool, it's intriguing to hear senior journalists trying to build up arguments against Modi and BJP. At the risk of sounding specious, sometimes I think these people find it difficult to accept Modi after having vilified him for so many years. Therefore, they curiously sound as if they're arguing against themselves.

Another point probably deserves mention. Swapan Dasgupta had written in an article how Modi is an outsider to Lutyen's Delhi (unlike a Vajpayee - who had even co-opted himself into the Club by choosing someone like Brajesh Mishra as his aide). But - equally Modi is alien to the Chanakyapuri circuit. It's well-known the BJP of yore had its benefactors in the foreign diplomatic club - who have their own formidable sphere of influence. "Well-wishers of India" like Strobe Talbott had no hesitation in acknowledging Minister Jaswant Singh as a "friend" at whose invitation he spent a weekend in Jodhpur. Despite the recent thawing of relationship with the US and EU Missions - Modi is still viewed with suspicion by the West - not to mention our immediate neighbours who have greater reasons to be wary of him. And, this is not something that can be wished away.

Despite all these  odds- if Modi still makes it as the next Prime Minister of India - as many of us wish - it will be nothing short of a miracle.

But, borrowing from Paul Coelho.."when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it".

Sunday, March 23, 2014

'Vote Bank Politics' has come here to stay in West Bengal

A news item in 'Ei Samay' the Bengali paper of the TOI Group (Read here) says, the assessment of the West Bengal State Intelligence Bureau indicates, the #BJP will pay a decisive role in 9 out of 42 constituencies of West Bengal in the Lok-Sabha Elections 2014. This is a significant development for Bengal - where BJP has been an almost non-existent party.

According to another report, Mamata Banerjee herself has cautioned her party-workers about the rise of BJP in the state (click here to read). She, of course, refers to BJP as "communal forces" - which is the fashionable political euphemism for the Saffron party.

Historically, West Bengal has, arguably, voted largely on 'secular' lines. Cast also had little role to play in Bengal politics. (Perhaps, an influence of Communism and literacy - also a reflection of society). Equally the Bengali Muslim has, traditionally, been influenced more by political - rather than religious - considerations. All this seemed to change perceptively in the last Lok Sabha elections - when a sizeable chunk of the "Muslim Vote" moved en-masse to the Trinamool Congress. Since then, political parties - have started looking at them as a distinct "vote-bank" - quite similar to what happens in other parts of the country. So, what has changed ?

First, it is the influx of across the border in districts adjacent to Bangladesh. They have brought with them a culture and mind-set, which is very different from the traditional Bengali Muslim community who have been well integrated into the society over nearly 2 centuries. Political parties have indulged them as low hanging electoral fruit - legitimizing their illegal migration and allowed them to spread their tentacles across the community, often by exercising both money and muscle power. 

While the eastern districts of the state have seen infiltration from Bangladesh, the western borders have seen influx from other neighbouring states of Bihar and Jharkhand - who have themselves been afflicted by economic plight.

Simultaneously, as industry has shrunk in the state - trading has been the life-line. The business averse mentality of Bengalis is well known. Therefore, it's no surprise that the dominant trading community are "Non-Bengali", to use a pet term. In a surprising statistics, published a few years back showed nearly 60% of the population of the greater Calcutta and Howrah areas in of "non-Bengali" origin.

In this backdrop - dismissing BJP as a "communal party" - will only contribute towards greater polarisation of the people - which will over a longer term upset the electoral and social dynamics of the state. After that, the answer to that eternal question - which / who came first - the chicken or the egg - will only be of academic interest.

But, it seems "vote bank" politics has finally arrived and come to stay in Bengal. Sad - but true and, probably also, unavoidable.

(Also read: Is Eastern India an important developing Hindu Vote-Bank ?)