There is a perennial competition in India about which political party is better or worse than the other. Nature’s seasons are replaced by election timings. So Internet chatter and social discourse is now a matter of exchanging blows about the other’s party of choice. The usual allegations are of communalism and corruption, followed by inefficiency.
The funny thing is that every political party in India can be accused of exactly the same things. At some point (or at many points) they would have been communal, corrupt and inefficient and even managed to be all three at once.
How does the voter see the difference? Sadly, the Indian middle class voter hasn’t yet managed to get it. He or she gets caught up in the chatter or in media comments but isn’t always capable of differentiating between wheat and chaff. A good example would be former Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu. He was lauded as “CEO” of the state (that is supposed to be a compliment) and was credited by the media and the corporate sector as being brilliantly forward-thinking and efficient. The voters of Andhra Pradesh were not so convinced and Naidu is now lost in a political wilderness he is still to escape from.
Ratan Tata took his Nano project out of West Bengal in a huff, blaming Mamata Banerjee for his departure. He called Banerjee the “Bad M” and Narendra Modi of Gujarat (where he relocated the Nano factory), the “Good M”. But since then Tata executives have been in Bengal praising Banerjee’s leadership of Bengal on some pretext or the other. Corporates as a matter of course say nice things about leaders wherever they are and many give donations to a number of political parties to hedge their bets. They are hardly the best barometer of election results or the popularity of politicians.
Cocktail party chatter in favour of Narendra Modi as front runner for India’s prime minister has dulled a bit after the Gujarat chief minister got a few facts wrong about the location of Takshila, about how far Alexander’s army travelled into India, about Chandragupta Maurya and the Gupta dynasty — all stuff which a class seven history student should know. A bit embarrassing for someone projected to be a dominant world leader. Not everyone thinks George W Bush is the right example to follow. And then there was all that kerfuffle over the legacy of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. As everyone and his auntie have pointed out to Modi, Sardar Patel was scathing about the RSS and was always a staunch Congressman. The fact that the Congress has become obsessed with the descendants of Jawaharlal Nehru may be shameful but it does not diminish Patel’s well-documented dislike of the Sangh Parivar and its extensions.
To prove that the more things change the more they stay the same, Rahul Gandhi who may or may not (most likely not) be the Congress’s party’s prime ministerial choice has got a notice from the Election Commission. Gandhi has to explain some rather curious and frankly unfortunate remarks he made about Pakistan’s ISI recruiting Indian Muslims after the recent riots in Muzaffarnagar.
Paucity in thought on all sides of the political spectrum is evident in Congress’s request to the Election Commission to ban opinion polls. It is true that most opinion polls have been unkind to the Congress and the UPA. But why blame the polls for that? The party and the government need to take a long hard look at their own performance and behaviour. It is of course another matter that election opinion polls have a pretty dismal track record in India. So why all this fuss over what could be nothing at all?
More and more this election looks like it’s going to be about whoever or whatever the voter sees as the lesser evil, not the next messiah. We’ve had coalition governments for so long at the Centre that the idea of a saviour is perhaps restricted to those who spend their days reading superhero comics. Or trawl social media all day. Or go to cocktail parties!
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona