370 degrees of seduction
Ahead of the elections, Maharashtrians would do well to not be blindsided by the emotional rhetoric on Article 370 and look instead at their own state's escalating troubles
Article 370 is set to dominate the Maharashtra Assembly election campaign. Home Minister Amit Shah harped on it at Goregaon a week ago, as did Bharatiya Janata Party working president JP Nadda in Pune, and as will Prime Minister Narendra Modi after he returns from the United States, where the Kashmir-terrorism-Pakistan triad swirled around him.
Call it 370 degrees of seduction, a gambit of the BJP to outclass all suitors for the Maharashtrian voter's affection. The BJP's chatter over the annulling of Art 370 is designed to enhance the party's charm, swamp the voter's mind with emotions, and have her or him press the button with the lotus on the EVM machine in a swoon. Seduction games are always about controlling the mind of one who is being wooed, to make her or him neglect her or his needs.
This is why Maharashtrians should examine Article 370 for the benefits accruing to them. They have been victims of terrorism in the past, as during the audacious serial bomb blasts of 1993 and the grisly 26/11 attacks. The Kashmir-terrorism-Pakistan triad is bound to resonate with them, even though no terror incident has rocked the state since July 13, 2011, when Mumbai's Opera House and Zaveri Bazaar were bombed.
Even terror incidents in Kashmir have dipped from the high of the 1990s. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, which monitors fatalities in terror attacks, 69 security forces and 34 civilians died in Kashmir in 2010. The United Progressive Alliance was in power at the Centre then. The death count, thereafter, did not cross 100 until 2016, when 14 personnel and 88 security personnel perished. It jumped to 181 in 2018, with 95 jawans dying. The count is already a hundred for this year.
The rising tide of deaths in Kashmir has to be, at least partially, ascribed to the Modi government, which has been trumpeting the annulling of Art 370 as the final solution to terrorism.
Maharashtrians should compare the death toll in Kashmir with the figures of farmers' suicide in their state, to acquire a perspective on nationalism, which Art 370 is touted to bolster. In a reply to activist Jitendra Ghadge's Right to Information application, the Maharashtra government said that 14,034 farmers, or eight a day, took their lives between 2014 and 2018. Of them, 4,500 did after the State announced a mammoth '34,000-crore loan waiver in June 2017. State largesse doesn't seem to check people from courting death. Why will Kashmiri secessionists, being offered development, behave differently from farmers?
Only a virulent form of nationalism prioritises one type of death over another. It has made the farmer disappear from the poignant slogan of Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan. Nationalism is an ideology required to bind a nation, to kindle hope among those buffeted by the harshness of their existence. Nationalism-on-steroid is an opiate which spawns visions of a resplendent future awaiting the nation, enabling its proponents to lull the voter into ignoring the possibility that life could turn bleaker.
Bleak the average Maharashtrian's life has been for a while. Agriculture and allied sectors are estimated to grow by just 0.4% in 2018-2019, down from 3.1% the year before and regressing to the level of 2012-2013. Maharashtra's share in the national industrial output declined from 16.3% in 2014-15 to 14.8% in 2016-17. The growth rate in the State's industrial sector is expected to fall to 6.9% next year, from 7.6% in 2017-18. Maharashtrians constituted 12.9% of all employed Indians, down from 13.6% in 2014-15. A slowly economy will likely shrink employment opportunities for Maharashtrians more than for those in other States, largely because theirs is among India's most industrialised pockets.
Down, down economy, up, up nationalism. The opium of nationalism has been distilled from Art 370 by the Central government. Does it make sense even for those high on it to credit the State government? Or vote against Imran Khan in Maharashtra for hurling in-dippers to Modi in New York? But the seduction game doesn't end there: To edge out other suitors vying for the voter's affection, they must be projected as worthless and obsessed with their own interests. Think of the probe ordered against Sharad Pawar.
Fear of rejection has the seducer to behave less cockily and focus on the one being wooed. Monday Blues suggests to the Maharashtrian to keep the BJP on its toes, to not give it a three-fourth majority in the Assembly, as Shah has predicted his party will win. The reader will point to the absence of a credible alternative. Press the NOTA (None of the Above) button then. Maharashtra ought to resist 370 degree of seduction, which, by definition, is ephemeral. The state, as also India, needs care, not imaginary fears and fantasies of grandeur.
The writer is a journalist
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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Maharashtra Assembly Elections 2019: All you need to know!