Misreading meaning of 2014 Lok Sabha poll mandate

The idea that the massive pan-India mandate to Narendra Modi in the 2014 general elections was a vote for development is a cliché. Clichés are meant to hide more than what they reveal. They serve, especially in this context, to mask the mass psychology that played a  decisive role in the landslide victory that took even the BJP by surprise.

To see this scenario in perspective we need to reckon the predatory element in politics. Politics is about success and defeat. Just as wars are. Historically, wars and politics have been two sides of the same coin. Violence is the essence of both.

Wars were, and still are, the foremost shaping force in political destiny. Indira Gandhi “liberated” East Pakistan only to boost her sagging political fortunes. Pakistan had to be humiliated for her to be glorified. It is as simple as that.

The 2014 general election in particular was strategised as a war. The Modi-Shah combine declared war on the Congress with the avowed aim of creating a “Congress-mukth Bharat”.

The shaping political goal proffered to the masses–which unfailingly drew spontaneous applause each time–was the total elimination of the opponent. Such a goal is extremely rare in the controlled warfare of democratic elections. The legitimate goal is the defeat, even humiliation, of the opponent; never his summary elimination. Such a goal approximates itself to what has come to be known in history as the Final Solution.

To the Congress alone belongs, however, the credit for making this otherwise disturbing electoral doctrine a heady prospect for the masses. By acts of omission and commission, the UPA II and it’s degraded governance, via corruption, into “sharing the booty by a few”.

When Manmohan Singh confessed his helplessness, citing the miasma of coalition dharma, he spilled the beans, perhaps unawares, that the BJP–Modi in particular–was only too glad to grab and use to telling effect. Whatever other compulsions UPA II had is difficult to divine.

But the public perception, wherever I went and whenever I listened to people from all strata of society, was that it was about sharing the mega booty among a small circle of political predators whose only visible attribute was their arrogance and contempt for the common sense of the common man.

This was precisely where mass psychology was waiting to kick in. And it did, with a vengeance! Details and data apart, in public perception, UPA II was like a bunch of predators who kept the national booty wholly to themselves. The veneer of democratic governance is the fiction that somehow everyone gets to lick the drops trickling from the national honeycomb. This is why propaganda plays such a big role in democracy.

The business of propaganda is to improvise and sustain this pleasant illusion. What punctures the balloon is the needle of corruption. The offence in corruption is the grievance of exclusion. The more massive the scale of corruption, the more menacing, in popular perception, the exclusion of citizens from the national banquet. The common man feels cheated, robbed. He waits embittered, harbouring the lust for vengeance, the sinister delight in lynching the thief with the only weapon he is licensed to use, the ballot.

Modi, the maestro

Here Modi played his card expertly. He resonated well with the wounded psyche of the masses, baying for the blood of those who cheated them. Like a maestro, he articulated and aggravated their grievances. He promised that thieves would be caught and punished. But punishing the thief need not necessarily entail restoring the lost access to the booty, which is a story for a different day to tell.

So this part of the script was muffled. He fore-grounded, instead, the promise of bringing back their wealth, stolen and stacked in overseas tax havens–the astronomical gold mine which, when distributed, would make each Indian richer by Rs 15 lakh. You cannot make the metaphor of sharing booty more explicit and explosive than this. Small wonder crowds went wild with fervor.

Even the worst cynics could not help it. The appeal was, in point of fact, to the wounded, punitive instinct of the voters. Their instinctive craving to have those who robbed them punished, even eliminated. To secure for themselves a foothold on the bullet train speeding to the glorious destination of “booty for all”.

There is a moral in this for Modi as well. Booty is, by definition, meant to be shared, which it is even in the underworld. In a democracy, now armed to the teeth with the right to information, a mere change in the members of the privileged club who exercise monopoly over the national booty–to the exclusion of the masses, awakened as never before–will not do. Promises have to delivered. Charades and posturing now keep poorly.

Even the glamour of showcasing the mystique of whatever is “phoren”–the choreographed in-rush of “ache din” from overseas–will not do. The punitive fizz of eliminating the predatory Congress evaporated the moment that party fell out of power. The liquidation of a political opponent will not assuage stomachs burning with hunger. Deprivation and misery cannot be papered over with rhetoric, which is notoriously counterproductive when words and deeds part company.

The essence of the 2014 NDA electoral victory was not development as a fetish. It was the mounting, enraged awareness about a vast majority of citizens being excluded from the national booty. Those who deprive the people of their right will be punished, no matter who they are.

Hunger and misery will dissolve political allegiances of every kind. And scream for alleviation, even retribution. Those who turn a deaf ear to the cry of the masses will have to live with its deafening roar resounding in the dustbin of history.

(The writer is principal, St Stephen’s College, New Delhi)

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