Safety in num­bers

Ma­jori­tar­i­an­ism is the trump card, as Congress fails to of­fer a counter-nar­ra­tive

Governance Now - - GUJARAT VERDICT - Ashish Me­hta ashishm@gov­er­nan­cenow.com A ver­sion of this com­ment has also ap­peared on First­post.com.

The BJP has formed the sixth gov­ern­ment in gu­jarat. not count­ing a bump in 199698 thanks to its own rebel shankarsinh Vaghela, the party has been in power since 1995, and shows no signs of anti-in­cum­bency. its seat tally has gone down, it had a near scare, its fu­ture is go­ing to be un­cer­tain, but even if it loses in 2022, it would have com­pleted 25-plus years in power – more than the whole life­time for a sig­nif­i­cant chunk of vot­ers!

What we are wit­ness­ing is com­pa­ra­ble only to the long Left Front rule in West Ben­gal – in terms of a party’s grip and in­flu­ence on po­lit­i­cal dis­course. There are, of course, other states with a long pe­riod of one-party rule, or one party re­turn­ing to power ev­ery al­ter­nate elec­tion. But in gu­jarat now, as in West Ben­gal dur­ing 1977-2011, a cer­tain ide­ol­ogy has be­come the de­fault world view, and a cer­tain party or­gan­i­sa­tion has grown deep roots in so­cioe­co­nomic struc­tures, down to co­op­er­a­tive so­ci­eties and cricket as­so­ci­a­tions.

That ide­ol­ogy is not the plain­vanilla hard­line Hin­dutva, as it may seem to com­men­ta­tors in delhi, but a slightly nu­anced ver­sion of it, what some com­men­ta­tors a decade ago called Moditva: sim­ple po­lit­i­cal ma­jori­tar­i­an­ism mixed with in­dus­tryled eco­nomic growth. For an av­er­age gu­jarati, this has be­come the norm, the ac­cepted wis­dom – un­less there are any other press­ing fac­tors at play.

it would be easy – and naïve – to imag­ine an av­er­age gu­jarati voter in the im­age of one of those held for mob-lynch­ing. The im­age of an av­er­age gu­jarati (Hindu) voter is slightly dif­fer­ent: A soft-spo­ken el­derly gen­tle­man, who does not mind giv­ing a help­ing hand to a neigh­bour even with­out ask­ing, spends his re­tire­ment time in so­cial ser­vice (when he is not check­ing his stock mar­ket in­vest­ments). Men­tion Modi or the BJP and he would have quite a hand­ful of com­plaints. once he com­pletes his list and you ask him, “then why not congress this time”, he’d say, “no way. A congress win means those peo­ple will get an up­per hand.” Those peo­ple are Mus­lims. Mind you, this is the gen­tle­man who on a train jour­ney will ex­change pleas­antries and may share tea (though not food!) with a Mus­lim co­trav­eller. He would make it a point to buy his monthly gro­ceries from Manek chowk in the heart of Ahmed­abad where, he’d say, Mus­lim traders are hon­est. But vote for the congress? You know the answer, and why.

A fear of the other, a prej­u­dice against the mi­nor­ity – has been a pro­nounced theme in the state. There are many rea­sons, be­gin­ning with the prox­im­ity of Pak­istan, and a long

history of strained ties, but the chief rea­son as it would mat­ter today is the se­ries of com­mu­nal ri­ots, go­ing on for months, in the 1980s and later. (That is why naren­dra Modi, Amit shah and other BJP lead­ers harped on this bit of history dur­ing the poll cam­paign.) dur­ing those days, in pop­u­lar per­cep­tion, the congress was seen as sid­ing with the mi­nori­ties. There was a boot­leg­ger, Ab­dul La­teef, the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind the shah rukh Khan star­rer ‘raees’, who could win from not one but five mu­nic­i­pal wards in 1986 – while he was be­hind bars. The in­se­cu­rity en­gen­dered by the ri­ots, cou­pled with the ram Jan­mab­hoomi cam­paign of the late 1980s and early 1990s, not only put the ma­jor­ity squarely be­hind the BJP, but also helped iron out any in­ter­nal caste cal­cu­la­tions. The prej­u­dice re­mains, even if in ac­tual statis­tics Mus­lims are at the re­ceiv­ing end in ev­ery “hul­lad” (riot, in gu­jarati) since 1992 and more so in 2002.

if you need the proof for the ma­jori­tar­i­an­ism hy­poth­e­sis, look at the op­po­si­tion party. The congress has been ac­cused of at­tempt­ing ‘soft Hin­dutva’ right since 2002. This time, the in­com­ing pres­i­dent, rahul gandhi, out­did his mother by tick­ing off nearly all ma­jor tem­ples and pilgrimage spots. even the congress gives the ticket to fewer and fewer can­di­dates from the mi­nor­ity. Then, BJP can’t be faulted for not giv­ing the ticket to even a sin­gle Mus­lim (and thus the state hasn’t had a Mus­lim min­is­ter for a long, long time.)

Modi him­self might have re­lied equally on Hin­dutva as well as eco­nom­ics, and for his vic­to­ries equal credit might have gone to good gov­er­nance. But an ar­gu­ment can be made that gu­jarat was al­ways do­ing well enough eco­nom­i­cally, and dur­ing the Modi years it did not ex­actly top the charts on any pa­ram­e­ter, from gdp to in­vest­ments. (delhi would be a bet­ter can­di­date of eco­nomic out­lier in those years, and sheila dik­shit did not win a fourth term.) Hence, ma­jori­tar­i­an­ism is the hero, gov­er­nance is a mer­cu­rial char­ac­ter ac­tor. What­sapp mes­sages will hail ma­jori­tar­i­an­ism; TV talk show will speak of gov­er­nance.

now for the rider, since the BJP tally has dipped to a dou­ble-digit count; its low­est since 1995.

The Left had nearly 35 years of con­tin­u­ous rule in West Ben­gal. The BJP in gu­jarat can very well break the record. if it does not, if it even­tu­ally loses in this state, then the be­gin­ning of the down­turn can be marked now: 2017. if ma­jori­tar­i­an­ism is taken for granted, if the typ­i­cal gu­jarati Hindu has come to feel that there is no longer any threat from the mi­nori­ties and the ri­ots are history, then the caste will come to the fore again. Add to that those left be­hind by job­less growth (not to be blamed on Modi alone as it is ar­guably a pan-na­tional fea­ture since 1991).

That is what we saw in this elec­tion, with three caste cam­paign­ers – of vary­ing de­grees of po­lit­i­cal ma­tu­rity – de­mand­ing quota ben­e­fits and maybe de­liv­er­ing some im­pact on re­sults. dur­ing the 1980s, the BJP had suc­cess­fully walked the tightrope and herded all castes in­clud­ing dal­its in its tent even in the face of the rul­ing congress’s caste quota pol­i­tics.

The chal­lenge for the BJP is now de­fined, and it will be in­ter­est­ing to see how it rises to it again.

The Left had nearly 35 years of con­tin­u­ous rule in West Ben­gal. The BJP in Gu­jarat can very well break the record. If it does not, if it even­tu­ally loses in this state, then the be­gin­ning of the down­turn can be marked now: 2017.

Arun ku­mar

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