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Fifth Column: Election Redux

It is an election about “vikas” and “parivartan” and Modi is seen as the magician who can make these things happen.

Written by Tavleen Singh | Updated: May 11, 2014 12:09 pm

This election really has gone on much too long. The stress of the campaign and the horrible, horrible heat are beginning to affect everyone in most peculiar ways. So last week we saw a celebrated TV anchor ask Narendra Modi who was going to be in his cabinet, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he is not yet the prime minister. We saw spokesmen of our oldest political party try to establish that Modi is really not as low caste as he claims to be. Does it matter? And why the sudden need to change his social status when just till the other day he was mocked by venerable Congress leaders for being just a chaiwallah? “He can come and serve tea at the next meeting of the AICC,” said a proud devotee of the Gandhi family. Remember?

Heat and stress are also beginning to affect those noble representatives of the ‘common man’. So on the day that Modi stormed Benaras yet again last week, we saw a very sulky and cross Arvind Kejriwal accuse him of making a “tamasha” just to stay in the media glare all day. From the master of this particular tactic, that is a real compliment. And then there was the madness of that “jan sailab (flood of humanity)” washing through the streets of Benaras for a glimpse of the man they hope will bring development and change.

Mercifully, the silliness and the personal attacks have not obscured the main message of this election. It is an election about “vikas” and “parivartan” and Modi is seen as the magician who can make these things happen, with the flick of a wand, if he is given the chance to be the prime minister. Nobody else, not even the BJP without Modi, is seen as capable of bringing about the change that India’s first middle-class election wants. What is sad is that the only group of Indians who are not participants in this outpouring of hope and aspiration are Muslims.

For them, the mood is sullen and scary. Wherever I have gone during the campaign, I have made it a point to seek out Muslims to understand why what happened in Gujarat in 2002 resonates so much more with them than more recent communal violence in Uttar Pradesh and Assam. I have stopped in small villages in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and asked why the absence of electricity, clean water and roads should not be as important to them as it is to their Hindu brethren and I have asked the same questions of mullahs in urban mosques. Everywhere, there has been a standard answer. Modi cannot be trusted because of what happened in 2002 and because more recently he refused to wear a Muslim skullcap when a maulvi offered it to him.

Later, when I have come home and poured over my notes, I have been intrigued not just by the sameness of the answers but by how much harm Muslims could be doing themselves by remaining stuck in a time warp that could perhaps be no longer relevant. It is true that all our “secular” political leaders have used Modi to frighten Muslims into voting for them and this includes Kejriwal. It is also true that Modi has not worked hard enough to convince Muslims that he is not the monster they think he is, but there is a new element that I have detected in the Muslim mood in this election. Having spent many of my years as a reporter covering communal violence, I learned long ago to detect fear in a community and this time I saw no sign of it among the Muslims who said they would not vote for Modi.

What I saw was something much more worrying and this was a sense of power. It was almost as if they knew that in the name of secularism they would always be important to a certain kind of political party and that this would be their weapon to remain relevant. There was something deliberate in their resistance to Modi’s “India first” idea and something sad about the way they seemed to need to make it clear that for them religion was always going to be more important than such things as vikas and parivartan. They admitted that they had been let down by the political parties they had supported but they said they were determined to not let this come in the way of their conviction that the BJP would never be there for them.

So, mingled with the silliness and the political nonsense what we saw in the last days of this interminable campaign is the sad reality that an important section of India has not shared in the hope and excitement of this election. For this, every political party is to blame, both secular and communal.

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh

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Tavleen Singh
  1. P
    May 12, 2014 at 11:42 am
    Very well written and analyzed Tavleen! India needs to address this systematically by not allowing negative campaigning/ baseless allegations/ deviating from facts etc.
    1. Ajay Kumar
      May 11, 2014 at 2:26 pm
      My comment has been censored. Sad.
      1. M
        May 11, 2014 at 2:01 pm
        Asking Muslims to trust Modi after the carnage he enacted in Gujarat is like asking a raped girl to marry the rapist ! Yes communal violence takes place ; but what took place in Gujarat was pogrom ! Quite different ! Quite gruesome! Quite unforgettable ! This is not somebody's imagination running haywire ! The newspapers and magazines of 2002 will bear witness to this inhuman murder of children,women,pregnant woman,old men, human beings asking for mercy ! And then you go and ask Muslims to go and vote for the perpetrator of this pogrom ! The person who has no remorse over his crime ? The person who has just donned a mask to grab power through hook or by crook ?
        1. M
          May 12, 2014 at 10:40 am
          What happened 2002 (both burning of train and the later part) is a shameful act. But holding one person for all the things happened during three or four days cannot be acceptable. the so called secularists are of the imaginations/ umption that the majority are the trouble mongers whereas it is untrue and converse is equally applicable.
          1. L
            Lakshmi Chatti
            May 12, 2014 at 10:54 am
            It is unfortunate that the use of the Muslim community as a tool to come to power or remain in power persists since independence.More disturbing fact is that many communal riots took place post-1947 in many parts of the country, on many occasions the govt was found to be ineffective or even complicit to such disturbances.Most importantly,the Sikh riots of 1984 were originated and engineered by the ruling party at the center no occasion the victim community has behaved in the manner they did in case of 2002 riots.The design of the political parties in generating such type of mindset in the Muslim community and this section of the Indian potion responding to them accordingly replicates the policy of the British that ultimately led to the parion of the country.Let us hope that all the political parties will ,in the near future,change their approach and behave more responsibly.
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