Fifth Column: Election Redux
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 continued…