Modi hasn’t won yet
But the cycle of hype and disappointment can corrode politics.
If money could buy a national election, then the BJP is home and dry. If corporate India could help purchase a mandate, then Narendra Modi has already been sworn in, in that nice little ceremony in the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan. And if the media’s professional gullibility could create a “lehar”, then India stands joyfully restored to the decisive leadership of decisive deshbhakts. All that remains is for us all to bow our heads and say amen.
There is only one fly in the ointment: the voters of India. And the voters begin having their say only on April 7.
A Lok Sabha election is a time for legitimate partisanship and contestation. Loyalties and discipline become expendable virtues. Winnability is the only valid currency. Already, partisans are coming out of the closet and dressing up personal expediency in nobler sentiments and loftier arguments. And, this time around, we have enthusiastically allowed ourselves to be snowed under an avalanche of American political advertising techniques and are happy being mesmerised by this or that sales pitch. So be it.
But, a word of caution is perhaps not out of place. Can we summon a modicum of professional detachment and intellectual humility to remember the pitfalls of over-exuberance in manufacturing an election narrative? More precisely, are there no lessons to be learnt from the similar — but flawed — exuberance of 2004 and 2009, when runaway victory was accorded to the saffron mascots?
Admittedly, the voter ultimately sorts out the hype-makers. Nonetheless, this hype-making does introduce a corrosive anger in the body politic. The downside remains that if and when the manufactured narrative turns out to be at variance with the voters’ preference, there will be inconsolable disappointment and personal bitterness, leading to the erosion of that precious democratic capital: the obligation of the winner and loser to work the institutional mechanism of parliamentary democracy. If our parliamentary democracy appears, to many observers of India, to have become a dysfunctional institution, it is mostly on account of the loser’s frustration and his/ her failure to abide by the rules of the game.
On the eve of the first general elections, Jawaharlal Nehru had promised the nation that “we shall accept the result of this election, whosoever wins or loses”. He had reminded one and all that “all of us naturally want the cause we represent to triumph, and we strive our hardest to that end” yet “in a democracy, we have to know how to win, and how to lose with grace.”
That “grace”, of which Nehru spoke, is becoming hard to come by as personalities have come to displace “the cause”. Consequently, the bitterness and rancour among leaders, especially those on the losing side, have come to rankle — and, rankle in proportion to continued…