India is the largest democracy in the world. When elections come, it is also the noisiest. It may be that what the political leaders think in their privacy is out in the open as the excitement grips the contestants. Every prejudice against women, OBCs, Muslims, Dalits tumbles out, defying the ability of the Election Commission (EC) to keep track.
Cricket teams are better behaved towards umpires even in high-value matches than politicians are towards the EC. Perhaps the EC should not just suspend them for a few hours from campaigning but do what they do in sports — suspend players from future games.
It could be that the high significance of this election has at last sunk in. Not since the days of Congress hegemony (1947-1971) has the result been a foregone conclusion, as it is now. There is a new hegemonic order about to take over for the first time in modern Indian history. It has taken the Jana Sangh/BJP/RSS a long and disciplined grassroots effort to get here from humble beginnings in 1952.
Then the issue was not if India would become Communist, but when. It was the reputation of the Left that it had dedicated idealistic workers who would penetrate the myriad public institutions, recruit the young and work relentlessly towards capture of power.
The Congress proved cleverer than the Communists. Indira Gandhi seduced them by embracing their ideology, gave them State patronage (JNU) and that did the trick. The party broke up not once but twice even before the Soviet Union collapsed. Manmohan Singh exposed their weakness when they challenged him on US-India relations. The UPA saw to the end of the Left.
But in its hubris on having come back to power, the Congress wasted the 10 years. Deprived of power for years, the greed to line their pockets proved irresistible for the usual suspects. Neither pro-globalisation boasts at Davos nor the socialist nostrums of the National Advisory Council helped save the grand old party. The defeat, when it came, was the most stunning. The issue in this election is not whether Narendra Modi will come back. It is whether the Congress can come back.
The Congress has not just become a Hindu party but it has frightened itself and the entire Opposition from choosing Muslim candidates. For all its charges of intolerance, its abandoning of Muslims opens a difficult chapter. It is clear that the culture war has been conceded. The Left is the only force holding out, but it is a shadow of its former self. The Congress has shunned any seat-sharing with the Left.
This Hinduisation of the Congress has led to an ideological vacuum in the political debate. The single issue for the Congress is Modi. Having conceded the BJP ideological lead, what else is there to say? Hence the cacophony .
Even the BJP is skittish. What Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan was saying was a compliment to Modi. The BJP should be proud that it was Atal Bihari Vajpayee who as Foreign Minister broke the mould and began talks with Pakistan. He resumed when he was PM. He did not succeed, nor did Manmohan Singh. Only a strong PM with a solid majority can deal with Pakistan. Imran knows this. To say that the Congress put Imran up to it, insults him and flatters the Congress. No need. The BJP should relax.