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Pity the poor Indian voter

Hindutva martial music blared against a backdrop of angry saffron as the aged Iron Man sat amid his ageing comrades and tried to look young and vital....

Written by Tavleen Singh |
April 5, 2009 12:52:28 am

Hindutva martial music blared against a backdrop of angry saffron as the aged Iron Man sat amid his ageing comrades and tried to look young and vital. The occasion was the release of his party’s manifesto last week and when the pamphlet was handed to him he raised it high above his head in a gesture of defiant youthfulness. He did it twice to make sure that we noticed how strong his arms were and to put at rest cynical doubts that he is much too old to rule India. I felt sorry for him. Truly. He looked like a General making a last stand.

So different to the Hindutva hero I met 20 years ago in his moment of shining glory. I went to interview him during his first and most memorable chariot trip from Somnath to Ayodhya. I followed him for some distance and remember him standing on his makeshift podium at the top of his Toyota chariot and quietly telling people in villages and small towns about the evils of ‘pseudo secularism’. He never said anything bad against Muslims but the people who followed in his wake did. They shouted slogans that offered Muslims the choice between the graveyard ‘kabiristan’ and Pakistan. This led to violence and deep divisions but the Bharatiya Janata Party increased its seats in Parliament from two to nearly a hundred.

The Iron Man was proud of himself. The idea of the Rathyatra was his and it worked well. Then the Ayodhya movement was stolen from him by a bunch of fanatics who thought its purpose was to destroy the Babri Masjid. The poor fools did not realise that with the demolition of this unfortunate,unfinished mosque the lure of Ayodhya would die. The one person who knew this was Shri Lal Krishna Advani,which is why he described the day the mosque came down as the ‘saddest’ day of his life. He knew it would be impossible for him to come up with another idea as powerful as the Rathyatra to Ayodhya. He tried hard. There were other chariot rides that bumped their way across India’s dusty,broken roads to carry some message or other to the masses. Nobody paid attention and nobody remembers the messages.

Neither the Iron Man nor his party have come up with a single idea since that has been worth paying attention to. This absence of new ideas is mirrored in the manifesto. It is a document of unforgivable banality. It promises everything. Cheap rice for the poor,women’s empowerment,irrigation,roads,electricity,clean water,schools,healthcare and tax breaks. To keep the Hindutva touch it promises a temple to Rama in Ayodhya and the cancellation of the Rama Sethu project. And,of course,the Ganga will be cleaned and our borders secured against illegal immigrants.

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What the Bharatiya Janata Party should have realised from its brief spell in government is that India’s biggest problem is that the mechanism of governance has broken down. This is the reason why promises made in election manifestos have become meaningless. There is no point in promising free rice to the poor if your public distribution system leaks like a sieve. There is no point in promising water and electricity until you can first promise that the delivery systems will be repaired. The BJP manifesto comes as confirmation that it is not a party worth voting for. It is nothing more than a copy of the Congress Party without the royal family. And,with some ugly saffron accoutrements and a very old Leader. In the words of a friend in the Congress Party,“We may not look so good but we know that the BJP looks much worse than us.”

Our problem is that it’s hard to think of anyone who looks good enough to vote for. The thought of a Third Front government in Delhi made up of regional satraps and controlled by gloomy Marxists is terrifying. We would be dragged back,in these troubled times,to the socialist economic policies that kept us in desperate poverty for four long decades. And politically,because Leftists have this peculiar affinity with radical Islamists,we will probably open our borders to welcome in the Pakistani Taliban. Regional satraps like Mulayam Singh will undoubtedly see this as something that will please the Muslim vote bank.

Wherever I go I meet voters who are genuinely confused about who to vote for. They do not want to vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party because they see it as a party of old men and old ideas. They do not want to vote for the Congress because they see it as corrupt and dynastic. And,they do not want to vote for the Third Front. Pity the poor Indian voter in this gloomy general election.

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