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The Gujarat poll results

The Gujarat poll results

Author: Cho S. Ramaswamy
Publication: The Hindu
Date: December 20, 2002
URL: http://www.hinduonnet.com/stories/2002122005291100.htm

Everything is lost; tragedy has struck; the heavens have fallen; after this it could only be the deluge; God - if there be one - save the country; the BJP under Narendra Modi has won a thumping two-thirds majority in the elections to the Gujarat Assembly. The major English newspapers and the Star TV, which had adopted the Congress under Sonia Gandhi as the only possible saviour of the pride of this nation from the clutches of menials - to borrow a description from the Election Commission - are still trying to recover from the shock delivered by the people of Gujarat. How could this happen? The media is still analysing the results of the Gujarat elections to discover what went wrong.

Actually, nothing went wrong and that is the problem of the media. Caste-wise division of Hindus, as hoped for by the Congress and the media, did not happen. The ten- month interval managed by the Election Commission, between the Godhra incident and the elections, did not erase the horrendous affair, as hoped for by the media, from public memory. Opinion polls, cheaper by the dozen, did not influence the voters. The Sonia magic, which is supposed to inspire and unite secular Indians against the communal and hardcore Hindus, did not work. The voters did not buy the Congress propaganda that it was the Vishwa Hindu Parishad which had torched the train in Godhra. Nor did they eat out of the hands of a section of the media which accused Mr. Modi of having engineered the ghastly post-Godhra riots.

It was the media which went wrong by attempting to suit its reports to its wishes. The Congress had to be shown to have gained substantially since the last Assembly elections, and what better way of doing it than by harping everyday on the fact that the party now had Shankersinh Waghela, who had polled 11.7 per cent in the last elections? Some 34.9 per cent of the voters had voted for the Congress in 1998 and Waghela would be importing 11.7 per cent of his own spurious Hindutva vote, making in all a grand total of 46.6 per cent which was higher than the BJP's vote share by about 2 per cent. The expectation of the media was arithmetically correct, but politically naïve. Turncoats do not carry their voters with them wherever they go; much of the baggage gets confiscated at the hustings, if the defector heads for a destination not liked by his supporters. And this is what happened to Waghela's vote; while his followers in the last elections might have liked the BJP less than him, their hostility towards the Congress has obviously been more intense than their disappointment with the BJP. His votes were repossessed by the voters to be cast in favour of the BJP, which anyway was more near to them than the Congress.

It was not only the arithmetic of the media which went wrong. Its chemistry went awry too. The expected blending of three powerful groups - the Kshatriyas, the Harijans, and the Adivasis - and their mixing with the minorities to produce a winning position for the Congress just did not occur; nor did the stand-off between Keshubhai Patel and Narendra Modi filter out the Patels, for use by the Congress. The media's physics was erroneous too; the energy generated by the Election Commission did not, as anticipated, light up the fortunes of the Congress.

So, instead of staring at Gujarat to find out what went wrong, the media would do well to look inwards and realise that it missed to notice the obvious. The Congress refuses to even acknowledge the enormity of the threat of terrorism. In Kashmir, the first thing that the Congress - PDP Government did after getting sworn in was to disband the Special Operations Group and release several militants. This would not have inspired the confidence of the people of Gujarat, who had experienced the havoc that terrorism could wreak at Godhra and in the Akshardham temple. The fact of being a border State with Pakistan could only have intensified their concern.

The BJP was seen as the only party which at least had the mind to tackle terrorism with determination. Add to this the fact that the BJP has been winning the last two elections in the State, and that Narendra Modi was seen as a person who would deliver - the people could not have been expected to support the Congress.

But then, the media could have an excuse; it laid great store by the Election Commission. Had not the EC ensured that there was a sufficient time lapse between the sight of the burning train and the polling date? And did not the Commission wait before announcing elections, till the Supreme Court gave the opinion that elections cannot be postponed indefinitely? Had not the Commission, targeting an individual leader as had never been done before, announced that it would videograph the meetings and speeches of Narendra Modi, thereby delivering the message to the electorate that here was an undesirable leader fit only for single-minded surveillance by the Commission? Did not the Commission outlaw all references to Godhra in the election campaign barely eight months after the incident though it had never objected to the exploitation of the demolition of Babri Masjid in campaign after campaign even years after its occurrence? Had not, two months after the electoral rolls were revised, another revision done by the EC, again breaking new ground? And by way of providing that little bit of delicious extras, had not the Election Commissioner heaped on the officials of Gujarat and the BJP men such sweet epithets as menials, jokers and mad men?

In all fairness to the media, one has to concede that this inspired animation of the EC, along with the beloved KHAM factor, might have benumbed the best of minds, disabling them from noticing the ground realities. And the media has, albeit with more than a tinge of obstinacy, at least reacted to the result. Two did not. Sonia Gandhi, who rushed with her comments about the Kashmir election, took four days to react to the Gujarat results; the Election Commission, which did not lose much time before praising the people, and patting itself on the back for the Kashmir polls, has not come out with any comment on the completion of the Gujarat elections. The two appear to be comrades in distress, and perhaps are entitled to their period of mourning.

(The writer is a Member of Parliament and Editor, Thuglak magazine)
 


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