When the Bharat Jodo Yatra had started, many people had expressed cynicism about what it could or would achieve. I must confess that I and even some friends, who are not fans of the ruling party, were cynical about the physical feat of the yatra.
Was it even possible? A 52-year-old man walking from Kanyakumari to Kashmir? When I eventually joined the yatra, I met hundreds of people who said that they thought he would travel in a bus or some sort of vehicle, but he was actually walking. The media managed to block it out almost entirely.
When the yatra caught the public’s interest, despite the mainstream media’s best efforts, Bharatiya Janata Party leaders suggested that the yatra should be suspended because the coronavirus was spreading again. It is around this time that Prime Minister Narendra Modi did something he did not do even at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic: he wore a mask.
Shortly thereafter, the tone of most commentators changed. It went from ‘the yatra will do nothing’ to ‘yes, the yatra has removed the perception that Gandhi is non-serious’, ‘yes, it may have enthused the cadres’, ‘yes. it has improved Gandhi’s personal image’, ‘but will it result in a victory for the Congress in 2024?’
In summary, the commentary moved from: the yatra will do nothing to the yatra has done many things but will it achieve many more things?
I write a regular column for a widely read news website. Since I often make unpopular arguments, week after week, my column is inundated with hateful comments and even death threats. The comments under one particular piece, however, were drastically different and expressed enthusiastic agreement. What was this piece about?
It was about Adani’s business and the company’s arguments against Hindenburg Research that it was a “calculated attack on India”.
I argued that this defence was ridiculous. Readers agreed. After all, no amount of nationalist propaganda could undo reports of Adani’s fortunes skyrocketing during the pandemic or for that matter, delete the image of Modi flying around in Adani’s planes.
The Adani scandal hit the BJP badly for two reasons: first, because Modi’s closeness to Adani is a universally known fact. Some may defend it and others may criticise it, but no one denies it. Second, because the relentless criticism against Ambani-Adani by Gandhi had, for the time being, paid off. He got to say – I told you so.
Shortly thereafter, the BJP hit the panic button.
Some context is important at this juncture. One of the many factors that weighs in for many Indians when they vote is their opinion of who the victor will be. Therefore, politicians try their best to create ‘hawa’. One manifestation of this is spokespersons of all parties saying that their party will secure a comfortable majority till the very last moment.
But no political party is invincible. Every political party wants everyone to believe that it is invincible for as long as it can, especially when it is in power. Why? Because political and ideological loyalties are fickle. Every decade in Indian politics after Jawaharlal Nehru’s passing has seen a political shock. No one could predict Indira Gandhi’s rise, fall, or even re-election.
That’s the same case for Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s rise and fall and the United Progressive Alliance’s consecutive victories under Sonia Gandhi’s leadership in 2004 and 2009. That’s the same case for Arvind Kejriwal as well. Until the famous BJP conclave in Goa in 2013, no one gave Narendra Modi half a chance in national politics.
Politicians understand this. Therefore, those without power persist, and those with power remain anxious and also persevere.
On one hand, Prime Minister Modi wants everyone to believe that his popularity is global and without exception. So much so that American and Russian heads of state look to him for guidance. Everyone in the world wishes he was the leader of their country. Indians are so lucky to have him.
Much like actual balloons, when propaganda is stretched to these limits, it becomes fragile. The slightest pinprick can destroy it. It must, therefore, be hypervigilant even about pinpricks.
The Union government has rejected several surveys conducted by foreign agencies. It banned a documentary about what happened in 2002, and those screening it faced criminal charges. Posters saying ‘Modi Hataao Desh Bachaao’ resulted in hundreds of FIRs. Even the regime’s friends have started expressing the view that overreactions need to be checked. The line between caution and paranoia blurs.
At this point, the politician, who is your chief adversary, sees a positive swing in his fortunes. The moniker created and painstakingly kept alive to malign him suddenly loses resonance.
It’s just a pinprick, look at how small and insignificant it is and look at this giant 56-feet balloon. You can barely see it if the two are put together side by side. Even as you tell everyone that you are the favourite and your opponent doesn’t have half a chance in the world, you double down on attacking him. Fresh work is needed. Orders from district courts based on an absolutely bogus reading of the law, unprecedented efforts by the treasury benches to stall parliament, a fresh thrust to argue that he is against India.
Is it a pinprick or a tuft of cotton? It is difficult to gauge from a height of 56 feet. You don’t take chances. You know that your victory may not be permanent. You know that his defeat may not be permanent either.
The author is a lawyer and a writer.
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