(Dalit supporters of Mayawati at a massive rally in Lucknow, UP. File photo.)
The tumultuous 2-month long campaign for the general election is drawing to a close. The scathing remarks about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s political persona by the leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) Mayawati has taken the election campaign to a stunning crescendo.
The Midnight’s Children (like myself) never witnessed an election campaign of this sort. Modi set its rich baritone by making this an election all about himself — and the inevitable blowback has come. Plain decency probably prevented Rahul Gandhi from saying such things as Mayawati has done. But Mayawati is known to be a tough politician who generally keeps her dignified self out of controversies, but if provoked, is also capable of giving it back to her detractors where it hurts them most. After all, she showed true grit to rule the lawless region of Uttar Pradesh with an iron hand and give a sense of destiny to the impoverished millions of Dalits facing caste bigotry.
Two days ago, toward the end of a brilliant interview of Nitin Gadkari, which was in the nature of a tour d’horizon of all that has gone so horribly wrong during the past five years in our country’s political economy, Karan Thapar asked the minister about Modi’s campaign style. Thapar said, “He (Modi) is not campaigning on his five-year track record in office, he is not campaigning by raising issues that matter to people like education, health, employment, rural distress… So would you yourself, while campaigning, make personal comments about someone’s father or tell stories, would you ever do this?”
This was a rare moment when the ebullient Gadkari who is never lost for words or wits was caught flat-footed and felt diminished. He gently replied, “I don’t want to make any comment on it. But fortunately my feeling is this is the time for Indian democracy that we should speak about policies, decisions, reforms. There are a lot of issues of development, infrastructure development, defence policies, this is the time.” For sure, Gadkari, by far the most outstanding minister in the union government, made his distaste known about Modi-style politics.
The point is, Modi descended to an abysmally low level through this election campaign, even denigrating a late national leader and former prime minister — something entirely reprehensible — and all of that to settle scores with the deceased leader’s son who happens to be the opposition leader challenging him today. If nothing else, what Modi said about Rajiv Gandhi was unworthy of anyone who claims to have practised ‘upasana’, leave alone the prime minister of the country. How could any good Hindu possibly denigrate a departed soul? It is a sacrilegious act. Gods must have come out to the ramparts to watch the mayhem below.
Modi should have anticipated the great danger that his opponents who have been subjected to his verbal assaults and taunts almost on daily basis in these past several weeks might at some point retaliate. And he forgot that being the PM, he had much more to lose in a mud-slinging match. Isn’t there an old saying that the pot doesn’t call the kettle black? The Bible cites Paul the apostle as saying that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones!
As Gadkari’s cutting remark showed, even within the BJP and the RSS, there must be whole lot of leaders who feel uncomfortable — and even ashamed, perhaps — about the campaign trail that Modi chose to take. As for the opposition parties, they never wanted this sort of personalised campaign when such grave national issues demanded their attention and needed to be seriously debated — Kashmir, rural distress, jobs, governance, Rafale deal, ‘majoritarianism’ and so on.
But Modi thought he was being clever by half by resorting to the diversionary tactic and insisting that the general election should be about him. Such megalomania ultimately proved his undoing. It prompted him to cross all limits and resort to bluff about his own genius — that he used to send emails a full decade before Internet came into vogue or that he knew rocket science on cloudy days far better than any air marshal who flew aeroplanes, etc. Sure enough, ridicule followed like night after the day. And a lady opponent just hit him below the belt. Mayawati has conclusively demolished the aura built around Modi.
Yet, the most significant thing Mayawati said was probably not about Modi’s family life or alleged perversions, but about her own party’s standing in the coming fateful days and weeks as the domestic politics reaches crossroads. The BJP spin doctors have been whispering that in the event of the ruling party failing to secure majority to form the next government, it could count on many opportunists and time servers such as Telengana Rashtra Samithi, Biju Janata Dal, YSR Congress Party — and the BSP led by Mayawati.
With one stroke, Mayawati has smashed that canard. When she exhorted the people “not to vote for such as person”, she added, “This would also be their real respect to the deserted wife of Modiji.” The bottom line is, Mayawati underscored that she will never contemplate a political alliance with Modi. Of course, Mayawati is an experienced politician with a track record in national politics much longer than Modi’s. She must be sensing from the tremors in the Hindi heartland she crisscrossed in recent months that the prospect of another Modi-led government at the centre is fast receding.
The Khan Market gang walks away laughing.
(The views expressed by the author are personal.)