Had the bomb planted just beyond the secure D-area of Patna’s Gandhi Maidan actually exploded last Sunday during Narendra Modi’s Hunkar rally, the country could well have been suffering the fallout of a colossal tragedy. It was plain lucky that the explosion, which would inevitably have resulted in a stampede and ensuing acts of violence, didn’t happen. Yet, it is a commentary on the growing bitterness of politics that the significance of this close shave has been deliberately underplayed. Indeed, attention has been sought to be wilfully diverted from a sinister act of subversion.
The expression of political differences that invariably happen in the long run-up to any general election is an indispensable part of democracy. The general election of 2014 has become doubly interesting because the battle of political parties has been peppered by a riveting clash of personalities.
The announcement of Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate happened on September 13—not that long ago. However, it has taken just 50 days for the political atmosphere to be electrified. Thanks to the energy generated by the supporters of Modi, the country, it would seem, has been divided into those who support the Gujarat Chief Minister enthusiastically and those who oppose him with equal passion. Despite being the challenger, Modi has quite successfully managed to catapult himself into the centre-stage, to the point where he is now setting the agenda and invoking the editorial ire of The New York Times which gratuitously found his rise “deeply troubling to many Indians.”
Whether India, as an opinion poll suggested, cries out for a leader blessed with decisiveness and integrity is for voters to decide. The general election will also be the occasion for voters to give their verdict on other lofty questions such as the preferred economic path, dynastic rule and the divergent perceptions of the so-called idea of India. On the other hand, many voters may prefer to view the contest through the prism of localism and community identities.
It is improper to be judgmental about the thinking that leads individuals and communities to decide which side to back. There is nothing called the ‘right’ way of thinking; and the accusing finger of ‘false consciousness’ that Marxists love to point at those who disagree with them is based on the dubious premise that there is something resembling ‘true’ consciousness. An Indian election is fascinating precisely because the expressions of self-interest and national interest happen through so many different—often bizarre—routes.
Take the vastly different perceptions of those who support Modi. To a handful, he epitomises a viable alternative to statist economics; to others, he is a modern-day variant of Shivaji, crusading against a ‘Delhi Sultanate’; and to yet others, he is an Indian Bismarck capable of ruling a fractious country with decisive leadership. In Bihar, his appeal is often based on his backward caste status and the fact that he began life selling tea on a railway platform.
Likewise, those who oppose Modi do so for vastly diverse reasons. Some are deterred by the 2002 riots in Gujarat, others question the viability of an economic model that is insufficiently mindful of entitlements, and the likes of Nitish Kumar and the Communists liken him to a fascist. Yet others dub him ‘authoritarian’ and are fearful that he invokes strong Muslim opposition.
The importance of the election campaign is that it allows all these range of perceptions to play out. Unfortunately this rich democratic tradition is seriously compromised by two strands. First, there is the belief that the failure of one side to prevail will involve the disintegration and death of India. Such heightened certitudes are based on the presumption that only one side has the monopoly of truth, wisdom and political power. It leads to equating opponents as enemies.
Secondly, there is the associated belief that all means are legitimate to prevent the other side from winning. It was possibly this misplaced rigidity, as much as security lapses, which gave those who have no faith in either India or democracy the space to undertake the serial bombings in Patna.
Nominally, the Indian Mujahedeen was responsible but those who chose to look the other way and pretended nothing happened must bear some moral blame.