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Saturday, March 15, 2014

A change for the better - Nightmare visions are a well-worn strategy of tough elections

By Swapan Dasgupta


Hyperbolic scare-mongering is an essential part of election campaigns throughout the democratic world. Political parties and rival candidates are prone to paint exaggerated, caricatured images of their opponents in the belief that fear will motivate voters into voting against something, if not for somebody. The telecast showing a little girl quietly plucking flowers and being overwhelmed by a gigantic atomic mushroom cloud is said to have had a telling effect on the American electorate in the 1964 presidential election. President Lyndon Johnson would have won the race for the White House quite easily. The mushroom cloud adverisement on TV ensured that his awkward opponent Barry Goldwater was absolutely decimated . 



Goldwater, it has subsequently been remarked, was a figure so detached from the American consensus that it was a miracle that he got as far as did in national politics. Using the fear of nuclear war to devastate him in what was essentially a one-horse race was a bit like using a sledgehammer to squash an ant. 


Of course, it did not seem all that disproportionate to the LBJ campaign managers 50 years ago. In the heat of a campaign when passions run very high, a detached view of the pitch of the campaign isn't always possible. 


So it was in May 2008 during the election for the Mayor of London, a contest involving the old socialist warhorse Ken Livingstone and the endearingly buffoonish Boris Johnson. Looking back at that election, which Johnson won convincingly, it is quite instructive to recollect the quantum of anti-Johnson hysteria, especially after the opinion polls showed him having a clear edge over Livingstone. 


On May Day of 2008, The Guardian--a newspaper that sets the Left-of-centre tone in British politics--the writer Zoe Williams penned an article with the evocative headline "Be afraid. Be very afraid".  The newspaper presented it as an eminent Londoner's vision of what the city would be like "if this bigoted, lying, Old Etonian buffoon got his hands on our diverse and liberal capital." A great mistake, the writer suggested, is to think Johnson "singles out any one group for his casual bile. It's not just gay people or Muslims or Africans, it's not just people from Portsmouth or indeed anywhere else on the south coast. He despises people who are not of his class because he is a snob. That, pretty much, means all of us. A snob's London is a Monday-to-Thursday kind of affair, behind fusty doors, in clubs that only just let women in, let alone plebs, in restaurants that don't have prices on the menus...That is not London...We know what London is. Boris is not London." 


Since that article was written, Johnson has fought yet another election for Mayor of London against Livingstone and won it conclusively. With his impish sense of humour, his unkept looks and his incessant clowning, Boris has emerged as the favourite politician of the Conservative rank-and-file and, indeed, the favourite to succeed David Cameron as the leader of the party. London remains the care-free city it was in 2008 and hasn't been transformed into one huge gated colony where the plebs are firmly kept in their place. Reading the English newspapers regularly, I would be forgiven for imagining that the two issues that agitate Londoners are property prices and the rights of an ever-growing number of cyclists. Even his most die-hard supporters will not accuse Johnson of creating an environment where the poor, the non-whites, the sexual minorities and the other upholders of a permissive society feel threatened. 


So what was the 2008 fuss and alarmism all about? In hindsight, the fears of the soul of London being destroyed by a Conservative Mayor seem ridiculously contrived. Indeed, it seems like a familiar Left-wing ploy to overturn an electoral disadvantage by using the most over-used socialist weapon: the class war. However heartfelt and however poetic the fears sounded seven years ago, we can afford to smile indulgently at its very un-English hyperbole. 


The reason for invoking this ridiculous footnote from recent English history should be pretty obvious. As the Indian general election campaign gathers momentum, India's variant of the Guardian-readers are working themselves into a blue funk. The alarmist despondency has everything to do with the overwhelming impression that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi may be on the verge of creating a historic electoral upset. The very people who till not very long ago had flooded the columns of 'respectable' newspapers with the bold assertion that "Gujarat isn't India", that "Modi represents corporate India" and that "the idea of idea argues against Modi" have suddenly woken up to an unexpected uprising from below. 


The defection of the ultra-secular Dalit leader Ram Vilas Paswan, a politician who had walked out of the Atal Behari Vajpayee Government protesting against the Gujarat riots of 2002, has proved to be a veritable turning point. Till then there was the self-comforting belief that Modi was preaching to the committed and that subaltern India would ensure that a "polarising" leader would fail to forge a social coalition that would help him cross the 272 mark. Faith was also reposed in the BJP old-guard who would ensure that the Modi meter froze at the 160 mark, a fractured verdict that would ensure the Gujarat leader couldn't step out of Gandhinagar. Paswan jolted that complacency, not because he is an inspirational figure with a hold over Dalit voters all over India. His importance stemmed from the fact that he represents a large-ish sections of Dalits in Bihar. If a man whose social constituency was India's most disadvantaged could join Modi, it meant two things. First, that Modi's deep social penetration had been vastly underestimated; and, second, that secular grandstanding was negotiable. The opinion polls haven't suggest that the BJP-led alliance will secure an outright majority, but the example of Paswan has clearly indicated that many parties are inclined to cross over to the winning side if the opportunity presents itself. 


For the better-dead-than-saffron brigade there is an additional complication. Unlike 2004, there is no faith left in the Congress. The 10-year record of the UPA has provoked disgust, even among its intellectual beneficiaries. Rahul Gandhi does not inspire confidence, and the talk is of the a Congress resurrection in the future, minus the dynasty. There was jubilation that the Aaam Aadmi Party would somehow emerge as the preferred alternative but that does not seem to be happening. 


Consequently, there is a feverish bid to invoke nightmare images of the future. There are competitive assertions of drastic action in case the unthinkable happens--"I will leave India" is a promise that is unlikely to be self-fulfilling.   


Modi's victory isn't as yet assured: it will be if enough people vote for NDA candidates. Assuming he is sworn-in as Prime Minister after May 16, it is extremely unlikely the emotional architecture of India will witness a change. The committed will work towards a resurgent India with a double-digit growth; the time-servers will jockey for posts and official patronage; and the intellectuals will continue to lament over a lost idea of their India. In short, India will change, perhaps for the better, but the essence of India will be intact. And we may even look back at the imagined sounds of approaching jackboots for what they were: the alarm bells of a bitterly fought election. 


The Telegraph, March 14, 2014



 



4 comments:

Jitendra Desai said...

"Essence of India will remain intact" That is what needs to be communicated to those who don't intend to vote for Modi/BJP/NDA.
They should check it out in Gujarat if Modi/BJP have been overtly autocratic with any section of the society.

Anonymous said...

untofrom couldTembehiDaer Sir Usual Suspects

________________________________________
A change for the better - Nightmare visions are a well-worn strategy of tough elections”!”
Posted: 15 Mar 2014 12:59 AM PDT from the telegraph India 14th march 2014.
By Swapan Dasgupta
“..That is not London...We know what London is. Boris is not London." Hyperbolic scare-mongering is an essential part of With his impish sense of humour, his unkept looks and his incessant clowning, Boris has emerged as the favourite politician of the Conservative rank-and-file and, indeed, the favourite to succeed David Cameron as the leader of the party. London remains the care-free city it was in 2008 and hasn't been transformed into one huge gated colony where the plebs are firmly kept in their place. election campaigns throughout the democratic world.”
The article makes Enjoyable reading .
The author has tried to sum up Some personalities and some “fear complexes and tried to dwell with “Idelogies of left and right”
That Boris Johnson won the election and that he is still in Command and does prove that not only London but whole of UK knows what would be needed for the country besides winning the election.


.
Preparations are going on in full swing to look for the alternative and sure enough the Country will find one very shortly.that is in UK.
“The reason for invoking this ridiculous footnote from recent English history should be pretty obvious” The very essence of Englishness and its tradition.” QUOTES from the article.
It is worth while to even remember that Boris Johnson was reminded over the climate Changes and Unfortunately as reminded by George Monbiot when Boris Johnson didn’t feel inclined to enter into any discussion.
The reply to Monbiot was he didn’t know about the serious transformation of weather.
Boris won the Election for some definite changes besides his comedian gestures of “ Moving his Hair” and alertness of civility. A must for City.
Coming back to “ forth coming Indian Election” the comparison really does not sum up nicely.
Mr Modi was found on all accounts to have had upheld the” Administration” in Gujarat and and continued to hold is not an easy task but he has done so .Though the writer has differences about policy matters.
The Indian elections are looking like a sort of spontaneous outbursts of Multiple emotional and probably some” corruptions a fact in the country is evidence based and rightly so. Though Indians do hope that it is not a volatile response . ------- The emergence -----
Of AAP and its subsequent multiple opinions and falling off the popularity and its” Head indulging in direct Personal and the
Leader’s expression of non-evidenced accusations of Modiji surely is deplorable and here in lies the Intellegentias objections as is depicted in the press.
Even the person who is in no way can be described remotely inclined to any particular ideology can see and assume the changes are in the air and would take place as a matter of reality. Having covered by now most of India, One can see that Mr Modi has some substance in his belief and intentions to delve emphatically in “Politics” .Whether one would see Double digit growth is a matter of conjecture.
The recent annoucement that the leader of the A A P whether or not he will take up Narendra Modi @ Benaras , just only shows the “Demmeanoure “ of its Leader that as being in INDIA.

David Jones said...





Usual Suspects

________________________________________
A change for the better - Nightmare visions are a well-worn strategy of tough elections”!”
Posted: 15 Mar 2014 12:59 AM PDT from the telegraph India 14th march 2014.
By Swapan Dasgupta
“..That is not London...We know what London is. Boris is not London." Hyperbolic scare-mongering is an essential part of With his impish sense of humour, his unkept looks and his incessant clowning, Boris has emerged as the favourite politician of the Conservative rank-and-file and, indeed, the favourite to succeed David Cameron as the leader of the party. London remains the care-free city it was in 2008 and hasn't been transformed into one huge gated colony where the plebs are firmly kept in their place. election campaigns throughout the democratic world.”
The article makes Enjoyable reading .
The author has tried to sum up Some personalities and some “fear complexes and tried to dwell with “Idelogies of left and right”
That Boris Johnson won the election and that he is still in Commond and does prove that not only London but whole of UK knows what would be needed for the country besides winning the election.


.
Preparations are going on in full swing to look for the alternative and sure enough the Country will find one very shortly.that is in UK.
“The reason for invoking this ridiculous footnote from recent English history should be pretty obvious” The very essence of Englishness and its tradition.” QUOTES from the article.
It is worth while to even remember that Boris Johnson was reminded over the climate Changes and Unfortunately as reminded by George Monbiot when Boris Johnson didn’t feel inclined to enter into any discussion.
The reply to Monbiot was he didn’t know about the serious transformation of weather.
Boris won the Election for some definite changes besides his comedian gestures of “ Moving his Hair” and alertness of civility. A must for City.
Coming back to “ forth coming Indian Election” the comparison really does not sum up nicely.
Mr Modi was found on all acounts to have had upheld the” Administration” in Gujarat and and continued to hold is not an easy task but he has done so .Though the writer has differences about policy matters.
The indian elections are looking like a sort of spontaneous outbursts of Multiple emotional and probably some” corruptions a fact in the country is evidence based and rightly so. Though Indians do hope that it is not a volatile response . ------- The emergence -----
Of AAP and its subsequent multiple opinions and falling off the popularity and its” Head indulging in direct Personal and the
Leader’s expression of non-evidenced accusations of Modiji surely is deplorable and here in lies the Intellegentias objections as is depicted in the press.
Even the person who is in no way can be described remotely inclined to any particular ideology can see and assume the changes are in the air and would take place as a matter of reality. Having covered by now most of India, One can see that Mr Modi has some substance in his belief and intentions to delve emphatically in “Politics” .Whether one would see Double digit growth is a matter of conjecrure.
The recent annoucements that the leader of the A A P whether or not he will take up Narendra Modi ‘ Benaras , just only shows the “Demmeanoure “ of its Leader that being INDIA.

Aware said...

Well said Mr DasGupta!
I liked your last line - hope people see this in the right spirit. Arun Jaitley said something similar on the hyperbole on his candidature (Dy PM jibe) - in election heat some things are said for effect and no necessarily as a prophecy!