Anand K Sahay
The BJP has been stunned by the Gujarat results but is doing what it can to put up a brave face. The Congress has lost, but the defeat has a bitter-sweet quality about it.
There were times in the see-saw battle, as the votes were being counted, when a slim Congress victory did not appear far-fetched. The last dozen or so seats for which votes were tallied could have gone either way, so tight were the margins.
The changed tone of an otherwise fiercely partisan and perennially pro-national television anchors who bow and scrape before the pettiest in the saffron brigade left nothing to the imagination.
The loud-mouthed and ultra-aggressive BJP leaders, whose braggadocio had scaled embarrassing heights after the exit polls, suddenly appeared subdued.
There is prospect in the circumstances thrown up by Gujarat of a return to capture lost ground by anti-Hindutva forces in states including the BJP-ruled states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh where Assembly polls are due in a few months. These set up the scaffolding for Lok Sabha 2019.
The most important outcome of the election in Gujarat is that it has raised the sights of a new turn in politics in the country which only weeks earlier had appeared improbable.
The new Congress president Rahul Gandhi deserves every bit of credit for bringing about this transitional stage. Mr Gandhi skillfully guided the atmosphere of political insurrection in Gujarat brought about by the unremitting energies of Hardik Patel who was not old enough even to contest the election, and Alpesh Thakore and Jignesh Mevani. All three are household names now.
They are not cut from the same cloth but their political design was clear. It was to defeat the BJP because the so-called Gujarat model of development stinks.
Hardik, Alpesh and Jignesh became a living proof that the economic model of Prime Minister Narendra Modi works against the poor and that it is for the very rich and that’s why it is being pushed with uncommon zeal.
This was the reality on the ground based on which the revolt of ordinary Gujaratis was constructed, giving the BJP a torrid time.
The RSS-BJP knows the story of Haldighati well.
They routinely portray the unyielding spirit of the Chittor ruler Maharana Pratap, in that battle of 1576, against the imperial forces of Emperor Akbar led by Man Singh, the famous Rajput warrior inimical to the Chittor chieftain, as a signpost of a natural and timeless Hindu-Muslim warfare that they preach as a key aspect of their perverse social engineering.
Only in Gujarat this time round, it was Mr Gandhi who was Pratap and PM Modi the emperor himself — representing imperial power, imperial resources and low imperial cunning. And there was no Man Singh.
There were no Gujarat BJP stalwarts to do the fighting. The emperor took on the burden himself. His life seemed so desperately to depend on it. He couldn’t trust the others.
Pratap Singh lost the engagement at the narrow pass. His troops were vastly outnumbered but fought to the end, supported by a brigade of Bhil archers, who have gone down in ballad and folklore. He himself escaped — to fight another day and win back a good part of the territories he had lost due to the defeat at Haldighati.
The heroic Bhil archers of Gujarat were Hardik, Alpesh and Jignesh. Without them the stage would not have been set, just as without Pratap there would be no action on the stage. It is not a case of one or the other.
Leaders sometimes create the circumstances of their glory. Sometimes, they enter upon a specific situation and transform the scene.
The incendiary circumstances present in Gujarat are the products of Mr Modi’s actions.
In this state specially, several examples can be found of the pampering of big industry, and the short-changing of ordinary people and of the lower tiers of trade, business and industry, and of farmers and workers.
Jobs are hard to come by. Conditions have been created for the alienation of farmers’ lands to be transferred to industry and the former tillers of land swell the ranks of the unemployed.
Evidently, this time round in Gujarat the scurrilous hate propaganda relying on dog-whistle tactics — one day featuring a young woman arriving home safely but breathless as the Muslim call for prayer is sounded. Another day, the accusing of a Sikh former Prime Minister, a Muslim former vice-president and a Hindu former Army chief, of colluding with Pakistan to defeat Mr Modi in Gujarat — cut no ice.
This makes it clear that for the proponents of Hindutva politics, it cannot be business as usual anymore.The challenge has arrived. It concerns the burdens of everyday living — prices, unemployment, the miseries faced by farmers and workers and the policy imperatives needed to deliver affordable healthcare, education and homes.
These are “secular” issues, or matters of everyday concern, not linked to religion. For these, Hindutva — the vehicle of political Hinduism — has no answers.The saffron brigade simply does not understand the expression “secular”.
It foolishly mocks it. Its skill-set and class-orientation does not equip it to deal with the complexities involved in solving questions of liberal and “secular” politics and economics that aims to cut and end mass poverty.
In lieu of grappling with such complexities, Hindutva uses the alchemy of befuddling the people with cultural nationalism, pride in the military way of life and unfurling of the national flag at the drop of a hat. But these failed to impress in Gujarat in the way they used to. Something has changed and this will be BJP’s worry now.
The voter in Gujarat has just telegraphed Mr Modi and his acolyte Amit Shah to say that he does not need their certificate of patriotism and that he mastered the configuration behind the sentiment of “Bharat Mata” long before Hindutva arrived on the scene.
If the challenge to the BJP has arrived in the shape of the demands of secular life, the challenger too has arrived in the shape of Mr Gandhi. What the new Congress president makes of the opportunity is to be seen, however.
Does he have the largeness of imagination to take along all who wish to come along, and not be side-tracked by small-time bickering of everyday politics?