Ruminations: The minnow as enemy

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BJP has understood the truth about winning an election – poll arithmetic is not just about numbers, but sentiment as well

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is now a party in a state of continuous election readiness. It doesn’t merely want to win elections but needs to demolish the other side. There is a subtext to this. Winning involves an opposition. The way the BJP intends to win requires an upsurge that unites behind it those who think like it but have not necessarily been on its side. In India those numbers are huge and the nature of BJP’s election victories have shown how they have been successful at this.

The BJP has understood the truth about winning an election – poll arithmetic is not just about numbers, but sentiment as well. As an analogy, it is the same with the stock market. People make huge amounts of money or lose it, and numbers stack up on the indices or collapse, but sentiment and what people think have a big role to play. So, in the end, it all boils down to who can work that sentiment.

To work the sum backwards, therefore, an opposition has to be introduced into the equation. Not just any opposition, but a powerful opposition that can raid your citadel and take down everything that has been earned. So, it becomes the prospective winner's responsibility to dignify the opposition. It is a bit like rigging TV viewership for a cricket match. The commentator spares no effort to extol the virtues of the other team, making them sound like great fighters while the captain pitches in by giving instances of past scraps, and carefully stays away from predicting the winner. The opposition could be minnows on the cricket field but you won't get a hint of that if you listen to the commentator or the captain, which makes the eventual win look so much better.

The BJP's state of election readiness involves finding minnows – bit players and minor irritants that are no match for the BJP's election machinery but are dressed up as prized fighters. There are other issues for sure – like farm loan waiver, sugar mill politics and minority appeasement. But, every drop counts and this is where the politics of finding petty enemies comes in. The election victory in the latest by polls is a sign of that. The frequent targeting of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) – a party driven by internal divisions, undercut by obstacles put up by the Centre, and by voter fatigue with its shrill politics, which have emasculated its political strength – is a case in point. In the big game that is Indian politics, AAP might just about count as a bit player. However, by investing it with great powers to do harm to India and by celebrating its steady fall, the BJP has been able to make political gains. The latest round of by polls, in which AAP performed miserably, with its candidate losing his deposit in a Delhi seat, is an instance of this politics.

Sometime back, it was the Gurmeher Kaur issue, where a 20-year-old girl's tweets – on a good day, any young girl with pacifist sentiments might have said much the same – was bumped up as a threat to India's integrity and she, the threat within, that even required a response from the home minister. That Gurmeher capitulated and disappeared from the scene more quickly than she had been come onto it, exposed her real capacity for harm. Another minnow had been dignified to look like a great force of evil, only to be swatted down. In case after case, since Kanhaiyya Kumar of Jawaharlal Nehru University, minnows have been fluffed up to achieve a purpose and then beaten down. Their defeat, though inevitable from the start, helped in the party's overall election build-up.

Apart from winning elections, those efforts served to identify common ground on nationalism. There was a time when the Congress party's brand of politics, that embraced Left of centre economics, a pro minority stance, pro poor politics and a tilt towards big government had many takers. There were other parties, which thought similarly. Where the Congress drew the best talent was in its ability to win elections.

The BJP, now, has become the lodestar for the politics of nationalism and cultural nationalism. There are elements among supporters of other parties who think like it does. There is a background to it too – the independence movement saw the existence of Hindu hardliners within the Congress, those who prevented giving space to Mohammad Ali Jinnah, for instance, when the latter practised secular politics. It is evident that nationalism, as the BJP knows it to be, has adherents across the political spectrum. The BJP's brand of politics has provided a platform for all those with similar views to line up behind it. Indubitably, their numbers are huge. The margins, by which the BJP has been winning recent elections, is proof of that. So far, it has proved to be an excellent election strategy.

ananda.majumdar@mydigitalfc.com

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