It appears that Rahul’s biggest crime was that he was born in the Gandhi family and people hated that fact.
“The glorious illusion that we are a secular nation that respects diversity and cares for all its citizens equally has been finally shattered; not with a hammer or a sickle, but with a lotus.”
This tragic snatch of urban poetry in the age of Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter made me realise the level of sadness that the people are facing in our great democracy. It is a sadness that has not gone undocumented and perhaps it is a lesson for our secular nation to ponder over.
Some argue that it is a miracle that secularism lasted as long, in a country that was divided into warring principalities and isolated villages. The foreign virtues of liberté, egalité, fraternité (liberty, egalitarianism and fraternity) are part of an imported value system, developed by our western educated founding leaders. Some people believe that it was bound to fail, since it found little true traction among the people it was supposed to guide. Some believe that these election results are the final death knell for that imported value system.
However I have another theory, the people are under the impression that they had free will in these elections and they exercised it. However, they should have known that the campaign for the 2019 elections had begun long before we even realised it had and that they have systematically been brainwashed. For instance, whenever I stepped into a bookstore or passed a magazine kiosk, I no longer saw a variety of colours… the books leading sales were usually saffron-coloured. They were repackaged and repurposed, telling us about the great past of Hindu warriors, the Mahabharata and Bhagvad Gita were suddenly projected as war manuals with fiery chariots on the cover, Lord Arjuna with his bow drawn or even Sita with a sword in her hand. That was the campaign working on a more subliminal level to appeal to the machismo of the newly emerged “Hindutva soldier”.
On the more obvious front and for the masses, every street corner had hoardings, bumper stickers on buses and even the shopping malls promoting the BJP, despite the cost of everything from LPG to petrol. The truth is that the BJP had a huge budget for this election (if Prashant Bhushan is to be believed it is to the tune of 90,000 crore) and they used it well to create an illusion of growth and well-being. They manufactured consensus.
Counter to this campaign were a set of memes and jokes that were circulated on WhatsApp. These were often doctored or altogether manufactured videos that poked fun at the Congress candidate, Rahul Gandhi — he was lampooned and mercilessly trolled and named “Pappu” as soon as he entered politics. With the same electoral campaign money that the BJP possessed, bundles of it — thanks to all the pink, purple and orange currency generated by the party in power — people were and still are paid to troll or spread hatred against Rahul Gandhi. People are paid for spreading fake news, cropped videos and morphed pictures to create false propaganda against him.
A media of lies and propaganda questioned his caste, religion, and even his nationality. Hatred and threats were the things he’s been living under for the last one decade. We are talking about hatred where people don’t even spare his father’s death anniversary, where comments were made on not just Rajiv but Indira Gandhi and Pandit Nehru. Hate and vitriol was the language used in this election and no one, not the election committee not the good people of India, tried to stop the flow of hate and cow urine. The cow has indeed become a symbol and touchstone of Indian politics.
It appears that Rahul’s biggest crime was that he was born in the Gandhi family and people hated that fact. Despite this stream of vitriol Rahul stayed on and did his duty never stooping to the level of responding to hate with hate. He just kept doing his duty as an Opposition leader.
Another problem peculiar to these elections is that no one was willing to acknowledge that the BJP had its own dynastic politics (read Maneka and Varun) or question the fakeness of the government’s “track record of getting things done”, their clearly cooked up figures of “GDP growth rate”, “anti-corruption” and “strength in border security” went uncontested. This despite an absolutely overwhelming independent evidence to the contrary! However unbiased, rational arguments, data and information produced by an independent media seemed to have no effect on the “bhakts”.
I have to say that Rahul fought a brave battle despite the scales being tipped in favour of a nation pumped up on hate speech and aggression. He could have easily retired and lived a happy life away from politics. But he didn’t. He stayed and fought and faced the windmills, despite the trolling and the symbolic slaps on the face and one must commend him for that courage.
In my opinion this is a time for the Congress to reflect on what went wrong. On how they fell prey to the BJP’s campaign of hate and how their message of the guarantee of minimum income scheme to the people of India and instead the other slogan of “chowkidar chor hai”, proved to be detrimental to them.
The Congress has five years to build up its cadres. Getting brow-beaten by arguments that the people choose Hindutva over a secular, multicultural and pluralistic nation is a folly, because the secular India that I know still lives and breathes, albeit wounded.
The writer is the chairperson of the AICC grievance cell. The views expressed here are personal.