During an animated conversation with friends at our home, it was interesting to hear multiple points of view on the outcome of this election.
It boggles the mind! What on earth is Mamata Banerjee doing… saying… thinking? Is there no way to stop this out of control woman? Just as citizens were ready to believe there could be no more menacing a public figure than Amit Shah… along comes Ms Banerjee to overtake Mr Shah in the aggression stakes. Who would believe that Mr Shah actually complained he was attacked by Trinamul Congress (TMC) goons? I mean… Amit Shah! Attacked… and nervous! Amit Shah saying: “I am fortunate that I have survived!” Whaaatttt The…? And then comes the Big Boss himself (Prime Minister Narendra Modi), with his statement, “You (Ms Banerjee) have created a state of emergency in the state.” Precious! Ironical. But for once, Mr Modi was spot on. Speaking to friends and relatives in Kolkata over this tumultuous week, one shuddered on hearing details about Didi’s reign of terror. Why would any citizen put up with what can only be called abuse of the worst kind? Abuse of the state machinery, abuse of power, physical abuse and intimidation, arbitrary and unjust decisions — the list is long and terrible! What does Ms Banerjee want? She is behaving as if West Bengal is an autonomous state and not a part of the Republic of India. Which world is she living in? People are beginning to question her sanity. No rational leader speaks and acts in such an ugly and offensive manner. Given that the average Bengali is a passionate and outspoken person, why the silence? Why have the people not revolted and shown Didi the door? How come the argumentative and volatile Bengali is behaving in such a meek and passive way? Where has the legendary Kolkata intellectual gone? Nobody in his or her right mind could possibly identify with Ms Banerjee’s brand of politics. She puts rough and tough street fighters to shame! No wonder. Pollsters are predicting a BJP sweep in Didi-land. But wait… The lady and her goons are looking beyond 2019 and its outcome. Their eyes are fixed on the bigger prize — a huge win at the 2021 Assembly polls. Didi’s gameplan does not stop at Delhi.
During an animated conversation with friends at our home, it was interesting to hear multiple points of view on the outcome of this election. There was no unanimity as people argued and defended their numbers. But about one person and one person alone there was no debate — and that was Ms Banerjee. Some from the group had met her briefly in Kolkata, while tracking the final seventh phase in West Bengal. This group had encountered Ms Banerjee earlier as well as a part of their work. They noticed one big change on this field trip — Ms Banerjee had started speaking Hindi! Confidently and pretty fluently. This cannot be a coincidence. Clearly, her newly-acquired Hindi skills have to do with her bigger ambition — which is to get to Delhi as Prime Minister, no less. She has made no bones about her goal. Which is why her atrocious behaviour at this crucial point astonishes me. The entire country has seen what’s going on in her state, thanks to live coverage across platforms. Jailing an activist for circulating a silly meme is but one of her bad moves. Her notorious nephew. Abhishek Banerjee, a candidate in Diamond Harbour, is known for his blatantly corrupt practices. Which sane citizen would want such a person as PM? Compared to her, Mr Modi seems benign! And that’s a feat!
There is feverish interest around D-Day. By this time next week, India will know how this mammoth exercise has rolled out. But right now, there is just one question being asked randomly — even to strangers one meets in public places: “So… who will form the next government?” It’s a pretty silly question to ask. Because, the truth of the matter is — nobody knows! That’s how it has always been in India. The voter has won. And will win again. As Ruchir Sharma, global investor and top-selling author writes in his new book (Democracy on the Road), unlike other countries, Indian voters do not link economics with politics. And increasingly, it is local issues that influence voters far more than national ones. The rise of regional leaders has been unprecedented and spectacular. To some extent, this explains the Mamata Banerjee phenomenon. The other thing is our deep emotional investment to netas. There is very little rationality involved. Combine that with a level of sub-standard education, and we get an electorate that cannot be called “informed”. This also explains why voters are not particularly bothered by Mr Modi’s frequent gaffes (the last one being about the cloud formations during the Balakot attack). The millions who love and worship the Prime Minister do not care about his lack of a formal education. They readily lap up his catchy digs where he plays with words (“Hard work, not Harvard”). Seasoned journalists who have traveled across India to get a sense of what is going on at the ground level are astonished by the level of hero worship Mr Modi commands — even from those whose trade and small businesses tanked after demonetisation!
Democracy cannot afford cult figures. No individual is bigger than India. If we accept that, Ms Banerjee is in for a rude shock this time. Or at least, that’s what her detractors are hoping for. Mr Sharma quotes Ram Manohar Lohia in his book, and the analogy offered by Lohia back then is still most relevant. I love the idea of a sarkar that is like a chappati. India is a gigantic chuula filled to the brim with burning hot coals. Voters don’t like stale or burnt chappatis. At the moment, the most appetising dish on the menu is a mixed dal khichdi. Not a healthy option… but still preferable to an unappetising, unpalatable, bitter and hard to digest “pakwan” we are being force-fed as of now. Putting a palatable khichdi together is an art few possess. Come May 24, India will get a new menu card. Let’s see what’s on our plate — we deserve a wholesome meal after five years of indigestion.