Friday, December 14, 2012

Outsourcing an election campaign: proxies, hired NGOs and snake oil salesmen!

The second most debated topic this chilly December is the Gujarat assembly election, (the first being the annual ritual about a demolition in Ayodhya twenty years ago) or rather its outcome and impact on national politics. The moot question is not whether Narendra Modi will win the election. Notwithstanding brave posturing by the Congress party and its proxies (in political parties, NGOs and the media) political pundits do not seem to entertain much hope for the party. The question that is endlessly debated is about the number of seats Narendra Modi will win and if he crosses a tipping point, will he move on to the national scene as a Prime Ministerial aspirant. The tipping point is set at 122+, 122* being the number of seats Narendra Modi’s party has in the present assembly. There are some feeble voices that bleat Narendra Modi may not even reach the tipping point but would end up with a simple majority in the 182-member assembly. But these are few and far between. A majority of analysts believes that he will (not would) cross the tipping point.

The putative tipping point for Narendra Modi is the TRP point for television channels. Therefore their endless debates centre on it. (See NarendraModi as Prime Minister in 2014 for a detailed analysis of his qualifications to lead the nation.) The anchors repeatedly ask various panellists about the possibility and implications of Narendra Modi being nominated as the Prime Ministerial candidate by the BJP. They get stock answers in reply.

Can anyone imagine representatives of the ‘secular’ Congress party (which had disowned its most successful Prime Minister, P. V. Narasimha Rao purely based on vote bank calculations) ever saying yes? It would be in the Congress party’s interest if the BJP were to fail to form a government which, would give it a ‘TINA’ (there is no alternative) chance. Alternatively it would be in its interest if an unstable rag-tag formation formed a government. It can then support it from outside and destabilize it as and when it suited it. The Congress is past master in this game as Chandra Sekhar, Charan Singh, Deve Gowda and I. K. Gujral found out. Besides, a stint in the opposition would absolve it of all its sins. A strange feature of Indian democracy is that if a party sits out in the opposition even for a brief while the electorate forgets and forgives its gravest misdemeanours. Remember how Indira Gandhi was reinstated in 1980 after being thrown out in 1977. Could there be anything worse that anyone could do to democracy than what she did between 1975 and 1977?  

Can anyone imagine representatives of NGOs (to which the secular Congress party outsourced its hatchet jobs) saying yes? These NGOs have been carping at Narendra Modi accusing him of imaginary sins of omission and commission, for over ten years. It is their raison d’etre. Some of these were financed, certainly by the Congress. There are whispers that some religious fundamentalist groups in Saudi Arabia too fund some of them. One of the NGOs which has been doing a hatchet job for the Congress in legal battles has been asked to sit out this election; another took its place in the television studios.

Then there are Congress web-store operators. Sycophancy is their modus vivendi. Peddling Congress is their principal avocation. These snake oil salesmen often appear in TV debates. One wonders whether some of them pay their way into the debates, a la paid news! Their unctuousness in defending the most indefensible, has to be seen to be believed. Here is a case in point: Rahul Gandhi paradropped into Gujarat on the last day of campaigning for the first phase election. He addressed three meetings, all of ten minutes each. In one of them he elaborated on the sacrifices of long dead Motilal, his great-great-grandfather. In another he spoke about the economics of potato trade which instantly became the butt of dozens of jokes on Twitter (reason enough for Kapil Sibal to seek censorship of social media!). But for our snake oil salesman, Rahul unveiled his vision for the future of the nation!

Between the two hired assassins (the NGOs and the web-store operated by the snake oil salesmen) are the jokers in the pack, Kesubhai Patel’s Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) and Swetha, wife of Narendra Modi’s bête noir and discredited police officer Sanjeev Bhatt. The 80+ year old Kesubhai, a veteran of the BJP and communal Sangh Parivar went into hibernation after he fell out with Narendra Modi some years back. Congress warmed him to life and propped up his GPP with the expectation that he would be able to cut into south Gujarat’s Leuva Patel vote bank. Jagruthi, wife of murdered former minister Haren Pandya has been fielded by Kesubhai’s GPP. Sanjeev Bhatt, the delinquent police officer against whom there were criminal charges has long been suspected to be a Congress mole in one of the NGOs fighting for it. Congress fielded his wife Swetha against Narendra Modi himself more to create media buzz than with any serious intention. Swetha agreed to be the sacrificial goat knowing full well that she would be eventually swept away in the dust storm raised by Narendra Modi’s chariot wheels.

And finally can anyone imagine representatives of the other avowedly secular, non-Congress parties (which have large stakes in Muslim votes) saying yes? (See SecularOpposition to Narendra Modi as P M for an analysis on the interests of possible alliance partners and their political compulsions.)

Even the BJP spokespersons are not very keen on answering the question, for obvious reasons. Firstly, there are many contenders within the party and nobody would like to be ruled out. Who wouldn’t like to have a stab at the nation’s top job? And who knows, in whose lap the coveted apple might eventually fall! Secondly at this stage of the game, nobody would like to tip his hand for fear of alienating possible allies.

Psephology is an inexact social science. Like Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s ‘black swan theory’, it tells us exactly why a political party performed as it did after the results are out. Sometimes, when a prediction is accurate or nearly so, the psephologist who got it right says, ‘I told you so’, looking suitably modest but with ill-concealed smugness. The received wisdom, tempered by a tinge of caution, after the huge 68% turnout in the first phase of the election was that ‘it gives Modi an advantage’. It is not yet time to stick one’s neck out and say he would sweep the election. The ‘I told you so’ moment will come on December 20!

* Newschannels conducting exit poll analyses have been showing 117 as BJP's (or to be more accurate Narendra Modi's) seat tally in the present assemby. But the party gained 5 seats in subsequent by-elections and hence its current tally is 122.


  1. If the people of Gujarat prevent Narendra Bhai Mody from becoming the Chief Minister again, it is sure they will be committing a Harakiri. This will be a costly affair for them. The people of Gujarat should facilitate Mody to continue the process of development. Despite Perfectly knowing that the 84 year old KBP, who is absolutely unfit to lead the people of the state to further developement ,and reducing vote margin for the Modi Party , the gujaratis may have to repent for the next 5 years.

  2. Another excellent article Sir.

    Yes, today being the 19th of December, anxiety abounds when thinking what would be the eventuality this time tomorrow as the poll results being to stream out from Gujarat. Never has an election been so highly hyped by the Media, the irrelevant Congress Party, the obstinate NGOs and the likes of Jagruthi Pandya and Shewta Bhatt, the latter two purely embarking on a political career to remain in limelight. While, for the past 10 years these franchises have tried their very best to tarnish and diminish the stature of Narendra Modi, he has come unscathed. Yet, as you rightly pointed out, with apocryphal funds flowing into their coffers from undisclosed sources, they have tried every resources possible to have Modi implicated. They have shown little or no respect for what the Man has done for Gujarat, so much so that even their lives have become abundantly comfortable because of his vision. If I remember the list of millionaires from Gujarat correctly, the first two are Congressmen!

    I guess the Congress is finished in the state more or less when the election results come out tomorrow, a direct tribute to the first family per se. Anywhere between 122 to 130 is my reckoning. But, and I emphasize this, voters' psyche is so strange to speculate that what is concluded as foregone could also prove to the contrary, though a bit far fetched in the case of Gujarat. The nightmares of 2004 Parliament Elections still remain fresh in my mind where a predicted victory for BJP was abrogated by the wish of the electorate. I guess almost all of the Psephologist went out of business then and so was the science of Psephology ridiculed. Gujarat promises to be a different turf, though.

    Media played dirty too, all of them, of which NDTV was amazingly shocking by refusing to carry out any post poll election debates, them being the pioneers of such debates. There was also a significant change in tone from TimesNow and Hindustan Times who incidentally happened to squeeze in an audience with Narendra Modi just before casting his vote. They must have felt the ripples of victory for BJP and Modi already.

    John Berger quite rightly wrote about the Media as follows:- **The media network has its idols, but its principal idol is its own style which generates an aura of winning and leaves the rest in darkness. It recognizes neither pity nor pitilessness**.

    I conclude Sir.