Veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar tells FORWARD Press’ Roving Correspondent Sanjiv Chandan that Modi wave did not win BJP the election but discontentment with Congress did, and that Indian democracy has what it takes to turn Modi into a Vajpayee. Excerpts from their conversation, which also dwelt upon what the recent general elections meant for the politics of identity:
Like most of us, you too never anticipated that the BJP would get such a large number of seats. You had even said at Dhaka…
Definitely. In fact, I was not ready to give more than 180 seats to the BJP. After polling, I felt that the figure may go up to 200. But 282, I never imagined. Even the BJP never hoped to win that many seats. I believe that the people voted more against the Congress than for the BJP – because they were disappointed with the Congress. Since the people had no option except the BJP, so it got a majority. The AAP is just a budding outfit. Congress did not perform so badly even after the Emergency. This time, people seemed to be seething with anger against the Congress – against corruption, skyrocketing prices and arrogance of being in power. People were boiling from within. The BJP victory has nothing to do with any Modi wave.
There were no issues in this election. The level of campaigning was very low.
Yes, that is correct. Neither poverty figured in the campaign, nor quality education, health and employment. The speeches of campaigners were quite run-of-the-mill.
According to a CSDS study, this time, the BJP was substantially backed by the EBCs, Dalits and OBCs whereas the parties indulging in politics of identity performed poorly. The BSP could not get even one seat. Should this be considered a major shift in politics of identity? Is it on the way to extinction? Or it is too early to say this?
It is true that the BSP could not even open its account but the BJP has garnered 282 seats with only 31.2 per cent votes. This has happened for the first time. The votes of the other parties got divided. Only those regional parties whose governments performed well got the people’s backing. Regional parties did spectacularly in West Bengal, Odisha and Tamil Nadu but Mulayam Singh Yadav has been nearly wiped out. Nitish Kumar’s party in Bihar is an exception, whose government did well but still lost. It will be too early to say that the politics of identity is on its way out. This time also, caste did play a role, money did bring in votes; it wasn’t that only religion counted.
Modi is being seen as a potential Hitler. Do you think if Modi is able to maintain his popularity for the next 10 years, he would become another Hitler?
I don’t think so. He will not become a Hitler. But he may well become an Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The Indian democracy has that much power. Modi has got a majority. This will force him to change. He has already made a beginning by inviting Pakistan’s prime minister to his swearing-in. He can do such things because
he has a majority. Now, he will talk like the PM of India, not like a BJP leader. I don’t think what the VHP people are saying is correct – that he will get temple built or will abrogate Article 370. There is no doubt that he is a divisive personality. But as the PM, his personality will change. This is the power of Indian democracy.
Did his divisive personality draw the people towards him?
No. The people were dejected and disappointed due to spiralling prices, unemployment, etc. They thought a change would improve the situation on these fronts. People would observe him for the next six months. And if they feel disappointed, they will form their own opinions, take their own decisions. The government that was ruling the country for the last couple of years was a ‘non-governing’ government. So, if Modi only gives the people governance, if he gives them only an effective administration, they will be more than happy.
But at some places, the Hindutvavadis are raising their heads. Some of their organizations are taking the law into their hands.
I don’t think these people have much influence on Modi. He is much more influenced by people who believe in governance. For Modi, Arun Jaitley is more important than Ashok Singhal, ie people who are sensible. It also seems that the dividing line between the RSS and the BJP has blurred to such an extent that it has
almost disappeared. Both are no longer hardliners. Jhandewalan and Nagpur are now closer. Modi will listen to the RSS bosses.
So, you do not fear a replay of 1975?
No. It will be very difficult to impose Emergency now. Now, the consent of six states is mandatory. But what
I apprehend is that a presidential form of government may be ushered in. Modi will dominate the government. The election campaign was also styled on the presidential form of government. Modi may become the be-all and end-all of the government.
Aam Admi Party is inching towards its demise.
Yes. Initially, it had aroused a lot of hopes. People thought its politics would be radically different. That is why they backed it, rising above the considerations of religion and caste. Then Anna broke away. This made a difference. However, the biggest disappointment was that its new leadership was no different from the leadership of other parties. There is no internal democracy in the party. Its revival is difficult, though rejuvenation seems possible. The only option now left is the Congress. And Congress means family
politics. No one from outside the family is allowed to take the lead. I fear that if the Congress and the BJP
remain the only alternatives, a two-party system would come into being. We need other alternatives.
Can identity-based politics become the alternative? And what future do you see for popular resistance
manifesting itself through the Maoists?
Yes, regional parties can emerge as an alternative. As for the Maoists, their influence is limited. Unless they
enter parliamentary electoral system, they cannot be a serious alternative. The Maoists will be the prime
targets of this government. Maoists have many sympathizers among the urban intelligentsia. Subramaniam Swamy is Modi’s man. He even brands AAP as Maoist. But I don’t think Modi will target these intellectuals living in the cities. This is a form of repression and is not needed either. These intellectuals, in any case, are not very influential.
One last question. OBC leadership was not allowed to emerge in the Congress. Neither did the party touch upon the issues which are of concern to the OBCs. That is why it had to remain content with 43 seats. On the other hand, BJP encouraged its OBCleaders.
Yes, the Congress did not address them. It did not identify their issues, it did not associate itself with
them. It was too busy promoting the family. The Congress could not comprehend the post-Mandal situation.
It could not create credible OBC and Dalit leadership in the states.
Published in the July 2014 issue of the Forward Press magazine
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