Barbs, science, voting fraud and hope.
by Medha Singh
The final phase of voting in India recently concluded with approximately 62% turnout. If one is to pay attention to the outrageous exit polls, it looks like the joke is going to be on me, (and on all the detractors or the BJP-NDA rule). Will that stop us from making any more wise cracks? Throw in a few rib ticklers? Let loose some knee slappers? Does the earth revolve around the sun? Did Karl Marx believe in God? Is scratching your groin in public an effective strategy to charm the ladies? Was Rasputin a virgin? Is Amit Shah an innocent man? Modi an educated one? Is Smriti Irani a truthful person? Is the exclamation mark ever necessary in an English sentence?!
There is a glimmer of hope, however. In all seriousness, the NDA might just win, but not with these numbers. In a poll conducted in March, 55% Indians, it was observed, were afraid of expressing their political views on the internet. This can only mean that they oppose the current dispensation. One can hazard a guess and say, albeit with some hesitation, that things aren’t so different in non-virtual reality (I mean, er, reality). This is believable, given the number of journalists murdered, and anyone at all actually, who speaks against the NDA regime. Each bullet has a name. In a wildly different take though, Newsclick predicted the defeat of the BJP led NDA. An intelligent view on this was taken by journalist Rana Ayyub.
Here is a somewhat recent, and comprehensive overview of the polling phases (except the last phase).
Don’t believe the exit polls, though. Rajasthan looks bad for BJP, so do Chhatisgarh, Kerala, Karnataka, West Bengal, and UP may give the toughest challenge to them by way of Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati. Madhya Pradesh is a toss up. I say don’t believe the exit polls because the media is bought, and we all know they predicted a BJP victory before former Pm Atal Bihari Vajpayee lost to the Congress party in 2004. Just leaving it here, and saying, there is hope yet.
Don’t believe me? Have a look yourself. In other news, Swaraj Party leader Yogendra Yadav made a controversial statement on Twitter and said “The Congress must die. If it could not stop the BJP in this election to save the idea of India, this party has no positive role in Indian history. Today it represents the single biggest obstacle to the creation of an alternative.”
The Congress must die.
If it could not stop the BJP in this election to save the idea of India, this party has no positive role in Indian history. Today it represents the single biggest obstacle to creation of an alternative.
— Yogendra Yadav (@_YogendraYadav) May 19, 2019
Moving on, the highlight of the last two weeks were a few of the strangest things (in any media in the world today). In a great feat of strength, PM Narendra Modi ventured to carry his own umbrella (Mashallah!) as he performed the greatest PR stunt: a meditation retreat at a cave in Kedarnath (but with cameras, of course. It’s only apt that the resting place be called the PRnath cave). Some guessed he prayed for the exit polls to favour him, and one wondered if he wanted God’s forgiveness for employing the police force to stalk a woman. (If he’s a Hindu, he must understand Karma, and not need Rahul Gandhi to remind him of what it is).
Since PM Modi’s had trouble enumerating the success he’s made in the last five years, and voided the possibility of proving his ‘nationalist’ credentials, the best he can do at the present moment is prove, in the very least, that he is a Hindu (and voila! He brings out the orange). Let the world see it. It seems there is little else left to do, and that he’d started his silent meditation a day before, during his first press conference in the last five years (that is, uhm, the total duration of his Prime Ministership), leaving about 60% of the questions for BJP president Amit Shah. It gave way for a couple of barbs from opposition leader Rahul Gandhi and former PM Dr. Manmohan Singh. Of course, the internet made a day out of it, and #MaunModi (silent Modi) trended all day on twitter.
This was preceded by two major public blunders that show how essentially tactless the BJP and their cohorts are. PM Modi slandered late PM Rajiv Gandhi, in a bid to insult his son, and opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, stating PM Rajiv Gandhi died a corrupt man, misused the air force and wasted public money. PM Modi made this claim without cause, import, or substance. It was attempted, that the debate devolve into childish, high school level tera baap-mera baap (your dad-my dad) banter, but Gandhi remained resolute and responded like a gentleman, saying that no matter what happens, he will never insult PM Modi’s parents. In a hilarious twist of events, PM Modi was later found guilty of the same charge he leveled against Rajiv Gandhi. In fact, his foreign trips cost India about 2021 crores in rupees. Well done, sir.
The second public gaffe was by Bhopal BJP hopeful Sadhvi Pragya Thakur in a glib, dimissisve response to actor Kamal Haasan. She claimed that Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse was a patriot (the gall). Kamal Haasan had said something substantial that provoked this wildly silly comment. He’d said that Nathuram Godse, Mahatma Gandhi’s murderer, was the first terrorist [sic] of independent India. A member of right wing, nationalist outfit the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), he murdered Mahatma Gandhi on 30th January 1948. However, the fact remains that actor Kamal Haasan had not made this statement for the first time. The media simply picked it up, because the locality happened to be a muslim one, and in the middle of the ongoing elections. Hasan did not even call Godse a terrorist, but an extremist. Secondly, he did not call him a ‘Hindu extremist’, rather, one that was a Hindu.
None of his statements were an attack on Hindus or any of their extremist outfits. They were simply a condemnation of religious extremisms, in favour of harmony and peace. Even if Godse had been labelled a terrorist, there would hardly be anything wrong with the statement. Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination was impersonal, unlawful, politically motivated, meant to inspire fear in an institutional force for deterring a certain type of action, and broadcast a violent, ideological message. Godse surrendered only to declare why he did it, and was punished, as all those that get caught are. The PM, now, after this entirely stupid exchange, was forced to make a statement, and said he will not forgive Sadhvi Thakur for calling Godse a patriot. However, there was no substantial apology in sight on behalf of the BJP, even though Sadhvi Thakur did issue a personal one, after the RSS started distancing itself from her because of it.
All this came shortly after she’d said that Muslims and Christians ought to be forcibly sterilized.
The row sparked a major debate about how our freedom fighters are being slandered, prompting Booker Prize Winner, essayist and left wing intellectual Dr. Arundhati Roy to declare that India is “fighting for her soul.”
Alas, here we are, not stuck between parties but between Gandhi and Godse, between ahimsa and an epic, shameful kind of violence, between democracy and fascism and in turn,India’s future.
PM Modi and Science (Cloudy Weather, Gutter Gas, Climate Change)
Well, it is no secret that PM Modi is a chronic liar. Pressing on despite all of this, people had their eyes glued to the screen as PM Modi made a wildly inaccurate claim during the review of the Balakot plan, about how clouds and rain could protect Indian planes from Pakistani radars, and that he suggested so. This is not the first time he was mocked for his improvisational acting, and brilliant skill at spinning science fiction tales out of thin air.
He’d once claimed that there is no such thing as climate change, when people in the village get older, they can’t endure the cold any longer. Not to rake up old things, but do you remember the time Modi fooled the world into believing he was a tea-seller in a previous life (ie the one before he was seen as a ‘successful’ Chief Minister)? Well, recently, in a poor attempt to reinforce that lie, he made a claim, that he magically used gas from the nearby gutter to light up his stove, to the anger and derision from the science community. Then, in April he took a massive U-turn and said he never made the claim, and it was the opposition that started that rumour. Apart from the fact that he lied in a recent interview about using email in the year 1988, he’s also said a spate of other things that have no scientific or historical credibility.
Neither are any of his friends any smarter. Tripura CM recently claimed that the Internet was in use during the Mahabharata to share battle updates. Hindutva cohorts are so smart, (it seems) only when they are fictional.
EVM Fraud, Booth Capturing, Missing Voters
There is nothing more insulting to the process of free and fair elections than rigging the very machines through which people cast their vote. EVMs or Electronic Voting Machines aren’t the most reliable way of voting, but India chooses to opt for them. It was found that many of the machines recorded all votes cast in favour of the BJP. It’s a fundamental manipulation of the voter’s agency, confirms India’s status as an outlaw state, and is the final and fundamental infringement of legal right to vote. There have been reports of polling booth officers being assaulted (one notable case in Moradabad), and polling booths being captured, markedly in Haryana, West Bengal and a foiled attempt in Assam. There still remains the case of the missing 21 million women voters. It seems that young people don’t vote much in Delhi, because most of them have their constituencies elsewhere.
Economy and Environment Are Key Issues
Just throwing in a fun fact, PM Modi’s publicity budget has been declared to be worth more than 4,000 crores. This is in addition to the 2021 crores he has spent on foreign trips. A little perspective here: this amount is worth more than ten total years of the MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) program, which has an annual budget of 3500 crores. All this while the GDP growth rate plummets, and India’s unemployment crisis stands at a 45 year all time high.
As India’s economy hurtles towards a Middle Income Trap, stunted growth rates, pollution remains a major problem and yet does not figure in any of the poll agendas, a major water crisis at hand looms over India’s future. The main issues take a backseat as politicians waste time exchanging insults between themselves.
Every generation has its heroes, mine has Kanhaiya Kumar (from the Begusarai constituency), Jignesh Mevani (from Vadgam Constituency) and Atishi (a candidate from my constituency, East Delhi). I, and people of my age group, (the 25-35 age group) especially put all their bets, placed their hopes on Atishi, her campaign promises prove crucial for the safety and well being of women in the capital.
Atishi is fully endorsed by yours truly especially, as she has shown a shining resilience to the slander campaign against her. It was recently found that a pamphlet was circulating on the streets, calling her a “beef eating prostitute.” Her contender, BJP candidate Gautam Gambhir was the prime suspect behind this despicable deed. She broke down a little while giving a speech recently, but held back her tears and continued on.
One can only see where we go from here on the 23rd as the results are declared, and the last entry of my humble Election Diary visits your screens. However, before I go, I’d like to leave you with this.
I’d recently responded to a question posed by an acquaintance, inquiring why one does not simply join politics, as though anyone could. I only had one answer: it’s one’s intolerance for dishonesty and abuse. Most don’t have it. Those seeking power have a tendency for moral compromise, that is to say, a proclivity for corruption coded into their psyche. To seek power you aspire to surmount common morality, to be above the common goal. You make sacrifices, time and again; you forego your values, integrity, and morals for what eventually may seem like an intermittent battle. You need massive capital, and a web of powerful networks to get into mainstream politics, and that’s the long and short of it. Merit is a myth. It’s all social, cultural and economic capital and historical accumulation of wealth.
The three candidates, Kanhaiya, Jignesh and Atishi have risen to their eminence as exceptions to this rule. They have challenged a defeatism that haunts all of us. Here’s to their victory, here’s to India’s soul and to infinite hope.
About the Author:
Medha Singh is a researcher for The Raza Foundation. She functions as India Editor for The Charles River Journal, Boston. She is also part of the editorial collective at Freigeist Verlag, Berlin. Her first book of poems, Ecdysis was published by Poetrywala, Mumbai in 2017. She took her M.A. in English literature from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and studied at SciencesPo, Paris through an exchange program, as part of her interdisciplinary master’s degree. She has written variously on poetry, feminism and rock music. Her poems have appeared widely, in national and international journals. Her second book is forthcoming. She tweets at @LunchSoiled from inside the eternal eye of the New Delhi summer.
Image by Al Jazeera English via Flickr (cc).