As India goes to vote…

I began traveling in 2009 and spent two months in Kumaon and Garhwal in April-May 2009 in peak election season. And here I am again in April 2019, in the interiors of Kumaon in another bitter election season. The situations are identical. In 2009, the opposition was hardly anywhere to be seen and the ruling party was strutting around confidently through the region. The only difference in 2019 is that the ruling party then is the opposition now and vice versa.

I had also been traveling from the South of India through Warangal, Nagpur, Bhopal, Jhansi, Agra and Delhi to get here, traveling in 2nd and 3rd class sleeper coaches, eating in the cheapest and most populated places I could find, talking to people and eavesdropping on conversations to get a sense for myself if anything had changed in all these years. And the truth from my own individual experience, and this may disappoint some of my anti-bhakt friends, is that people haven’t changed as much as they think they have. I heard people talk about turning mosques into temples and beating up people belonging to communities they don’t approve of back in 2009 and I heard some of the same talk in 2019. That some of these fantasies have turned into reality in the last 5 years only makes them happier but they have always wanted them to happen.

People (and by this I mean real people, not the ones on twitter) are also a lot more complex and sophisticated in their beliefs than they’re given credit for. I have heard “bhakts” openly making fun of BJP campaigns and acknowledging the failure of some of the promises and “libtards” ridiculing Rahul Gandhi and the tame, confused campaigns run by the Congress party. This tendency on part of the liberals (and I’m pointing the finger at them because they clutter my facebook feed a lot more than the bhakts and because the essential idea of liberalism is to acknowledge the complexity of a situation or an individual without putting them in a convenient bracket) to look down on all Modi supporters as some dumb, stupid mass that needs to be condemned for merely saying some things they don’t like is not just idiotic but also terribly counter productive. Treat them as human beings with a sense of humor even if what they say might repulse you and you might be able to have a conversation that may lead to a change of mind and heart. If anything, the liberals have facilitated the “divide” in this country as much as the people they accuse of by being so contemptuous of people they disagree with.

Also, and I say this knowing perfectly well that I might be labelled a “bhakt”, this idea of India being a communally harmonious utopia before Modi came to power is a ridiculous notion. India has always had communal tensions running underneath. Look at any of the statistics running through the years, from back in the ’80s, and you’ll find, even in the years when a lot went unrecorded, a string of communal incidents throughout the country. It’s always been a reality and the true trigger for the explosion in violence was not 2014 but 1984 and then 1992. Yeah, the Modi years have been violent and a lot of it has been disturbing and some of it has been enabled by a government showing an unwillingness to act but that has been true of previous governments as well. Bihar in the 90s, as a passenger reminded me when I countered his suggestion that things had improved in the country, was a nightmare to live in and people he personally knew had been abducted and murdered for merely walking on the street in the evening. Everyone knew who had them killed but none went to jail. Another passenger, a Sikh, told me of the time in 2008 when his small hamlet was surrounded by thugs belonging to a particular religion and beat everyone up because one of the women in his village has the temerity to run away with a boy from theirs. Mob violence has always been a bitter reality in the hinterlands of India and no government in history has done anything about it.

That’s not to say that governments shouldn’t be held accountable. Every government should and in an ideal world, every government would. I don’t see it happening to this government because as complex and sophisticated people are, they also vote for people they “like”. They’re willing to put up with demonetisation, violence, joblessness and a whole lot of annoyance and discomfort if they see the person they like in power. And strangely enough, what the liberals and the opposition appear to have done by focusing their attacks on just two men is make them more likeable to people. This morning I asked a chaiwallah who had just voted BJP if he had always been a BJP supporter. He said no, he had voted Sonia Gandhi in 2009. I asked why he had changed his mind. He said, “Kyonki tabhi Soniaji bahut acchi thi. Ab Modiji achhe hai. Itni gaaliyan padti hai unko phir bhi itna kaam karte hai. Desh ko aage bada rahe hai.” (“Because back then, Sonia Gandhi was very good. Now Modi is good. He keeps working despite the fact that people shower him with abuse. He makes the country move forward.”)

So yeah, whether you like it or not, at the moment people appear to be liking Modi a whole lot more than Rahul Gandhi and I would be very suprised if that isn’t reflected in the way they vote.

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  1. Firstly , it was a nice article so kudos. And shall wait for election to tell us what the people do feel.

    Just one point which I find I would like to point out. When you say the liberals or anti bhakts bombard you with posts n opinions , I agree to that and we might be equally contributing to the divide but what other avenues do we hv left for voicing our minds? Bhakts hv a Leader who advertises on all fronts… owns a tv and social media updates n accounts with constant follow up… has bhakts who clearly don’t discuss a matter but mock and move on and circulate the topics only around religion… ( I hv too many .. examples of such people … ) So what’s our outlet??? You have an option to unfollow us or hide the posts … I can’t avoid Modi ads in any walk of my life!!! I hv neighbours wearing sarees with his face!!! Soooooo

    N if we put up posts , bhakts bombard us with no factual evidence even from a fake news or another other social media.., ( cause actuality toh Bhagwan jaane or people like you who would take the pains to travel to corners n see the situation) but abuse us… call us anti national.. I can share snaps shots of this… so what is my avenue to voice my mind or to try and raise questions apart from face to face discussion n field discussion n work … for am doubly bombarded by Modiji and his PR team… showcasing his face n work…

    1. Hey, thanks a lot for taking the trouble to respond.Truly appreciate it.

      First of all, I’m not advocating anyone to stop airing their views online. I think people should say whatever they want to say wherever whether it’s pro or anti-anything. And I totally believe you when you say how toxic the environment can be online. But it is toxic principally because neither side (and there clearly are sides here) is willing to acknowledge that there are living, breathing, complex human beings on the other side. On social media, the anonymity gives people the freedom to go berserk and say whatever the hell they want and all that ugliness makes you believe that that’s how people are like offline. But as it turns out, in the real world, only a very few people have the courage to be like that.

      My larger point was that, in continually reacting to posts and comments in the social media space, we tend to put those we don’t agree with in brackets because it’s a convenient way to critique an entity we don’t agree with. It gives you the illusion that that’s how it is everywhere in the country which, in my experience, it isn’t (or maybe I was just very fortunate to meet the open-minded ones wherever I went). The real world is different and most people deal with the same problems as the people from the other side. Everyone has a kitchen to run and bills to pay. Yes, they would perhaps hold the same views they advertise online but it’s often surprising how much easier it is to just talk to the ones you don’t agree with when you don’t go in with a pre-conceived judgment. And if you want to change anything to bring people over to your way of thinking, it’s a terribly important thing to do. Otherwise, we’re only going to be floating in our own bubbles comforted by things we already know.

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