On the last day of his campaign for the West Champaran seat in his native north Bihar last week, film-maker Prakash Jha attacked his main opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party, in what amounted to a last-ditch effort to dislodge him.
We all know what the Gujarat model is, Jha said to his desperately poor audience, and how it has involved making the rich richer at the expense of the underprivileged. If Narendra Modi comes to power, he added, policies pursued by socially-sensitive governments, such as the distribution of wealth and opportunities for the poorest of the poor, will be replaced by pro-corporate policies.
Whether Jha’s audience bought the film-maker’s argument will only be known when results from India’s marathon campaign are out in two days’ time. Many seemed attracted to Jha, perhaps because of his claim to Bollywood — certainly Jha has used commercially attractive actresses like Katrina Kaif in politically compelling movies like Rajniti. Others pointed out that their man from Bettiah — the headquarters of Mahatma Gandhi’s satyagraha andolan or non-violent movement against the indigo planters of Champaran in 1917, which served as the launch pad for the satyagraha movement across the country — should be given a chance, considering he has lost twice already and has come back to fight for a third time.
Other Champaran natives pointed out, more realistically, that political battles in 21st century India have much less to do with compelling ideas and much more to do with caste arithmetic. If the constituency in question predominantly belongs to the caste of your candidate, irrespective of his/her other qualities, the probability of victory will increase by leaps and bounds.
There are exceptions, as always, to that rule and these include candidates like Prakash Jha contesting from West Champaran (Janata Dal-United), Hema Malini from Mathura (BJP), Vinod Khanna from Gurdaspur (BJP), Nagma from Meerut (Congress party) and Moon Moon Sen from Bankura in West Bengal on a Trinamool Congress ticket.
Certainly there is something about wanting to become a Member of Parliament that persuades these beautiful people to get their hands dirty. Many, like Dharmendra, tire easily and barely show up when the House is in session. Vinod Khanna, who was a former junior minister for external affairs in the early Vajpayee government, didn’t deliver dialogues with the same panache that he did in movies, but I guess he was trying to build a different image. Satabdi Roy of the Trinamool Congress hardly asked a question in Parliament these last five years, content to look glamorous behind those sunglasses. Nagma, in this election campaign, caused a riot wherever she went, detracting from the attention that constituents were supposed to be giving the Congress candidate in question.
Mulling the next Parliament in these hours before the results are announced is an exercise paved with cliches and unsurprising metaphors. The exit polls have predicted a Narendra Modi-led BJP government — from a simple majority to one supported by allies that are part of a coalition as well as those supporting the BJP from outside.
But there’s no denying the saffron surge, essentially led by gargantuan Uttar Pradesh, whose 80 seats will be responsible for catapulting the Gujarat chief minister to the throne of Delhi.
Interestingly, Bihar has thrown a spoke in the wheel, with its backward and lower caste Hindus allying with upper and lower caste Muslims to stymie Modi’s march to Delhi. At a tea shop in Jahangirpur village in Muzaffarpur constituency, a Yadav farmer explained to me that even if Modi comes to power in Delhi, “secular Bihar” will ensure that he won’t be able to expand his presence in this state.
Just like the Yadav leader, Lalu Prasad Yadav in 1991 stopped the Rath Yatra (Chariot Festival) of senior BJP leader L K Advani to Ayodhya, where he was going to offer support in the building of the Ram temple, we will now stop Modi, he added.
That must be wishful thinking. Modi is coming and the rest of India will use the next 72 hours to get used to it. The question is, what priorities the new prime minister will lay for such a diverse society.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 14th, 2014.
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