IT’S THE ECONOMY, STUPID ! “– OR IS IT ?

That famous phrase- ” It’s the Economy. stupid !”- was employed successfully by Bill Clinton’s election team to win the 1992 election against George WH Bush. It’s being used used again by our resident pundits to explain the BJP’s trouncing in the elections concluded on the 11th. of this month. This serve- all explanation is self-contradictory and only part of the truth. Because, by all accounts and conventional parameters, the Indian economy is not doing badly at all: inflation is well under control, GDP growth is at 7.2%, NPAs have declined for the second straight quarter, manufacturing has picked up, the stock markets are still on the up, fuel prices are declining, higher rates of MSPs have been announced, the kharif production is higher than the previous year. The Plan B explanation is that it is the farmer who has done the BJP in, beset as he is with drought, rising input costs, a slump in prices, the weight of unpayable loans. There is some truth in this, but it is not the whole truth and it gives the BJP apologists an easy way out to explain its massive loss. Because it is not just the farmer who feels betrayed by the BJP, it is the entire cross section of society and occupations.

Consider this: the BJP’s vote share even in the urban areas of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan has plummeted drastically: from 75% to 25%, 90% to 55% and 95% to 63% respectively in these three states: the agriculture crisis cannot account for this. Economists tend to hijack the results of every election by appropriating the economy as the sole determinant of voting patterns, This is a myopic view, especially in a country like ours whose sheer size and diversity defies simple nostrums. For the fact is that there are many other factors that predicated the BJP’s loss, and all of them are related to the style of governance and the personalities of its top two honchos, the CEO and the COO.

They say pride goes before a fall, and that is exactly what has happened to Messers Modi and Shah. They never even bothered to conceal their abject contempt for the entire Opposition, and constantly demonised and vilified Rahul Gandhi and his family, their hatred for them assuming pathological proportions which in the normal course would require expert psychiatric intervention. Their facile call for a ” Congress mukt Bharat” betrayed their despotic tendencies. This has now backfired on the BJP in three significant ways: one, the constant spotlight on Rahul Gandhi has made him a larger than life figure, embedding him securely in the public gaze even though the Congress kept losing one election after another, getting him free TRPs and eyeballs which he had not really earned, just as it did for Mrs. Gandhi post 1977, enabling her victorious return in 1980. The constant badgering made a fighter out of an otherwise unassuming, laid back Rahul Gandhi; pushed into a corner, he had no option but to fight back. Mr. Modi commuted a part-time politician into a full time contender. And finally, of course, the Prime Minister forgot the Indian voter’s latent compassion for the underdog, a trait of our Hindu religion which has no place in the BJP’s version of Hindutva. Mr. Modi has paid the price for his egotism this last week.

Second, the law of diminishing returns has set in on the BJP’s Hindutva and minority bashing curriculum; the average citizen is beginning to tire of it and is now refusing to read from this toxic script. The BJP should have realised this from their earlier by-election losses in UP, Bihar and Rajasthan, but the invincible duo failed to see the light, blinded as they were by the glare from their self acquired halos. And so the likes of Adithyanath, Giriraj Singh and assorted foul mouthed spokespersons and bought- out TV anchors continued to spew their hate and execration, evoking a revulsion from populations which have lived peacefully with a dozen different religions for hundreds of years. People have now begun to realise that the venomous Hindutva of the BJP and RSS is a political doctrine, not a religious one, and that this party cannot be allowed to be the gate-keepers to the world’s greatest religion. And that is why these seeds of hatred and division sowed by the likes of the UP Chief Minister on the campaign trail did not sprout.

Third, Mr. Modi made the cardinal mistake which all closet dictators do- assuming that the voter/ citizen is a fool who is quite content to be led by the nose. He assumed that your average bharatwasi knows little, and cares even less, about affairs of state and government. And so he and his handpicked team went about driving a coach-and-four through every institution of good governance: Parliament, Planning Commission, Election Commission, the CBI, the RBI, the Universities, autonomous academic and research organisations, even the higher judiciary at times. The Defense forces were politicised for electoral purposes. The police in BJP ruled states became an adjunct of the gau rakshaks, as typified by the manner in which the investigations into the murder of a police Inspector in Bulandshahar are proceeding. Kashmir is sought to be bludgeoned into submission, with not even the pretense of a dialogue with our own fellow citizens. Legislations like the National Register of Citizens and amendments to the Citizenship Act are being rammed through to create an India in the image of the BJP. The Damocles sword of the Ram Mandir is sharpened every few months to keep the communal cauldron boiling at all times. Farmers are lathi-charged, shot, evicted from the path of the Bullet trains; the tribals are being dispossessed from their forests and lands to make way for big-ticket projects so that the Prime Minister can obtain another international citation for Ease of Doing Business. For the plain truth is that this is a government without any compassion, it has an EVM where the heart should be, it is antithetical to the humane values of a country which has produced a Gandhi, a Vivekananda, a Buddha. It is a mutant and the people are now beginning to recognise this and to reject it.

And so, while the colossal failure of the BJP’s economic policy disasters have undoubtedly caused the citizens much pain, it would be foolish not to recognise the non-economic factors that are also in play. It is the latter in fact that is now making even the middle classes abandon the BJP. Universally, the middle class does not like instability or social stress, which appears to be the sole agenda of the BJP. Fault lines that had been slowly filling in in the last five decades- social, religious, regional- under the enlightened leadership of stalwarts who are now the object of Mr. Modi’s derision are being re-excavated and widened. The country is increasingly uncomfortable with this balkanisation of a nation, the assertion of a false and exclusive identity, the anger and hatred that is being injected into its life blood. No political party is entitled to extract this price for petty electoral gains. THIS is the message of the recent elections: govern with a heart, not a 56 inch chest.

Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. He is a keen environmentalist and loves the mountains. He divides his time between Delhi and his cottage in a small village above Shimla. He used to play golf at one time but has now run out of balls. He blogs at http://avayshukla.blogspot.in/

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