In a few months an event shall take place that is very unique in the world and happens once every five years and not in a shorter frequency if we are lucky. That is the Indian General Election 2014. There are nations that are larger in size, and one particular more numerous in population but the process of a democratic election that involves the world’s second most populous nation and the world’s largest democracy is a process of unsurpassable complexity and impact. A nation of such varied cultures, religions and languages is going to be churned in a way that has never happened before in history. There are several reasons why the Elections 2014 is unlike any we have seen till today.
India is like a vast and deep pool where the still waters run very deeply indeed. Far beneath the upper visages of an extremely vibrant and a modernizing nation there is the vast hinterland of India where the life has barely changed significantly from the 19th century. Where on one side we have booming metropolises with latest cars and technological innovations the world knows we have the rural India where there are people who still cant comprehend the concept of cities or roads any better than the roughest of kuchha tracks. However over the past five years this India has been mixed and churned in a way that had never been seen before. Today in hinterlands where there are not even good motorable roads there is cellular phone coverage, television, radio and print media now have range and use that has been unprecedented.
In political terms never before has India been in such a volatile mood since the dark days of Emergency, however unlike the blackened days of press under the reign of Indira Gandhi today dissent is freely expressed. While mainstream media has been in a state of collusion that Indira Gandhi could only have dreamed about there is a plethora of independent media houses, principally through internet, which have earned credibility, trust and reach amongst the people. That is the reason why awareness of corruption and scandals have had such a wide awareness in India today. The monolithization and corporatizing that we have observed in the mainstream media was taken by the ruling UPA as a license to conduct unprecedented levels of corruption and loot in an India that had an unprecedented level of prosperity in the wake of a liberalized Indian economy booming and fully capitalizing in a globalized world economy. The lids were however blown off and scandals upon scandals came tumbling out of closets that the ruling regime hoped to keep closed with the help of a very cooperative media. The whole Radia tapes saga where mainstream media including both print and electronic deliberately chose to ignore the corruption and collusion by their own elite and finally started reporting the news only when the clamour of people became too loud thanks to the independent online media spread awareness was a pivotal moment when power of people became not just a utopian ideal but a tangible and actionable force. The impact of the whole Radia tapes saga and the expose of those scandals on the political fabric of India can never be understated. The power of twitter, facebook, Faking News and Unreal Times had come to stay.
This unprecedented reach and the festering frustration the people had at the sheer magnitude of corruption shown by the most brazenly shameless government seen in the history of India now manifested in the rise of two entities – Narendra Modi and Anna Hazare’s Jan LokPal movement. The execrable corruption by UPA finally overcame the distaste towards Modi that people had in the wake of Gujarat riots. In the balance the people started choosing the lesser evil realizing that while system was still strong enough to place adequate checks on Narendra Modi from repeating another Gujarat, the system may not survive another term by the UPA. The terrible loss in revenues, the crash of economy and fall in value of Rupee was compared to the glitzy shiny story that became the Gujarat story as progapandized by Modi’s campaigners and people started weighing in favor of Modi. This was helped in no measure by what is arguably an extensive and well designed online campaign machine created by or for Modi in which a very vocal support wave emerged for Narendra Modi in the internet, a force that took India’s political campagning to completely new levels, a phenomenon that Congress and the rest of Indian political parties are still struggling to catch up to.
While the online movement was thus being suited for Modi’s political intents its power also manifested in the form of Anna Hazare’s jan Lokpal movement. An idealistic revolution, its utopian concepts served as a magnet for masses of India’s online citizens who were disgusted by the corruption and were dazzled by the corruption free panacea that was advertised in the form of Jan Lokpal Bill. The idea became a force and started gathering followers, even though the masses of followers had only the faintest grasp of what the idea itself was. The great unwashed of India’s cyber youth were attracted towards the movement and the media got another opportunity for TRP wars. The hype and hyperbole were helped in no small terms by the inane and draconian ways in which the UPA reacted towards the movement. People had enough of UPA, they saw UPA cracking down on Anna so enemy of my enemy being my friend, Anna Hazare movement suddenly found its support sky rocketing amongst the people.
However the uselessness of Anna Hazare’s well publicized hunger strikes started becoming obvious to the people as despite the hype the crowds around the strikes grew negligible and one hunger strike followed another with reducing popular attention. It did however prove once again the power of internet in India’s politics. The potential force of this internet phenomena was recognized by a subset of Anna Hazare’s followers and thus another campaign started, the Aam Admi Party. Perfectly identifying the unwashed masses who got captivated by the utopian dreams and realizing that there exists a huge market for their utopian promises a party was created which marketed itself as different from all others, a party of common people. While the Congress and BJP were both playing against the others’ defenses and vulnerabilities ( corruption and gujarat riots), the erudite Politburo of Aam Admi Party advocated itself as a Third front. And in that fashion was dashed the hopes of the increasingly powerful regional party leaders to form a Third Front of their own and take their own share of the national loot. The JDUs, the DMKs, the TDPs and the BSPs of India had got increasingly powerful over the past decade. With the coalition politics coming into its full democratic fruition these regional parties wielded unprecedented power in the national affairs. While quite a progress in the interests of Indian democracy their dreams of forming a Third Front government at the Center threatened to unleash an era of regionalism that though would be beneficial to individual regions may be harmful for the national integrity. The whole Nitish Kumar saga in Bihar is a testament to the regional parties and their political gambles for a shot at power in center, after all the days of Deve Gowda’s Prime Ministership has not been completely forgotten despite its brevity.
We are also seeing some interesting political manuevers by the long established parties in response to the new tactics. While BJP has long proven its prowess in online marketing and campaigning Congress showed its acumen in the form of the support it gave to the Aam Admi Party to form an unlikely Government in New Delhi. A masterstroke, it served not only to give a long rope for AAP’s utopians to hang themselves, it also served served to keep BJP from having an even more impressive Legislative election victory by forming government in Delhi. It also served the interesting purpose of giving national ambitions to a fledgling Aam Admi Party which despite not even able to handle its administration in Delhi is now campaigning to contest in the General Elections.
The Grand Old Party of India, Indian National Congress, the leader of UPA is also in some interesting situations. The Dowager Queen who assumed the throne of Congress in 1998 has over 16 odd years solidified her reign over the party. While Sonia Gandhi remained in the shadows and away from public eye, the puppet she had appointed as the Prime Minister of India succeeded in casting away decades of hard won intellectual admiration and adulation as the saviour of Indian economy being architect of liberalization over the ten years he was the figurehead of Government of India. Under the draconian rule of Sonia Gandhi innumerable scams and scandals were conducted with Manmohan Singh fulfilling his unenviable position as target of responsibility. With sycophantism at levels unseen perhaps even in the days of Indira Gandhi a new princeling was raised after being raised ceremoniously to the national scene in 2004. In ten years that he had been an MP acts of note that Rahul Gandhi did in Parliamentary activities could be counted by one hand, fingers pending. With a well oiled traditional mainstream media support the Crown Prince is now the figurehead for a UPA Third term. When one sees the antics and listens to the inanities expended senselessly by Rahul Gandhi one truly wonders what trump card Her Highness Sonia Gandhi has up her sleeves. Would she field Priyanka Gandhi or is she betting on a highly volatile and partisan Third Front where through her supreme expertise in coalition politics she could wield the decisive power the same way it now works in New Delhi?
And thus comes the new variables in General Elections of this year. Unprecedented awareness of national issues amongst population, not just in cities but also in hinterlands, a resulting national anger and new opportunists and idealists hoping to capitalize this national anger in their favor, it all adds to a Circus that should be quite interesting to watch.