Mr J.M. Lyngdoh’s distinction between the “dangerous” and the “nasty” is apt. In Kashmir, the Election Commission had to reckon with danger. Voters had to somehow put behind them an almost epic history of violent conflict in order to come out and vote. The carnage is over in Gujarat, because hatred and vengeance of such intensity simply burn themselves out. What remain are not only fear, mistrust and ravage, but an abiding nastiness. In the run-up to the Gujarat assembly polls, the most compelling form taken by this nastiness is the public abuse of political discourse, enacting in the realm of words, images and pageantry the violence done to human bodies during the pogrom.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s campaign is unfolding in three different registers. First, the ghoulish, degree-zero provocations of Mr Modi’s oratory as his gaurav yatra takes on the task of keeping the nastiest memories alive, creating spurious histories and sectarian stereotypes, making ugly, farcical clutches at anything to keep the polarities charged — Hindu-Muslim, Hindu-Christian, India-Italy, BJP-Congress. The EC has warned that this could be deemed outright criminal by the law of the land, quite apart from being deeply horrible. Second, the more extravagantly provocative campaigning of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, again using yatras to commemorate the milestones of sectarian hatred — Godhra, Akshardham and finally, Babri Masjid, whose anniversary will be celebrated with pomp along the route from Godhra to Ahmedabad. The VHP’s focus is on the idea of “national security” and terrorism. In raising “public awareness” of these issues, it sees no conflict with its technically non-political identity, and has threatened to defy the EC for the sake of what it calls a “dharma yudh”. Images of burning trains are important here, and are being inspected by the EC. Third, the official voice of the party, as pitched through the equivocations of Mr Arun Jaitley, the BJP’s national general secretary and Gujarat-in-charge. Mr Jaitley’s “spins” never fail. He has even attempted to pull off a Godhra feel-good factor, putting it as the triumph of security management over jihadi terror. Godhra remains his focus, but gets a spirited and positive twist. Central cabinet ministers have also been roped in to give the campaign a respectable face. All these — groundling abuse, Hindu machismo and party-line sophistry — add up to what Mr Lyngdoh sums up as “nothing but nasty”. He wants 400 battalions from the Union home ministry to turn this nastiness into a triumph of democracy.