The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting
It looks as if the media and the power-brokers in all political parties and groups, have accepted that Narendra Modi will win the elections in Gujarat. Speculation has already begun on the replacement of the outdated Vajpayee-Advani leadership with something more aggressive, with people like Modi and M. Venkaiah Naidu playing a more central role.
Certainly, Modi appears to have worked out his strategy pretty well; he has realized the value of hate as a unifying weapon in an election, and has based his campaign on that. He has asked his presently leashed, ravening beasts, Praveen Togadia and others from the same kennel, to savage the opposition with it whenever he has felt it appropriate. He has managed skilfully to portray himself sometimes as the re-incarnation of Sardar Patel, and sometimes as a murderous foul-mouthed guttersnipe, an image which is designed very clinically to frighten, awe and thus unify.
That is, in fact, the basis of his strategy, which is fairly simple and straightforward. For years, power-brokers have talked of the Muslim vote-bank, the minority vote; the assumption has been that all Muslims, or nearly all, or all minority voters, will vote the same way. The rest of the vote has been split between upper castes, Patels, Dalits, other backward classes and all the other categories that we have so successfully created and given political identities to in the last forty-odd years. All that Modi has done is unify the majority vote into one ó the Hindu vote. He has a Hindu vote-bank. Not that all the Hindus belong to it, but enough do to make the others of little consequence politically.
How he has done it is too well-known to document. There have been killings, beatings, looting ó the creation, in short, of an atmosphere of fear and terror, not among the minorities, as it used to be, but among the majority community as well. Not by killing them or looting their property; some of that may have happened in isolated cases, but it has been the hate-filled abusive speeches, the near-maniacal display by the beasts who follow him, brandishing spears, foreheads smeared with ash, eyes bloodshot with ó well, whatever it is, mostly the lust to kill.
The fearful audiences have listened to all this and the orchestrated slogan-screaming which is a direct incitement to hate, to separateness from the minorities, together with a sort of offensively aggressive jingoism, and then they are not just Patels or Brahmins and other communities any more; they are Hindus, an identity founded on and kept aflame by the unending rhetoric of rage.
Aiding him in this triumphal march to power has been the singularly wrong-headed, blundering reactions of the Congress and other opposition parties. Instead of thinking out equally effective, if less brutal and evil, strategies, instead of giving their campaigns a clear and sustained focus, they have chosen merely to react to whatever Modi and his goons have been saying and doing. So they wait for a Modi speech and then react, spluttering protests and indignation, convincing no one, not even themselves.
One has yet to figure out just what it is that Shankersinh Vaghela is saying, what Kamal Nath was going on about in the one or two speeches that he made there, and what the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, did there, if she did anything at all. It is as if they were all actually helping in taking the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party campaign forward. Have they no plan for the revival of Gujarat, no strong action worked out to revive the state and rid it of the obscurantist hate that has poisoned its earlier easy, friendly atmosphere'
But why pick on the Congress' There is the curious role that the media have been playing for some time ó television and the press. Virtually every news bulletin and every edition of major newspapers feature Modi and his ranting in painstaking detail. His photographs adorn the front pages; television will almost always have some excerpts of his speeches, the hate in them duly highlighted. He and he alone, it would seem, is the only factor in the elections. This is easily tested. Who knows what Shankersinh Vaghela looks like, leave alone what he is saying' Who knows who any of the other political personalities in that state are' Does any newspaper or television channel carry anything of what they are saying'
Modiís victory will be that of the media as well. They will have made him, fashioned him as the winner; one has only to see the huge crowds of cameramen and reporters who cover his every speech and public function. All this will naturally be dismissed as yet another case of shooting the messenger ó and perhaps it is, in one sense. But in one sense only. It was, and still is, open to the media to cover what the others are saying ó and they are saying something, for godís sake, and not observing a vow of silence. But they will not; that is the perception of the news editors. Modi is news, the others are not. They console themselves that they are indeed just messengers, while they are, in actual fact, taking sides, consciously or unconsciously.
Itís been demonstrated over and over again that the media have now become powerful enough to manipulate or at least to shape events. Look what Walter Cronkite did in Vietnam; how, years before that, Ed Murrow destroyed Senator Joe McCarthy. We are seeing something like that happen here; the general perception of Gujarat is being shaped by the media, and since they are convinced Modi is the man to watch, Modi is the future; Modi is, in every sense, Gujarat; whatever we see is cast in the image of Modi.
Many years later, when the Modi formula is applied with murderous effect all over the country, there will then be a hasty, and very ostentatious washing of hands, Pontius Pilate fashion. But it will be too late then; when the Nazis came to power, the media, as they were then, were full of little else. And most news editors know that hate makes good news. As, one may very well say, I have done. This article is, after all, about none other than Narendra Modi. With this one exception, that the intention here is to hold up to public scrutiny what is going on in that wretched state, once the most prosperous in the country. Given where Modi and his beasts are leading it, it will soon end up as dangerous and frightening as west Asia. But much more stable; oh, much more. We can trust Narendra Modi to ensure that.
Can things change' Not in the near future, for sure. The Congress appears a spent force, believed by few; the other parties do not matter. Keshubhai Patel sits sulking in one corner. All one can hope for is that by some incredible act of statesmanship the Central leadership will rein in Modi and his gang, and over a period of time strip him of power. They may lose out politically in the short term; but over time their actions will be seen as far-sighted and wise, and taken to strengthen the base of the fragile democracy that holds us together.