Three Misfires of Modi Blitzkrieg
Parliamentary elections of India are seeing an extremely unequal fight. On one hand is Modi-Shah combine with almost unlimited financial and media resources. On the other hand are a bunch of boys with just a few tricks and hardly any resources. It is estimated that the Modi-Shah combine is spending more than ninety per cent of the money being spent by all parties together on the elections. There is almost no television channel or social media platform that is not dominated and controlled directly or indirectly by the Modi-Shah combine. I use the term Modi-Shah combine intentionally since the party BJP has faded long into the background.
The term Blitzkrieg is defined by Encyclopedia Britannica as follows:
"Blitzkrieg, (German: "lightning war") military tactic calculated to create psychological shock and resultant disorganization in enemy forces through the employment of surprise, speed, and superiority in matériel or firepower."
Modi-Shah combine has undoubtedly unleashed a lightning war or blitzkrieg on all opponents. Modi Blitzkrieg is unprecedented and will be remembered for its scale of operations and also for the vast superiority that the combine is enjoying over every other party fighting the election.
Unfortunately for Modi-Shah combine, a blitzkrieg does not guarantee success in the war. The best of plans can go awry. Vast superiority in firepower may come to null. It is easy to analyze the mistakes of an army after the war is over. But hindsight is of no use to the generals engaged in a war after the war is history.
As a well-wisher of BJP and as someone who has long ago worked with Modi in managing an election campaign, it seems to me that it is my solemn duty to point out the misfires of the Modi Blitzkrieg before the elections become history. Hopefully, my old friends will read it and do some course corrections.
First Misfire – MAIN BHEE CHAUKIDAAR
The first misfire of Modi blitzkrieg has been the campaign "main bhee chaukidaar" (I am also a watchman). The campaign fell straight on its face. It failed to strike any emotional chord among the people of India. Yes, a few die-hard devotees of Modi changed their facebook title to include the word chaukidaar before their names. But the number was too small to make any significant impact.
One can compare this chaukidaar campaign with another failed campaign of BJP – Shining India campaign of 2004. At the time of 2004 elections, I had written the following lines:
"Every election in independent India has been fought on some slogan or the other. It, hence, comes as a great contrast that parliamentary elections of April-May 2004 are not being fought on any political slogan. Ruling alliance (called National Democratic Alliance or NDA) has instead chosen to rely on what it calls - feel good factor.
To strengthen the feel good factor, Government of India spent close to Rs. five billion on an advertising campaign that announced "India Shining". NDA leaders are shouting from rooftops that they have done more for the country in just five years than all governments of previous fifty years. According to them, India is on the way of becoming a superpower. To support their claims, they present statistics. On the other hand, their detractors either have their own statistics or claim that the progress in past five years is a result of steps initiated in the earlier years. The debate goes on.
Common man on the street looks at the warring sides with a bemused look. He understands no statistics. In fact, he does not trust statistics. He believes that all data generated by government is fudged either intentionally or inadvertently. The credibility of government machinery is eroded on one hand by immoral corrupt politicians who head the machinery, and on the other hand, by employees and officers who are too lazy, indolent and lethargic to do any serious data collection. So, no one is impressed when someone does fine hairsplitting citing increase of parameter x from 4.56 to 4.68.
Initially, when the election campaigning was just beginning, one could see on every other TV channel, so-called wise men of various parties arguing vehemently with statistics flying all around. Soon, the TV channels, and probably the parties too, realized that no one was interested in such debates.
It has been reported that LK Advani saw an advertisement of Raymond suiting with the catch-line - "Feel Heavenly" - and coined this term of feel-good. The essential difference between Raymond ad and BJP / NDA campaign is that while Raymond ad has a promise, BJP's feel-good is without a promise. Raymond ad says that if you wear Raymond suits, you will feel heavenly. The key word here is "will", which indicates future based on a condition. "India Shining" does not refer to future. It refers to present or past.
The difference between future tense and present tense is critical. Effective advertisements and political campaigns are based on hopes and dreams."
Reading the above lines, I felt that history is repeating. The chaukidaar campaign is worse than the India Shining campaign as far as “hopes and dreams” are concerned. In 2004, BJP bosses were harping on how they had done more for the country than their predecessors had done in decades. They are doing the same today. Unfortunately for them, the people of India did not believe them then and do not believe them even today. They spent billions in 2004 to make people believe. They have spent probably ten times more amount in 2019 and have failed once again.
Second Misfire – HARD HINDUTVA
Year 2019 elections have seen BJP do a historical U-turn towards hard Hindutva. To understand the U-turn one needs to understand the post-independence history of Hindu parties in India.
After independence, partition created a separate homeland for Muslims. A massive bloodbath forced millions of Hindus to flee their homelands which were declared to be part of Pakistan. While Pakistan went the path of religious identity and extremism, India became a secular country and tried to assure her Muslims that they were as much a part of India as anyone else was. Sure enough many Hindus did not like the approach which was considered a hallmark of Congress and its leaders, especially Gandhi and Nehru. As a result, a few pro-Hindu parties sprang up.
Hindu Mahasabha (HM) was a party that had been in existence even decades before independence. Akhil Bharatiya Ram Rajya Parishad (RRP) was founded in 1948 by Swami Karpatri. Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS) was founded in 1951 by RSS. In the fifties, BJS was considered a relatively moderate voice compared to the vitriolic RRP and HM. Indian voters, majority of whom are undoubtedly Hindus, rejected the extremist RRP and HM almost entirely. RRP eventually merged with BJS. HM continues to this day with practically no presence in any of the state assemblies as well as the Parliament. It may be mentioned here that Veer Savarkar (Vinayak Damodar Savarkar), who is known as the father of Hindutva was associated with HM all his life. Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee was at one time in HM, but he parted ways with HM and Veer Savarkar. In due course, Dr. Mukherjee founded BJS along with others.
BJS with its relatively moderate ideology and better educated leaders was more successful than RRP or HM. Nevertheless, it was felt that BJS would not be a significant force in Indian politics unless it adopted a more inclusive approach. BJS was merged with Janata Party in 1977. The Janata Party split in 1980 and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was formed.
BJP was supposed to be an all-inclusive party that was more moderate than even BJS. While Gandhi and Dr. Ambedkar were not acceptable to BJS, BJP embraced Gandhi as well as Dr. Ambedkar. BJP's list of great leaders initially did not include Veer Savarkar. BJP was projected as the party of Deendayal Upadhyay, Dr. Mukherjee, Gandhi and Dr. Ambedkar. BJP's ideology was not Hindutva but Gandhian socialism packaged as Integrated Humanism propounded by Deendayal Upadhyay. In the first about one and a half decades of existence of BJP, Sikander Bakht, a progressive Muslim, was part of the top leadership. Even during the heydays of Ayodhya movement, BJP leaders took care to project a moderate face. Atalbihari was surely the well acknowledged moderate universally acceptable face of BJP. But even Advani took care to never speak a word against Muslims or Christians. The elements within associates of BJP that mouthed rabid Hindutva were disowned and discredited by BJP leaders as fringe elements that did not represent the ideology of BJP. In the first decade of BJP, Veer Savarkar was an unmentionable name as far as BJP was concerned. Of course, Swami Karpatri and his RRP have been long forgotten by everyone including BJP.
Modi came to the national stage in 2013-14 projecting himself as a man committed to development. Caring for nation as a whole without any special positive or negative treatment to any section or community was the ideology that Modi represented in the true tradition of BJP. Almost three and a half decades of insistence by BJP leaders that they were committed to broad national development worked. In 2014, people were convinced that BJP was not a repackaged version of either HM or RRP. Of course, all this while Congress and other parties continued to accuse BJP of being essentially a camouflaged Hindutva party.
Apparently, as the campaign for 2019 general elections started unfolding, Modi-Shah combine lost confidence in their economic policies and development agenda. Knowledge of history is not their strong point. They did not have the benefit of guidance from senior leaders like Advani who have been sidelined or pushed into retirement. Under attack from various quarters due to failed demonetization and botched up implementation of GST, the combine sought refuge in rabble-rousing of hard Hindutva. Surely, they did not know that they were moving away from all that BJP (or even Jan Sangh, earlier) had tried to project for almost four decades.
The U-turn by Modi-Shah combine towards HM or RRP is not just a misfire. It is a volley of self-focused fire power that has the potential to destroy the political ideological framework which brought electoral gains for BJP in the past four decades.
Third Misfire – THE GRAND INTERVIEW
It was supposed to be a non-political interview. It lasted for 67 minutes, too long by any standards. The interviewer was well-known film star named Akshay Kumar. Questions were carefully chosen to not make Modi uncomfortable. Modi was at his best – relaxed, composed, confident. Every single news channel of the country carried it. And it was also available on various internet platforms.
Modi devotees (bhakts) were ecstatic after the interview. Some of my friends sent me links asking me to see the grand performance by their Lord.
Yet, the grand interview, in my humble view was a misfire and a disaster. Purpose of any promotional activity or advertisement is not to send one’s believers into ecstasy. One need not spend one's resources on one's own believers. One must strive to convince the fence-sitters to move towards one's side. The grand interview was an utter failure in this regard.
To most non-believers and fence-sitters, the grand interview gave the impression of a man trying too hard. Modi was seen as going overboard. Some of the statements made by Modi in the grand interview did not seem correct. For example, his reference to conversations with President Obama was plainly unconvincing. His reference to his poor past did not create any sympathy or appreciation for him. He was seen as flaunting his past. Instead of evoking empathy, the grand interview led to derision.
In simple terms, Modi lost credibility significantly after the grand interview. While the bhakts were dancing with joy, everyone else was either smirking or making fun of the man who seemed too desperate to come back to power.
The three misfires of Modi Blitzkrieg may not have destroyed the Modi-Shah campaign completely. No denying that the Blitzkrieg is a significant force even today. And there is also no doubt that the combine has no challenger worth the name. I wish them all the best and hope that they learn from the misfires. More importantly, there are lessons that each of us can learn from the misfires. I leave it to you to learn the lessons as you wish.