TINA Is Dead, For Now
For those who are not in regular touch with Indian politics, TINA stands for "there is no alternative". Around five decades ago, when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister, TINA was used by Congressmen pointing to the splintered opposition. After the end of Indira era, the TINA factor seemed to have faded away even though almost every prime minister gained from TINA to some extent. However, in the last decade BJP and followers of Modi have leaned more and more on TINA pointing to Rahul Gandhi as the other alternative that no one seems to want.
Sure enough, Rahul Gandhi, even though at times he talks extremely sensible, is inclined to commit faux pas and to put his foot squarely in his mouth. But the way every single faux pas of Rahul Gandhi is blown up on the social media with short video clips and memes, it cannot be denied that there are organized efforts to blow it all up and project the man as a babbling idiot. Well, the efforts have been successful and Rahul Gandhi (RG) has practically been finished as a serious contender for the post of PM of India. And in this success lies the biggest danger to Modi and BJP.
In economics and practically in every field of life there is the law of marginal utility. One can flog a horse so much and no more. The discredit-RG strategy has been exploited by BJP to the maximum extent possible. Any further attempts to show RG in poor light are in fact either useless or even counterproductive. When you keep abusing a man for more than ten years, a point comes when people start sympathising with him. The point was reached some time back for RG.
Results of recently-concluded assembly elections in West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam etc. have shown that Congress and RG have ceased to be a significant force in national politics of India. No, they are not dead! It is just that they are no longer a player of much significant weight at the national level. While this has thrown up existential questions for Congressmen, the bigger problem is for BJP and Modi.
With the sun setting on Congress and RG, BJP and Modi have lost their key campaign target. Of course, there is huge amount of material being churned out highlighting the big devil that Congress is and the slips that RG is inclined to commit every now and then. This is flogging a dead horse.
If Congress is not in the picture, the line-up against Modi is similar to the opposition that Indira Gandhi faced during the early seventies – vociferous but splintered. However, there are two key differences - (a) during 1971-75, Congress was ruling in most of the states (in addition to the Centre) and opposition had hardly any states under its control (b) Indira Gandhi had the benefit of having achieved a decisive victory in the 1971 war against Pakistan. In contrast, Modi’s position is indeed precarious. While presently, BJP and allies rule over states with about half of the country's population, during 1971-75, Congress ruled over states with more than 85% of the country's population. Allies of Congress at that time were insignificant and had hardly any voice. The same cannot be said of BJP's allies today. If the sun starts setting for BJP, the allies are likely to be the first to desert the party. BJP has already lost Akali Dal and Shiv Sena, its traditional allies. One cannot also forget the fact that in some states BJP is ruling on the strength of defectors whom it has lured using dubious means.
Adverse effects of the 1971 India-Pakistan war on Indian economy had led to widespread unrest among the youth in mid-seventies which forced an insecure Mrs. Gandhi to impose emergency. Excesses of emergency and also, most probably, the disdain of Indian mind for arrogance and dictatorship led to the bad defeat of Indira Gandhi in 1977. Yes, coming together of all opposition parties under the banner of Janata Party played an important role. But it cannot be denied that in the landslide victory of 1977, dislike for Indira played bigger role than any love for the new-formed party.
Hatred, anger and dislike are strong emotions – Congress learnt it the hard way in 1977. In electoral politics of India, about 5-10% of voters developing intense dislike for a party can bring about its total debacle. Bharatiya Janata Party garnered 37.4% of the polled votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and got 303 seats. If the vote percentage falls by 5-10%, the number of seats of BJP may be less than 100. It may be interesting to point out that despite the historical rout in 1977, Congress had garnered 34.52% of votes in parliamentary elections of 1977 and had secured 153 seats.
The post-war economic shocks of early seventies were minor compared to the devastating effects of harsh lockdowns imposed in the country from last week of March 2020. And to top it all, has been the second wave of Covid-19 which has led to more deaths in a matter of about eight weeks than any catastrophe or tragedy in independent India. In a short time, it seems that every Indian has lost about five persons from his / her known circle of friends, relatives and neighbours. This is an emotional shock that is unprecedented. The heart-wrenching stories which came from hospitals, cremation grounds, burial grounds etc. added to the pain.
Human beings are emotional animals. They generally do not think rationally. During 1971-75, the people did not link rising prices and economic hardships to victory in the war with Pakistan. It is not surprising that the people of India in the year 2021 are not willing to pay any heed to the innumerable explanations that India’s ruling party is trying to put forth. Unfortunately for the BJP and Modi, the images of election rallies and Kumbh Mela have been followed by the images of burning pyres. It is a well-known weakness of human mind that if P is followed by Q in time, the conclusion is that P is the cause of Q. Logicians say that causal is assumed when temporal relationship is visible even if there is no evidence of causality. So, one cannot fault people of India for thinking that Modi's election rallies, Kumbh Mela and panchayat elections of Uttar Pradesh have caused the second wave of Covid-19 in India. One does not know whether the people of India are right or wrong. When it comes to elections and democracy, right and wrong do not seem to matter. People vote by their emotions. Every political party of India surely knows that.
It is difficult to make any categorical statement about emotions of people of India since India is a diverse country. There are, of course, the die-hard followers or devotees of Modi who are bound to vote for him irrespective of anything that has happened or might happen. But, for a sizable percentage of the population the deaths of near and dear ones during the past two months and economic shocks of past year have stirred strong emotions against the ruling party or Modi-Shah combo. These people are willing to vote for anyone as long as it is not BJP. This is not much different from the anti-Indira sentiment of year 1977 in North India.
In 1977, it was easy for the people since the alternative was clearly identifiable and well-defined. Presently, the alternative is not clear. BJP is using the absence of alternative to stress on TINA. But that is not cutting much ice. The people who are angry with Modi are not willing to be pushed into voting for Modi despite the absence of a clear alternative at the national level. For a large number of people, emotions of hatred, anger, dislike and disdain are so strong that they will vote for anyone who is likely to defeat the BJP candidate. At times, they might even shift from the party, that they usually support, to a new one to only ensure defeat of BJP candidate. This was seen recently in elections in West Bengal where the voters, who traditional voted for Communist Party, shifted en masse to TMC to ensure defeat of BJP.
In 1977, Congress had managed to secure 153 seats since South India had stood solidly with Congress. As it stands today, BJP is ruling on its own in only Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, and a few small states. In Bihar, Assam, Haryana and some small states the party is ruling with support of allies. It is unlikely that any block of states will stand as solidly with BJP as South India stood with Congress in 1977.
On one hand BJP faces a lack of strong block of backer states and on the other hand is the rising percentage of people who would rather vote for the Devil than vote for someone who will bring Modi-Shah combo back to power. BJP’s twin strategies of discrediting RG and taking steps to please its hardcore Hindutva brigade are both working against the party. None of these is helping reduce the number of people with strong negative emotions against Modi-Shah. In fact, the strategies may to some extent be helping increase the negative emotions. It has also not helped that the centralized style of working of Modi-Shah duo has led to either eclipse or collapse of local leadership of BJP in most states. Puppet soldiers may put up a great show when one has to present a performance; but when it comes to real war they are of no use.
There is no denying that in the years ahead, BJP under the leadership of Modi-Shah will face a real war. I most sincerely and humbly request my friends in BJP (and RSS) to get it clear in their heads that with the rising swell of emotions against Modi-Shah Government, poor little TINA is unlikely to be of any use to them in the forthcoming elections in the next few years. It will be wise for them to assume that TINA is dead, for now.