Herald View: Over to us, the people of India

Half-way through the Lok Sabha elections, all certainties of a decisive BJP victory have evaporated, at the very least

Have we spoken our minds loudly enough? (photo: @ECISVEEP/X)
Have we spoken our minds loudly enough? (photo: @ECISVEEP/X)

Herald View

At the half-way point in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections — with voting done and dusted for three phases, accounting for 285 seats — it looks like the battle has opened up. At the very least, all the certainties of a decisive BJP victory have evaporated, and people are wondering what, if anything, remains in the ruling party’s bag of dirty tricks.

The people know who has the money and muscle: remember electoral bonds? They know the Opposition does not: remember the frozen Congress bank accounts? They’ve heard Prime Minister Modi’s speeches on the campaign trail — the mangalsutra invocation in Banswara, Rajasthan, must still ring in their ears.

They know that elected chief ministers have been jailed in the run-up to these elections. They have a fair sense of how scrupulously fair the umpire is — despite “mangalsutra” and other such flagrantly communal exhortations on the campaign trail, for the Election Commission of India (ECI), Prime Minister Modi can do no wrong, he is too holy to be even censured...

By now, the people surely know, naysayers and diehards included, that there is a certain desperation in the BJP’s bravado. They may still be sceptical of election analyses (by independent media) that sniff change in the air, but they also know better than to pay heed to mainstream media’s lap dance.

Chances are the people, we, who vote and send these people up to Parliament, have had quite enough of all this and want a break. Chances are the people want to return to their everyday concerns — the elusive job, the precarious livelihood, the bulldozed home, making ends meet and managing household budgets as prices soar and other such mundane necessities.

Even those not fully convinced of the political alternative to the current regime. We won’t know for sure, not until 4 June, when results are out, if We, the People, spoke our minds clearly enough.

While we wait in this electoral purgatory, suspended somewhere between fear and hope, the fascist juggernaut rolls on, gleefully crushing anything in its way. As in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, for example. Both the states have been BJP strongholds for decades and nobody expected the Opposition to make a dent here.

The BJP has been winning the Surat and Indore Lok Sabha seats since 1984 and it was expected to win both these seats comfortably. And yet, they lured or threatened all other candidates to withdraw in these two constituencies so that the BJP candidate could win uncontested.

It was less successful in Indore because an obdurate Left candidate wouldn’t yield. He later told the media that he, along with other Independents, was detained in the collectorate and forced to take calls from sundry BJP leaders from Bhopal and New Delhi, who asked him to name his price to withdraw from the contest.

The Congress candidate in Indore, a businessman, was whisked away to the collectorate and forced to withdraw from the contest on the last day. A local court had allegedly reopened a 17-year-old case related to a land dispute and included an ‘attempt to murder’ charge (a non-bailable offence) against him and summoned him to appear before the court during the election. The businessman capitulated and joined the BJP.

In Gandhinagar, where Union home minister Amit Shah is the BJP candidate — he won in 2019 with a margin of 5.5 lakh votes — police and local BJP officials pressured Congress candidate Sonal Patel to withdraw. When she refused, police called up her supporters and threatened to frame them in false cases unless they stopped campaigning.

BJP workers physically prevented Patel from engaging with people and forced her to leave various localities. They were reportedly under instructions to ensure that Shah doubled his victory margin and set a ‘world record’.

If the BJP still finds itself on the backfoot, despite all these attempts to lure, gag and intimidate the Opposition, it is possibly less because of the Opposition and more because the people have had it with their divide-and-rule ways. They have been fighting with songs, memes, cartoons and comedy.

On the other hand, turnouts have been low and experts can’t agree on how to read this, except to say that this is a ‘waveless’ election. If there is a pattern to the voters’ apparent lack of enthusiasm — if, as one theory goes, the fence-sitters are sitting it out — not many are hazarding a guess, yet, on who will pay the price for voter indifference. If change is what people want, it may not be good enough to run the BJP close — the reasons hardly bear repetition.

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