Sunday, 21 September 2014

Bechara's of the world triumph - always; Why bypolls went the way they did.

Most of us would have heard or read this story before but its relevance to the current situation makes a retelling necessary.

A sword smith came to the King’s durbar (any King, let’s be secular) and declared that he had the world’s best sword. It was so good & sharp that it could pierce any shield, repeat any shield in the world.  The claim was tested on the few shields available and when found to be true, the King became happy, and as usually happens in such stories, gave a lot of gold and other jewels to the smith and sent him off.

A year or two later, the smith came to the King’s court again, this time brandishing a shield which, he claimed, no sword in the world could pierce. The people were simple in those days and he was believed.  The King was about to be relieved of some more gold and gems but then, one smart Ram Singh remembered the sword that the smith had sold earlier. He got up and reminded the king of the impossibility of both claims being true and asked the smith to test his earlier claim against the current one.

The smith pleaded innocence to begin with but shortly realized he had tried to be too clever by half and caught in the act, appealed for mercy. The King, as they usually did in those times, ordered for his beheading.

Okay! Not beheading, to be politically correct, say, execution. Also a disclaimer, “Any association of the above story with a activist turned politician of Delhi is unintended.”

When it comes to assessing the results of bypolls held in August – September 2014 and comparing with justifications expounded for May 2014 victory by BJP, Indian media is in the same situation. Sometimes it ties itself in knots in it’s attempts to explain as to how a voter who wanted development in May voted for harbingers of darker days just three months later. Other times it is at loss to explain as to how the voter which was remarkably communal to vote BJP in May turned suddenly coy or secular four months later.

Election analysis is not a simple 2+2=4 exercise. An analyst would be willing to give an arm and a
leg to find out what is going on in the voter’s mind. At the minimum, the decision of each individual voter is a result of interaction between several (probably hundreds) nuggets of information about candidates’, perception of parties’ and leaders’ worthiness, own social & religious beliefs & identities, agendas which appeal to the his or her current socio - economic standing and aspirations, understanding of problems faced by the country state, city, community or the individual, pressures from community leaders taking political stands, association with the imagery of electoral personalities,  actual or perceived threats – whether social, economic or communal, individual political orientation etc. etc. 

But the media would try to dumb it down to more convenient equations of caste and religion, incumbency or anti incumbency and sometimes even deriding the thought that some people would have voted on purely economic or aspirational considerations.  Since it is difficult to believe that media does not understand the complex interaction of all these pulls which tug at the voters mind, it would be safe to conclude that it considers us, the public, the viewer and the reader unworthy of understanding a detailed explanation or analysis of the election results. Like we, the right wingers sometimes believe about the imbecility of Bengalis and Tamils, just because they don’t vote for BJP!

Now, permit me to add another ingredient to the concoction.

The concept of Bechara in Indian politics is ages old, but not explained or exploited to its potential. The word Bechara has many translations in English; few of them being poor, wretch, destitute, or a victim. None of them, individually do justice to the word, though, a combination of all these translations would be closer to the real meaning.

But, an anecdote first.

It was just after 2004 assembly elections that our newly elected MLA from Badshahpur, Gurgaon came to our society to thank us for voting for him and reminisced about his journey from nomination to victory.

Chaubisi was my first hurdle. I knew that the moment Chaubisi accepts my candidature, I would win in Badshahpur. During the discussions in the Chaubisi panchayat, the pradhan of my village pointed to me and said, “Iska kya karna hai. Bechara kab se khada hai (What is to be done to him? The poor guy is standing since long.”

That moment I knew I would become an MLA. My political guru had told me long back that one’s electoral chances depended more on been called a ‘bechara’ than anything else. He was right. Chaubisi called me a ‘bechara’ and here I am.

* Chaubisi is a conglomeration of 24 village panchayats (sometimes more, sometimes less) which works as a community local court, also commonly called Khap.

The concept of ‘bechara’ is different from the sympathy wave. A sympathy wave is a one time event, needs a big, momentous upheaval and is mostly result of some assassination or at least an untimely death. On the other hand, bechara is a more like a victimization index which keeps going up or down continuously, like the price of a share on BSE. Higher the victimization index, better the chances of winning.

Let’s apply this concept to Uttar Pradesh and compare the situations during Parliamentary elections conducted in May 14 and bypolls held in Sept 14.

In the run-up to Parliamentary elections, UP is governed by Samajwadi Party, perceived as an outfit which openly favors Muslims. In the Mujaffarnagar riots, cases are filed against Hindutva leaders but the Muslim offenders are taken to Lucknow in a government plane. UP team is led by Amit Shah who has been harassed by CBI in the case of encounter of Ishrat Jehan who is popularly believed to be a terrorist accomplice. The campaign is led by Narendra Modi who has been vilified for a period of 12 years for a riot which could have passed off quietly in UP or Bihar or Assam. In short, BJP and its leaders are seen as victims of an oppressive pseudo secular dispensation at centre as well as state. As a result of all of this, the index of victimization or ‘becharahood’ is in favor of BJP and its leaders. 

Results are for everyone to see.

By the time by-elections happened, BJP leaders, Yogi Adiyanath, Sakshi Maharaj and others have adopted strident positions and are attacking the state governments on daily basis. Mujaffarnagar riot accused are out and trying to conduct Aartis in their respective constituencies. The victims of oppression have become aggressors expounding the concept to Love Jehad while the poor young CM with his back to the wall was trying to fight off the Hindutva wolves. The changed optics shifted the index of victimhood towards the poor CM called Akhilesh Yadav.

And the result is for everyone to see.

This hypothesis acquits itself equally well on the Bihar bypolls. When the blasts were happening near the rally stage and Nitish was seen as a traitor who had wrecked a 17 year old alliance, BJP wore the victim’s crown. When Nitish had been trounced, BJP became too strong, the victim had to be someone who had suffered. And the crown found Laloo as the natural successor.

What is to be remembered is that the victimhood is just one of the factors, sometimes dominant, sometimes not, but always has the power to affect an electoral verdict.

Playing victim is an established political tool. There are political outfits who have converted the art of playing victimhood into a political ploy. Remember, “Main to Chhota Aadmi hoon’? Everytime someone would slap leaders of this dispensation, their collection from donation would take a jump. Eveytime the outfit received a setback, the donation graph would look like an ECG during a heart attack.

I hope that someday, a psephologist succeeds in converting this perceived victimhood into an index or number which can be measured and used in electoral calculations.  

By the way, victimhood index of Uddhav Thakre, as on date, is very low. I have no calculation to support this, it is only a hunch.

Follow me at @maheshjagga on twitter.

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