In a recent issue of a bestselling, mainstream Indian magazine, the cover story was titled, The Modi Machine- inside the most audacious Prime Ministerial campaign so far and the editorial concluded by saying, “Just like Arvind Kejriwal had changed Indian politics last December by showing an alternative, anti- netagiri route to power, Modi is changing how elections are fought in India by introducing a new style of campaigning with a combination of meticulous planning and technology. In his last state election, he introduced a 3D holographic speech beamed to 53 locations simultaneously. This time, he’s started his virtual chai chats in 1000 locations. He got onto social media when other parties thought Twitter was the sound of a bird and Facebook was a cosmetic. The day is not far when voters will seek a presidential-style debate between the principal contenders at every level. Regardless of who wins, Modi has changed the way campaigns are conducted forever. It’s all for the better.”
And the inside story, had to say this about the other side, “The Rahul Gandhi campaign, in comparison, seems tired, confused, and forever trying to play catch-up. His team woke up to social media late in the day, and the thrust of their online effort has been restricted to getting manifesto inputs… The party is yet to wake up to the tools critical for modern wave-building.”
And this tone pervades most of the mainstream media’s coverage of the build-up to the upcoming elections. And they all seem to be making this argument that a depoliticized technocracy – comprised of investment bankers, IT experts, techwhiz- kids and the bureaucracy – is the one who should be setting the agendas for our democracy, and have already held the populist- nationalist-jingoist frenzy worked up by the Modi election machinery as the only legitimate voice of the people of the country. This is what occurs, town after town, rally after rally inside the “most audacious election campaign”- Modi’s speeches fall into a pattern to best connect with the basest sentiments of his diverse audiences. They begin by reminding his listeners that they are a glorious people by speaking a few lines in their language… and finally conclude with another vociferous invocation of why his listeners should be proud of who they are. “Main Somnath ki bhoomi se Jagannath ki Bhoomi mein aaya hoon (I have come from Somnath’s land to Jagannath’s land),” he said in Bhubaneshwar, referring to the Hindu temple in Puri. “Jai Jagannath!” Modi thundered, and the crowd roared back even louder, “Jai Jagannath!” If such easy jingoism qualifies for “audacity”, there seems to be no room left for truly audacious deliberations, fundamental questionings or radical and structural re-imaginings of a system, which has so far failed its teeming majority. And for a country, where opinion polls have already predicted a significant victory for Modi, we might have already failed ourselves.
In contrast, Rahul Gandhi and his campaign has been mellow, has tried to talk about critical issues in a sustained manner (speaking repeatedly about women’s empowerment, Right to Information or Right to Education is perhaps more audacious than shouting ‘Jai Jagannath’ and ‘Jai Bangla’ at the drop of a hat), has tried to bring up issues that don’t just concern the privileged middle and upper middle classes, but also the vast majority of oppressed classes and his recent, much talked about and much ridiculed interview with Arnab Goswami, also needs to be re-looked and re-assessed in a different light.
But having said all of that, if we were to silently re-examine the true co-ordinates of the cross roads, that we, as a nation find ourselves at today, perhaps we wouldn’t know which road to take. Cynics and critics have often spoken about the democratic illusion, where most often, the only choice we have is between a centre-right party and a centre-left party, with no real differences in their post election programmes. While that may be true, it’s also true, that we are indeed at a crossroads today and that we have to choose and we don’t have too many choices.
The morning ragas are known for their quiet solemnity and peacefulness, and evoking them on the cover is just an optimistic and aesthetic take on the humane and endearing hopefulness echoed by a certain Ra Ga as opposed to the ‘Na Mo Machine’, but the cover story is a deeper analysis of the entire sound-scape of a nation standing at a crucial juncture.
After writing the cover story, Saswat sent this email to me, which I think is important that I share with all our readers here, and it said, “If you want to discard it, just trash it. I am well aware of how a pro-Congress (not to mention a pro-”dynasty”) story will be perceived in these times. Kindle will immediately be called a “paid media” by the audience. I know that my readers (including my father) will find it hard to believe that I wrote a piece praising Sonia and Rahul…I mean I could have remained just silent than to support a regime amply proven to be a corrupt one. However, I did grapple with that quite a bit before delving into it and when I see the only two leaders we have to choose from are Modi and Gandhi, I said to myself, are you kidding me… For me, it is simply heartbreaking to see that Modi is leading a contest, for which he should have been disqualified, from the start. In its modern history, India has indeed reached an all-time low. The truth is so far as parliamentary politics is concerned, from the left parties to the BSP, they have all aligned themselves with the BJP in the past from time to time. So the Gandhi family is still the one I will trust when it comes to seeing Modi defeated. This article was more out of such desperation than out of anything else.
But I do understand that the stakes are much higher for a magazine, which prides in critical reflective journalism. It cannot afford to be emotional, forgiving and be partisan during a politically sensitive time. Most of its traditional readers will perceive such a piece less as a national-interest story and more as a sycophant version. So if you want to drop it, just go ahead.”
Well, we haven’t dropped the story, and I hope that our readers can locate it in its true context and not question our independence.