Friday, May 09, 2014

Why NaMo is top-of-the-pops.

Our Founding Fathers made two monumental mistakes when power was transferred from the British Emperor to the Indian Government of India in August 1947.

Monumental mistake #1: They opted for universal franchise without universal literacy.

Monumental mistake #2: they did not dismantle the then prevailing framework and mindset of Feudalism before ushering in Democracy. Equally important, they did not bother to upgrade the bureaucracy set up by the British to serve the aims of the Imperialistic reign of subjugating and controlling the citizenry, of “keeping them in their proper place” at any cost as well as of extracting an annual tribute (“drain”) of £30 million (roughly Rs.450 million in contemporary exchange terms) in the reckoning of Dadabhai Naoroji (1825 -1917). (By the by, in Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith dubbed the British Rulers “plunderers of India”.

In 1952, around 85% of the eligible voters in India’s first General Election – most  of whom still lived in abysmal poverty in the countryside − were angutha chchaap: they could neither read nor write. Ma-baap Sarkar, a legacy from the British Rulers, was the only political metaphor they understood and could relate to. The Indian National Congress won hands down. The 15% literate middle class had almost no say in the matter.

How different is the scenario at the time of the 2014 General Elections to constitute the 16th Lok Sabha?

Increasing urbanization particularly after globalization has swelled the ranks of the urban middle class. They want better living conditions, more jobs, better governance, less − if not zilch − corruption, decisive leadership, less inequality. The omnipresence of television, the Internet and mobile phones has further fuelled these burgeoning aspirations. The BJP seems to be the party of choice of Middle India.

Like it or not, admit it or not, NaMo = BJP as of this moment. The personality cult for which it is fashionable to criticize the Congress is very much alive and kicking away merrily in the BJP. NaMo demolished every likely rival within the Party using tactics almost identical to the Indira Gandhi gambit against The Syndicate in the winter of 1969. Employing IT imaginatively and extensively, he has been successful in reaching to, and enrolling for his cause, the urban (mostly middle class) youth.

The World Bank defines poverty as survival on less than $1.25 per day (2005 purchasing power parity) and says that, between 1981 and 2005, poverty in India dipped from 60% of the population to 42%. The number in 2010 was 33% (about 400 million people). There is much dispute about the veracity of the Government of India and World Bank statistics. After making allowance for population growth in the interim, there appears to have been very little progress on the poverty alleviation front since 1947 – certainly nothing to boast about with claims like “India Shining”. The UPA-II efforts to alleviate poverty (Public Distribution System, Integrated Rural Development Program, Jawahar Rozgar Yojana and Training Rural Youth for Self Employment) have met with very limited success.

As for literacy, UNICEF tells us that between 2008 and 2012, 62.8% of Indians aged 15 years and over were able to read and write. The literacy rates in the age group 15 – 24 years for the same time span were 88.4% (male) and 74.4% (female).  The net primary school enrolment rate for 2008 – 2011 was 98.6%. It looks like the 2014 General Elections have a literate electorate. Does it mean that it will be a conscientious electorate?

Ironically though, if Middle India’s aspirations are contemporary, many from their ranks still respond to Feudalistic overtures: religion, caste, social status, respect for authority and the pecking order among others. NaMo seems to have understood this characteristic of the electorate well. To assure them that he means business, he talks down to them like a decisive leader. Every election speech is a diatribe, a raging tirade. 

He blunders on declaring that the elections are for  the 14th Lok Sabha in a rally in Gumla (Jharkhand); linking Chandragupta Maurya with the Gupta dynasty, giving Biharis credit for halting the victorious onslaught of Alexander and relocating Taxila in Bihar – all these in a Patna rally; bumping off Shyama Prasad Mookherji, Jan Sangh’s founder, in 1930 in London in a Kheda (Gujarat) meeting (in fact, he died in a Jammu & Kashmir prison in 1953); and changing Gandhi’s first name to “Mohanlal” in a Punjab rally.

The NaMo juggernaut thunders on regardless. His fans don’t seem to care about his historical inaccuracies. They have been brought up listening to lies and false promises mouthed by politicians. They want to believe in someone. That someone happens to be NaMo. His Gujarat governance record is not bad. His role in the 2002 riots seems to have been forgiven. His style of dealing with problems seems decisive. The saviour has been found at last. NaMo is the one.

All hail NaMo. Bow to NaMo. Kowtow to NaMo. There is no alternative left.