THE HINDU EDITORIAL : DECEMBER 21, 2017

 

A pixelated campaign

Election time as a ritual often presents a split-level reality. The contest, the struggle, the battle, the debates provide an epic panorama of possibilities. One can think and wish aloud as the battle rages but election day is a time for closure. It is not the magic of the battle that counts but the banal score. Results are a narrowing down of the world into real articulations. Hopes and wishes disappear by the morning of counting day.

Prediction and reality

The Gujarat election of 2017 was a classic illustration of this paradigm. Even as the results were being touted local, commentators and pollsters were proclaiming a Congress surprise. But as the numbers came in, hopes of the Congress went down. The standard exaggerations between Rahul Gandhi as a naïve Boy Scout and the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine as professional came into play. The tentativeness of the last few weeks was forgotten and Mr. Modi was once more the constant refrain. The picture has become critically different. It is not possibilities but numbers that are recorded. Suddenly, Mr. Gandhi is read in a different way. He is not a recharged leader bringing a fresh look to the Congress, but a Johnny-come-lately, a Rip Van Winkle who got up too late. Mr. Gandhi might be tactically precocious but Mr. Shah and the RSS are the classic strategists. Mr. Gandhi is labelled an amateur and Modi-Shah professionalism is re-emphasised. One must stress on one event. As commentaries and broadcast go this year, election coverage was the weakest one has seen. There was no sense of camaraderie between experts, no attempt to explain the magic of elections. Explanations were bland and experts blander. In fact, commentators became hagiographers, a chorus of admiration for Mr. Modi as the results became clearer. As the morning drew to a close, one sensed a stereotyping of the two parties.

Targetting Hardik

The butt of the attack was not Mr. Gandhi, but Hardik Patel. Commentators felt Mr. Gandhi was naïve to have emphasised the importance of personalities. As personalities go, Mr. Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mewani attracted attention. They were the toast of the press for playing out the dissatisfaction against development. But as results trickled in, there was a sense that all three were only personas, not people-centred politicians who built elaborate networks. They sounded like false echoes against Mr. Shah’s style. Two aspects were severely criticised. They were described as attention-grabbers, not vote-converters, openers without the finishing touch. Second, their timing was poor. One cannot instigate a battle a few months before elections and expect effective results. The election drama was no time for Twenty20 experts when aficionados of the five-day Test had already taken control. Time had become a disadvantage for the new trio. There was also a sense that the magic of development had remained durable for the urban voter. For the urban and semi-urban voter, the promise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) held and worked. Even Surat, where demonetisation had devastated the economy, returned the BJP almost full house. Urban was the magic word for the BJP, while the Congress had to be content with its tribal, farm and youth following. Even here, it is clear that years of RSS work in the tribal areas might one day nibble away this constituency. The Congress, once a coral reef of coalitions, suddenly seemed even more vulnerable. For the commentators, the moral of the story was that while individuals create instant drama, they lack the epic pull of interests. Interest, not individuals and ideologues, is the gold standard of Gujarat politics. Anger and dissatisfaction might surface occasionally, but interest is the cement that guarantees votes. This, many admitted, was wisdom straight from Mr. Shah’s political handbook of elections. They added that when it comes to delivery, Mr. Modi is a believable Father Christmas while the electorate reads Mr. Gandhi as merely promising. His promise is only a hypothesis next to the formidable interest clusters Mr. Shah has built over the years. One also sensed that memory was a major factor. It was not anti-incumbency that was a major theme. On the contrary, most people could hardly remember the last time the Congress was in power. Mr. Gandhi and the Congress might be good at articulating Patel distress, but when push came to shove, they lacked the confidence as delivery boys of politics. Memory affected other perceptions. While Congress rode on the myth of poverty, BJP rule had seen a decline in overt poverty. Or to put it more sociologically, one realises that inequality had increased but poverty had declined. This was particularly true of the urban voter who loved “achhe din” while destitution was restricted to tribals and peasantry where the Congress campaign was more effective. The Congress, it was felt, had to rework itself to reclaim urban middle-class India.

Congress vs RSS

There was also a sense that Mr. Gandhi’s Congress and its campaign were considered superficial. It was not just their emphasis on personality or short-term scenarios, it was also that by emphasising individuals, the Congress had no sense of organisations, institutions of memory. It could not match the years of sustained work the RSS had put in, like the worker bees of election politics. The shakha could bury itself into a society for decades and wait for its efforts to work. The Congress lacked this sense of the politics of duration. The only sense of time it had was genealogical, but genealogies cut little ice in terms of organisational planning and history. Despite all this, one had to admit that the BJP goal of 150 of 182 seats was distant. Yet one also realises that 150 for Mr. Shah is not a number; it is a clarion call to battle which motivates his workers. If they fall a bit short they admit they came close to the impossible. If the miracle is occasionally achieved, the myth of the BJP’s invincibility becomes more resonant. One realises that the basic campaign the BJP is fighting — a mix of middle-class, development and a lovely veneer of Hindutva works for the party. The party has read the sociology right. The new urban voter is the darling of BJP posters. Even their sense of psychology appears immaculate. They realise that regimes produce moments of discontent, but discontentment as a phenomenon is fragile. It appears dramatically, but it takes hard work to convert discontentment to votes. The BJP realises that the Indian voter might be quick to react but he is slow to change. The BJP is better at local homework. A lot of this remains invisible to the media, but it is this that produces the stuff of electoral politics. Amit Shah can rest content that he is still the master of interests and everydayness. He is still the Machiavelli warding off Congress Boy Scouts. Yet, the BJP cannot afford to be complacent. It is still rolling as a juggernaut but at times the ride looks rickety and vulnerable. It senses, like other practitioners, that society is changing, that new configurations and interests are appearing, new dialects of politics are being born. The present is safe in its hands, but the future might prove the trickster it cannot defeat.

WORDS/VOCABULARY

1) Split-level

Meaning: (of a building) having a room or rooms higher than others by less than a whole storey.

Example: “a large split-level house”

Synonyms: Two-level

2) Panorama

Meaning: An unbroken view of the whole region surrounding an observer; a complete survey or presentation of a subject.

Example: “the galleries will offer a full panorama of 20th–century art”

Synonyms: Overview, Aspect

3) Banal

Meaning: So lacking in originality as to be obvious and boring.

Example: “songs with banal, repeated words”

Synonyms: Trite, Clinched

Antonyms: Original

4) Articulations

Meaning: The action of putting into words an idea or feeling.

Example: “it would involve the articulation of a theory of the just war”

Synonyms: Expression, Communication

5) Proclaiming

Meaning: Announce officially or publicly; indicate clearly.

Example: “the government’s chief scientific adviser proclaimed that the epidemic was under control”

Synonyms: Declare, Announce

6) Exaggerations

Meaning: A statement that represents something as better or worse than it really is.

Example: “it would be an exaggeration to say I had morning sickness, but I did feel queasy”

Synonyms: Overstatement, Magnification

7) Tentativeness

Meaning: (of a plan or idea) not certain or agreed, or (of a suggestion or action) said or done in a careful but uncertain way because you do not know if you are right.

Example: I have tentative plans to take a trip to Seattle in July.

Synonyms: Unsettled, Uncertainty

Antonyms: Definite

8) Refrain

Meaning: Stop oneself from doing something.

Example: “she refrained from comment”

Synonyms: Abstain, Withhold

9) Johnny-come-lately

Meaning: A newcomer to or late starter at a particular place or sphere of activity.

Example: “I’m exposed to the public as a Johnny-come-lately to the scene”

10) Precocious

Meaning: (of a child) having developed certain abilities or inclinations at an earlier age than is usual or expected.

Example: “a precocious, solitary boy”

Synonyms: Advanced, Ahead

Antonyms: Backward, Slow

11) Amateur

Meaning: A person who is contemptibly inept at a particular activity.

Example: “that bunch of stumbling amateurs”

Synonyms: Bugler, Incompetent

Antonyms: Expert

12) Camaraderie

Meaning: Mutual trust and friendship among people who spend a lot of time together.

Example: “the enforced camaraderie of office life”

Synonyms: Friendship, Fellowship

13) Blander

Meaning: Lacking strong features or characteristics and therefore uninteresting.

Example: “bland, mass-produced pop music”

Synonyms: Uninteresting, Boring

Antonyms: Interesting, Stimulating

14) Hagiographers

Meaning: A biographer who treats their subject with undue reverence; a writer of the lives of the saints.

15) Stereotyping

Meaning: View or represent as a stereotype.

Example: the city is too easily stereotyped as an industrial wasteland”

Synonyms: Typecast, categorize

Antonyms: Unconventional, Original

16) Trickled

Meaning: Come or go slowly or gradually.

Example: “the first members of the congregation began to trickle in”

Synonyms: Slow, Gradual

Antonyms: Suddenly, Speed

17) Instigate

Meaning: Incite someone to do something, especially something bad.

Example: “instigating men to refuse allegiance to the civil powers”

Synonyms: Incite, Encourage

Antonyms: Dissuade

18) Aficionados

Meaning: A person who is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about an activity, subject, or pastime.

Example: “a crossword aficionado”

Synonyms: Authority, Expert

19) Devastated

Meaning: Cause (someone) severe and overwhelming shock or grief.

Example: “she was devastated by the loss of Damian”

Synonyms: Shatter, Shock

20) Nibble away

Meaning: To slowly reduce something.

Example: Even when inflation is low, it nibbles away at people’s savings, reducing their value considerably over several years.

Synonyms: Drain, Shrink

21) Coalitions

Meaning: A temporary alliance for combined action, especially of political parties forming a government.

Example: “a coalition between Liberals and Conservatives”

Synonyms: Alliance, Union

22) Ideologues

Meaning: An adherent of an ideology, especially one who is uncompromising and dogmatic.

Example: “a right-wing ideologue”

23) Wisdom

Meaning: The quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgement; the quality of being wise.

Example: “listen to his words of wisdom”

Synonyms: Sagacity, Intelligence

Antonyms: Stupidity, Folly

24) Hypothesis

Meaning: A supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation.

Example: “his ‘steady state’ hypothesis of the origin of the universe”

Synonyms: Theory, Thesis

25) Formidable

Meaning: Inspiring fear or respect through being impressively large, powerful, intense, or capable.

Example: “a formidable opponent”

Synonyms: Forbidding, Daunting

Antonyms: Comforting, Weak

26) Incumbency

Meaning: The holding of an office or the period during which one is held.

Example: “during his incumbency he established an epidemic warning system”

27) When push came to shove

Meaning: When all the easy answers to a problem have not worked, and something else must be tried.

Example: Only a few people were there to help me when push came to shove.

28) Perceptions

Meaning: Intuitive understanding and insight; the way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted.

Example: “‘He wouldn’t have accepted,’ said my mother with unusual perception”

Synonyms: Insight, Clarity

29) Destitution

Meaning: Poverty so extreme that one lacks the means to provide for oneself.

Example: the family faced eviction and destitution”

Synonyms: Poverty, Insolvency

Antonyms: Wealth

30) Genealogical

Meaning: Relating to the study or tracing of lines of family descent.

Example: “genealogical research”

31) Invincibility

Meaning: The quality of being too powerful to be defeated or overcome.

Example: “he gave off an aura of invincibility”

32) Resonant

Meaning: (of sound) deep, clear, and continuing to sound or reverberate.

Example: “a full-throated and resonant guffaw”

Synonyms: Deep, Full

Antonyms: Faint, Weak

33) Veneer

Meaning: An attractive appearance that covers or disguises someone or something’s true nature or feelings.

Example: “her veneer of composure cracked a little”

Synonyms: Façade, Disguise

34) Immaculate

Meaning: Free from flaws or mistakes; perfect.

Example: “an immaculate safety record”

Synonyms: Spotless, Pure

Antonyms: Blameworthy

35) Discontentment

Meaning: Dissatisfaction with one’s circumstances; lack of contentment.

Example: “voters voiced discontent with both parties”

Synonyms: Dissatisfaction, Disaffection

Antonyms: Contentment, Satisfaction

36) Fragile

Meaning: (of an object) easily broken or damaged.

Example: “fragile items such as glass and china”

Synonyms: Breakable, Delicate

Antonyms: Robust

37) Warding off

Meaning: To prevent someone or something unpleasant from harming or coming close to you.

Example: In the winter I take vitamin C to ward off colds.

Synonyms: Beat, Counterattack

38) Complacent

Meaning: Showing smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s achievements.

Example: “you can’t afford to be complacent about security”

Synonyms: Smug, Self-satisfied

Antonyms: Dissatisfied, Humble

39) Juggernaut

Meaning: A huge, powerful, and overwhelming force.

Example: “the juggernaut of public expenditure”

40) Trickster

Meaning: A person who cheats or deceives people.

Example: A confidence trickster.

Synonyms: Cheat, Fraud


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