How do you fit a dozen liberals in a Swachh Bharat toilet? Easy, because they don’t believe these toilets exist at all.
Ever since Narendra Modi’s sensational victory in the just-concluded Lok Sabha elections, where he returned as prime minister with an even bigger majority of seats for the Bharatiya Janata Party, liberals and their delusional world has become the new trope of the post-poll season. Commentators and pundits in the media—editors, columnists, star news anchors and sundry opinionators—are waxing eloquent on the liberal disconnect and their self-denial of Modi’s gargantuan achievements that apparently swung him his victory. They wail about how the liberal media got the results “oh-so-wrong” because the latter continued to look at elections in the old-fashioned way of caste arithmetic and communal polarisation, rather than Modi’s incredible chemistry with voters and a mesmerised electorate.
The commentariat blame liberals’ jaundiced view of Modi and the Sangh’s politics for their failure to see the reality: lakhs of shiny new houses built under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, economic boom of small and medium businesses from chai shops to tailoring units who were beneficiaries of Modi’s MUDRA scheme, the millions of toilets (or Izzat Ghar as it’s called in Uttar Pradesh) built under the Swachh Bharat scheme which has transformed the lives of millions of women and children, the lakhs of bright red gas cylinders that are now in kitchens of rural India and have wiped away all the tears caused by smoke of chullahs or dung stoves, apart from the dignity of life and labour from schemes such as Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, Skill India, Start-Up India among others. Instead, pundits say, liberal journalists toured the countryside to prove right their suspicions that unemployment, joblessness amongst the youth and the economic downturn was all that mattered.
It’s another matter that all this is being said with the benefit of hindsight with lashings of self-flagellation thrown in.
The criticism grows with barbs and questions like “Is the Tukde Tukde Gang finished”, “Is the Khan Market gang over”, “Are Liberals living in a Bubble”, “Is Secularism a Bad Word” and such like. It’s like saying the opposite is true: if the rural vote percentage for Modi has increased, it must mean farmers are happy with the government’s agricultural policies, or if the youth have voted for Modi, then unemployment is not an issue at all. So, it must be that if Modi has won, the liberals have lost—there cannot be a more pedestrian premise. It’s equally bogus to say Modi’s schemes of MUDRA loans, gas cylinders and toilets swung the election in his favour without any backup data.
However, the apologists simply ignore available data which raises interesting questions and cloud the issue with subterfuge. For instance, in Uttar Pradesh, which was seen as a crucial battleground for the 2019 sweepstakes because of the sheer number of parliamentary seats it holds, the BJP struck gold with a vote percentage share of almost 50 per cent. The Election Commission’s data says the BJP got 49.56 per cent and the party won 60 seats. It got an additional two seats because of its ally, Apna Dal. The BJP bettered its 2014 tally when it had notched 42.30 per cent and bagged 71 seats. The party had got more seats because the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party had fought separately.
In 2019, the SP-BSP-Rashtriya Lok Dal mahaghatbandhan not only got 37.22 per cent of the votes, it also increased its tally from five to 15 seats. In 2014, however, though the alliance got a higher vote percentage, when put together—22.20 (SP) and 19.60 (BSP)—they only got five seats. More importantly, it seems that despite the surge in the BJP’s vote share in 2019, the SP-BSP only slipped four percentage points from 41.08 to 37.22, thus challenging the post-poll speculation that most of its voters, mainly Jatavs, Yadavs and Muslims, had deserted the alliance to vote for the BJP.
Curiously, no one seems to be interested in finding out who the new voters for the BJP are, given its eight per cent surge delivered a spectacular win. The BJP had secured this victory despite losing several of its caste partners like the Khushwahas and Nishads, and the threat posed by an unshakeable SP-BSP alliance. Even more significant is the fact that most of the BJP candidates won lavishly—with over 50 per cent vote share, previously unheard of in a long time. From Agra to Ambedkar Nagar, Bansgaon to Bareilly, Ghaziabad to Hathras, and in more than 30 seats, the BJP soared with over 55 per cent of the vote share, leaving its rivals gaping with astonishment.
Instead, the story about the amazing impact of Modi’s schemes on the electorate carries on, despite the absence of any post-poll research and data to confirm it. Shouldn’t it be strange to scheme-proponents today that if Modi was so sure-footed about the success of his miracle schemes—he not only tracked the 50-crore plus beneficiaries but was in constant touch with them—then why he and his “genius” president weren’t blaring about its success in their election campaign? Remember, one editor had stated that through hundreds of call centres and lakhs of party workers, the BJP was set to transform into Garib’s Janata Party. But both Modi and Shah’s campaign was fiercely communal and ultra-nationalistic, to say the least, with a bare mention of the “welfare schemes” that seems to have transformed millions of lives.
Modi’s militaristic, jingoistic campaign speeches consisted of whirring images of soldiers killed in Balakot. He asked first-time voters to dedicate their votes to the “brave soldiers who carried out the surgical strikes” and said a vote for the Opposition is a vote for terrorists. This was in addition to speeches that whipped up Hindu anger against his opponents for coining the word “Hindu terror”, even as he eulogised himself through the surgical strikes.
If Modi politicised the Armed Forces, Yogi Adityanath went a step ahead and called the Indian Army, Modi Sena.
From attacking Rahul Gandhi, saying he was choosing a constituency where Hindus were a minority, to Shah’s pledge that he would amend the citizenship laws to favour Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs, slyly leaving out Muslims and Christians who are “foreign” according to the Sangh’s ideology, the speeches had it all. But they barely mentioned the boon and reach of the welfare schemes. It was a campaign for a majoritarian Hindu nation, and according to The Hindu’s Lokniti post-poll survey, it was a deepening religious divide that rode Modi to success.
But overnight, after the election results, a section of the media suddenly started gushing about the schemes that no one either reported or saw on the ground—even though the promoters of this new script were themselves travelling and reporting from the field. Have they forgotten when they said the economy had tanked, that demonetisation had blown a hole in the GDP, joblessness was at a 45-year high, amongst other failures? The new story is that liberals were blinded and saw none of Modi’s development works. It’s as if the media today is reimagining the Modi-Shah communal, jingoistic nationalist campaign of Balakot bombings, and a new script is being unleashed to paper over a prejudiced campaign.
Of course, any mention of EVMs and its unclear technology is followed up by a fusillade of barbs and comments of being a sore loser—read the liberals. It is followed by sarcasm and vilification for not coming to terms with a humiliating defeat of the Opposition parties. But why should raising questions about the legitimacy of EVMs—a perfectly justifiable and reasonable inquiry—provoke so much consternation and defence by the Modi-Shah government? Was it not unusual that for the first time, during the 2019 elections, reports of thousands of EVMs being transported and ferried around, unguarded and unaccounted for, were being pictured and posted in the media?
Should it not make one wonder why there was such a flurry of EVM movement, without any explanation from the Election Commission? It did not help either that the Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora has been accused of majoritarian bias by one of the EC’s own members, and is now widely seen as someone who did not ensure a level playing field for all political parties.
No one is saying EVMs were rigged to give Modi his stupendous victory, but in this climate of suspicion and intrigue, why is the Modi government reluctant to even start an investigation to look into discrepancies, if any? Reports of lakhs of voters being struck off election lists, complaints of biased returning officers of the EC, videos of law enforcement personnel jabbing machines for voters, have been raised. Shrugging off of such reports by the EC has only added to the mistrust and scepticism of EVMs.
Take the case of UP’s Machlishahr. According to the ECI’s website, as reported by Factly.in, the number of votes polled were 10,27,935, but the total votes counted were 10,32,111. It means 4,176 more votes were counted than polled. The BJP’s Bholanath won the seat by just 181 votes, the lowest margin this election. In such a case, should asking for details about the efficacy and accuracy of EVMs invite instant contempt and ridicule? It only raises more suspicions about why the Modi-Shah duo is so keen on brushing questions aside.
A Newsclick investigation revealed what is now called “phantom votes”. The news website analysed the ECI’s data for total votes counted and found that excess votes were polled in 50 of the 60 seats won by the BJP in UP. After several reports of such excess or phantom votes appeared, the ECI clarified that the voter turnout figures on its website were “only tentative numbers” and that it was “incorrect inference to find ghost voters when there was none”. As a Twitter user retorted: “Tentative Results, Tentative Government, Tentative Nation.”
And, so, as Modi swans the world once again—he has already embarked on his first foreign tour to Sri Lanka and the Maldives—avowing parliamentarians abroad saying the just-concluded Lok Sabha elections was a celebration of democracy, journalists are being picked up and arrested for innocuous social media posts.
Blame it on the liberals.