Regardless of who wins the assembly elections in Gujarat next month, one thing is for sure: the poll campaign—so far—has presented a glimpse of two competing styles to attain or retain political power, democratically.
And two diametrically opposite paths to get there.
Exhibit A: “Lone voice in tide of trolls” (above).
Exhibit B: “Concern over Gujarat video” (below).
Make no mistake. The dominant discourse in Gujarat as anywhere else is still built around the old, familiar matrix of religion, caste, community, family, loyalty, votebanks. These are garnished by throwaway modern words like vikas, winnability and anti-incumbency.
But below the radar, what we are seeing, as traders, businessmen and small and medium scale industrialists dip into their wallets and count their gains and losses thanks to #DeMo and #GST, is a subterranean battle between:
# Civility and uncouthness
# Restraint and resentment
# Humility and hubris
# Empathy and neglect
# Accommodation and hatred
# Privacy and intrusion
For a while now, the BJP has framed elections in a “pro-development” vs “anti-development” binary, as if that were even a choice for a vast, poor, illiterate, undernourished, job-hunting electorate.
Or for parties seeking their vote.
And, for whatever reason, the Congress happily allowed its principal “national” rival to run away with the honours, till it decided to put its pants on and reminded the world of its role in making modern India, and not just since 1991.
While the BJP and its associates circulate private CCTV videos to show whom Ashok Gehlot is meeting in a hotel, whom Hardik Patel is sleeping with, or print Congress lists of candidates on fake letterheads, or call Gandhi and Nehru names, the Congress is playing a substantially smarter and sophisticated game.
In that sense, the Gujarat election appears like a mini-battle to rescue and resuscitate the “Idea of India” from revanchists seeking to yoke it back into the past, by stoking old hatreds, using the un-demonetised currencies of anger, hatred and resentment.
There is a well-known phrase: “Motho ke motho ka batho babang.” It might sound Gujarati because it reads like “Vikas gando thayo che“, but it is actually Swahili, for “a person is a person because of other people”.
The Congress is no angel but in 2017, Rahul Gandhi is a person because of other people.
Principally Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.
Despite all this, the Congress might yet remain unsuccessful in unseating the BJP, but it has reminded Gujaratis and indeed Indians elsewhere that there is an alternative to the crude, brazen, arrogant methods which even the 31 per cent of 2014 are tiring of.