Thursday, July 11, 2013

Focus: Did BJP Endorsed By India’s Leading Intellectuals?

By Sukhwinder Singh / Delhi

If there’s one thing that has hit home with the Congress in the past couple of months, it is this: peddling the RTI Act or what Manmohan Singh might have done for the economy more than 20 years back, will not win them the upcoming elections.  It’s a fact the party is acutely aware of and the result of the realisation is a Rs 500 crore campaign that they are reportedly lining up to blow the voters’ mind. It is important to remind ourselves that the party had long known that only aggressive whitewashing of their image can save them and hence produced the Bharat Nirman ad a while back.
One of the primary reasons that Indian political parties throw their weight behind television campaigns and other such media blitzkrieg is because no mainstream newspaper editorial in the country ever comes out declaring support for a party or its candidate. Unlike in the US where editorials of key newspapers like New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times and Chicago Tribune make no bones about exhorting support for the candidate they deem fit, Indian media narratives have so far steered clear of vocally supporting one candidate. While there might be covert attempts at putting their views forward in editorial pages, very few papers clearly voice their political preferences. A report in The New York times traces how editorial support for presidential candidates in the US has played a significant role in the outcome of polls.

The NYT notes that unlike in the previous years when a large chunk of mainstream newspaper editorials leaned towards the Republicans, in 2008, when Obama won for the first time, a whopping 64 percent of editorials backed Obama. The influence of mainstream editorials in the political opinion formation of US cannot be ignored. How much influence editorials have in India is yet to be seen given that while there is an abundance of policy and strategy critiques in national media, there isn’t much of a clear support for any particular candidate. However, Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s column in The Indian Express today probably stands apart in this regard.

Mehta’s column demolishes the UPA’s ten-year-term in a tone that is neither sarcastic nor tepidly argumentative. “First, the UPA came for the roads sector. They destroyed contracting. They slowed down road construction. They left highways half built,” he writes at the beginning of the column. Right then the reader knows that Mehta’s column is not meant to be a argument, but a fierce accusation .

After pointing out how the UPA destroyed infrastructure and industry in the country, Mehta takes up the issue of the NREGA. He busts the myth that a successful NREGA programme essentially means a reasonably successful economy. He writes:

Then they came for employment. There was some growth. But they decided that the only good employment is that which has the hand of the state. So the NREGA’s expansion was seen as a sign of success, not failure. By its own logic, if more people need the NREGA, the economy has failed. But we did not speak out. After all, the more people we have dependent on government, the more we think it is a good government.

INN editors had pointed out in an earlier article that with the minimum wage law, the UPA is on a course to destroy employment prospects in India. He had noted, like Mehta:

The NREGA scheme, by ensuring wage contestability, has already raised real wages in rural and urban areas. It has speeded up the process of farm mechanisation and reduced job options, with women in particular being pushed out of jobs.

If the UPA is keen on jobless growth, it is doing all the right things. But if it wants to create more jobs, the National Minimum Wage, even if fixed at Rs 115 per manday, is a sure way to destroy them.

Mehta then refers to the government institutions, inflation, banking sector, regulation, freedom and poverty. He tries to point out how the UPA destroyed every vertebra that forms the backbone of democracy. He finally rounds up his article saying that the Congress government has found an easy way out of the chaos they have created. They seemed to have instilled guilt in the voters by continuously hamming about secularism. It’s as if they are saying, ‘If you’re not with us, you’re communal and evil’. In doing that the party has also compromised a citizens’ right to make an informed choice.  Mehta writes:

You are not capable of exercising choices so we will make them for you. They acted as if we were so stupid that the three topmost leaders felt no need to justify themselves to us. But we did not speak out. After all we do have the vote.

From the first word to the last, there could not be a more scathing and more vehement attack on the Congress. And there couldn’t be a stronger and unequivocal editorial endorsement for the BJP.

When this report was being filed, the article had been tweeted out 1200 times. With the parties battling it out in the web, there is little doubt about the fact the Congress’ social media campaign will more than just be bruised by this one and the BJP will not miss an opportunity to cash in on the piece.

Interestingly, while he doesn’t sustain that strain of argument later in the article, Mehta does begin his article ironically trashing the allegations of communal-ism against the NDA. He writes: “After all, the only reason the NDA could have started the golden quadrilateral is because they wanted to spread Hindutva.”

Time for the BJP social media pundits to sit back and relax for a day. And maybe it is time for the Indian media to come out of their political closets and show their cards.