Secular liberals have watched with growing horror as the BJP has rampaged all over the joint, picking at communal and social sores in the name of healing the country, delivering marketing and hashtags and acronyms instead of product, and beating its own chest even as it issues statements—about Vedic-era plastic surgery, about women being responsible for rising numbers of rape, about media broadcasting the Mahabharata war live, about Sita in the Ramayana being a test tube baby—that make it a national and probably international embarrassment.
Team all this with the horror show that is public information. Our relationship with events is mediated by a media emasculated by corporate ownership, and driven by profit rather than public interest, as the Cobrapost expose makes clear. Streams of fake news, propaganda, and official and unofficial misinformation have infiltrated news. Social media creates mutations and echo chambers. And voila, we end up a disaffected, angry, confused electorate that feels cheated, confused, betrayed, neglected, and worst of all, taken completely for granted.
The BJP’s string of electoral successes seemed to suggest—and the BJP insisted—that this state of affairs is what the country wants and votes for.
But it appears that the BJP’s momentum truly has foundered on hubris. Today everyone from its opponents to its supporters is mad at it. Whether it’s because of high petrol, diesel, and LPG prices, or because of unemployment and agricultural distress, or a surfeit of godmen and a deficit of sensitivity, or because Robert Vadra isn’t being prosecuted, or because there’s no sign of a Ram temple, or because of a laundry list of corruption and scam charges, or because birthday greetings fly thick and fast while atrocities bring on a great silence, or because there isn’t enough polarisation, or because of the leadership’s arrogance, everyone is pissed. Friend and foe finally have common ground.
So—with great surprise—hope for the constitutional idea of India has recently dared to stick its miserable nose out again. The BJP’s much tom-tommed invincibility has been stripped away seat by seat in Gorakhpur and Phulpur, in the Karnataka elections, and in the recent by-polls in UP and other states. It says a lot that the Kairana seat went to a Muslim woman. It says a lot that social media spends its considerable comedic energy roasting the Shah-Modi combine, with the invaluable contribution of fact-checking websites and clear-eyed citizens. Most heartening of all, the opposition has finally discovered that power lies in the phrase ‘unity in diversity’.
The stakes are monumental for the BJP—the problem with riding high is that it’s a longer way to fall. It has already taken to whining about how it’s so unfair that the opposition is effectively opposing it. Perhaps the party, clinging to the coattails of one’s man’s vaunted charisma, has not yet emotionally processed its own diminishing popularity.
There have been dark rumbles for many, many months about how this next general election is going to be the dirtiest, most desperate play for power yet. It promises to get much, much darker before the dawn.
But at least dawn has a fighting chance.