Originally published here on Niti Central.
News analysis of the inner workings of the Congress and the BJP as political parties presents a stark contrast. While the former is usually an exercise in empty speculation the latter is almost always replete with certitudes, whether rooted in reality or not. The weekend announcement by BJP President Rajnath Singh of his new organisational team attracted more than its usual share of media attention. When has to really go back in time to recollect the last time an organisational announcement from the BJP became the cynosure of media. A central reason for this of course was the expected elevation of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to the BJP’s all important parliamentary board. Interestingly though, some of the ancillary appointments to Rajnath Singh’s team became topics of conversation as well.
While some saw a return to Hindutva in these ancillary appointments, others saw what they described as a ‘Hindutva core’ to a ‘Modified BJP’. Even more bizarre was some of the coverage from the international media with a no-holds-barred flow of adjectives ranging from ‘extremists’ to ‘hardliner’. While the Indian Express got all worked up over what it saw as ‘tension’ between the ‘party and the mascot’, one of its editors from the financial side managed to find a ‘well entrenched Advani-Sushma footprint’ in team BJP. Not quite stopping there, many headline writers and some media veterans on Twitter took to celebrating ‘all fools day’ at the expense of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. According to one recently out of work media genius the BJP ‘shot itself in the foot’ with a ‘please all’ team, while another could not resist taking potshots at ‘the BJP’s own Nehru-Gandhi’.
All the over-analysis of the BJP by Delhi’s media on a slow news weekend rubbed off on the Congress’s talking heads as well. Much concern for the BJP’s well-being flowed from Union Minister Kapil Sibal’s heart, making one wonder how emotionally distraught he would be if the BJP were to actually self-destruct. Going a step further was AICC Spokesman Rashid Alvi who took upon himself the responsibility of spelling out the first test to the new BJP team under Rajnath Singh. With such overwhelming concern for the BJP’s well-being and future from the Congress we can rest assured of the health of our democracy.
It is a different matter though that Uma Bharti is only one of 13 vice presidents in the BJP but that did not deter the geniuses in Delhi’s media from concluding that it is a return to ‘Kamandal’ for the BJP. It also did not matter that Varun Gandhi was only one of 10 general secretaries, junior most at that, to conclude that the BJP now has a Hindutva core. It was an entirely different matter that the original ‘Hindutva’ icon Vinay Katiyar not only found him out of the team but in a rare moment of clear candor explained what that appointment really meant.
The reality is that this organisational decision of the BJP like any other organisational decision in Indian politics sans a ballot, was an exercise in balancing interests across the country. There was only one big message in this exercise and it was all of 12 characters long (ignoring the white space in the middle). The BJP finally put a formal imprint to the inevitable rise of Narendra Modi. To read anything more on the rest of the organisational announcements is an exercise in idle speculation.
Much newsprint and many digital bytes have been wasted on the so called return of ‘Hindutva’ to the BJP. A simple fact that seems to have eluded the genius of these ‘analysts’ is that ‘Hindutva’ has not been on the ballot in any election for nearly two decades now. So why, pray, are these ‘analysts’ stuck on the ‘H-word’?
The answer to this lies perhaps lies in part in the general state of denial over where the BJP’s politics is headed and consequently what that is doing to the Congress. The answer also lies in part in the ‘bandwagon syndrome’.
Let us examine the former first before getting to the latter.
In another development over the weekend that was little noticed, reported or analysed, the incumbent Congress Chief Minister of Rajasthan Ashok Gehlot hit the road with a yatra in anticipation of another yatra to be taken out by his primary challenger from the BJP Vasundhara Raje. In what can be described as the Narendra Modi effect, Gehlot and his party, perhaps suffering much nervousness over Vasundhara Raje’s appeal, have started to deliver a stump speech with the promise of a ‘developed Rajasthan’.
We are now clearly moving into an era of ‘competitive development politics’ nearly two years after that famous speech by Narendra Modi at the conclusion of his Sadbhavana fast where he promised to continuously raise the bar on his political rivals. Much of Delhi’s media commentariat has been slow to catch the drift on this.
Then of course there is the bandwagon effect where everybody has to repeat the same clichés lest they stick out as a sore thumb.
The bandwagon effect is most pronounced in the context of Varun Gandhi who has lied low remarkably since the infamous video clip attributed to him in 2009. The only time in recent memory he made news was with his presence at Anna Hazare’s fast and subsequent intervention on the Lokpal issue. He nevertheless ends up as the target of all the repressed Nehru-Gandhi ire from Delhi’s media talking-heads who otherwise shy away from expressing the same towards his less politically gifted Cousin. There may be many a legitimate argument questioning the pace of rise of Varun Gandhi within the BJP’s ranks, Vinay Katiyar’s being one of them. But to paint Varun Gandhi’s rise with a saffron hue is plain dumb.
As the battle shaping up in Rajasthan and the recent reverses suffered by the BJP in its coastal bastions in Karnataka suggest we are now in a different political era where the bar on performance on our politicians is being continuously raised.
It perhaps is about time we raised the ‘IQ bar’ on the political discourse from Delhi’s media and ask to be spared of the ‘H-word’ that is now a political cliché.