A verdict that’s more or less national

Article Date: 
23 May 2009

Which brings us to another trend that many people claim to have noticed: a move away from extremism and a vote for moderation.

Certainly, there is a lot of evidence to support this view. The BJP’s mascot in this election, Narendra Modi, proved to be an over-hyped humbug. In most places where he campaigned, the BJP candidate lost. In those areas where he was not allowed to speak (Bihar for instance), the BJP won. And far from sweeping Modi’s Gujarat, the BJP actually suffered a slight drop in its vote share.

Those who spoke out against extremism were also rewarded. Naveen Patnaik may have broken with the BJP over seat-sharing rather than secularism but his claim that he was appalled by the BJP’s anti-Christian agenda in Orissa found many takers.

My problem with this view is that you could easily make the opposite case. The drop in Modi’s vote-share can be attributed to voter fatigue and the BJP won Gujarat, anyway. The MNS may not have won a seat in Bombay but Raj Thackeray’s party — which is more extreme and violent than his uncle’s Shiv Sena — did extraordinarily well even in South Bombay. In many Bombay constituencies, the Congress won only because the MNS split the BJP-Shiv Sena vote.

Besides, if voters are so fed up of extremism, then how do you explain Varun Gandhi’s huge victory in his own seat? Varun may have scared off the Muslims but the Hindus certainly rallied behind him.

And then, there’s the Karnataka paradox. Until the BJP took office in the state, Karnataka was regarded as a model of South Indian sobriety and civility. Then, fringe organisations loosely affiliated to the Sangh parivar began assaulting women, attacking pubs and broadcasting a lunatic Hindu agenda.

If this was a vote for moderation then the BJP should have been wiped out in Karnataka. Instead, it did extremely well.

So I am not so sure about the moderation versus extremism argument. I would hope that the mood of India is for tolerance and secularism. But we’ll have to wait and see.

Article Author: 
Vir Sanghvi
Article Source: 
Hindustan Times