Did Bihar's dirt stain Modi's kurta?

The nation is astonished watching the PM's ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ change from Silicon Valley to the electoral battlefields of Buxar.

 |  5-minute read |   15-11-2015
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Elections, as drama, often pretend to be epics when they are better seen as sideshows and slapstick acts. The Bihar election was touted as a battle of two incompatible giants, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav, and yet one looks closely and these two individuals appeared like hoardings and backgrounds for a whole set of skits, plays and commentaries.

The television aspect of elections should not be ignored. Our comperes and commentators pretend to be the new electronic rishis and savants deciding the fate of the nation. Between them and the cartload of psephologists who surround them, there is complicity, as if they are the unquestioned experts. In today’s media age, psephology, short of economics, is seen as a master science. Yet, number games like psephology should be treated differently.


Years ago, I used to work at a foremost centre for psephology and election studies. My colleagues were number crunchers and good ones at that. I hung around them because they were full of gossips of democracy, little anecdotes about politics and political strategies.

I had a corner room with a separate entrance. Since I stayed miles away, I used to land up late in the morning. When I arrived my room always conveyed a warm, lived in feeling as if someone had been there earlier. One day while sitting at my office table, a furious “sardar” rushed towards me saying: “Where is he, he gave me these poodis to help, and my wife has run away.” I was flabbergasted and puzzled till I discovered that an old chowkedar, a dignified pahadi, was using my office as a consultation room in the morning, advising on marital and social problems.

Also read: 5 reasons why Modi lost Bihar

When I approached the chowkedar, he was unfazed. He said, “Beta, I also do ‘sochal science’. You do it officially, I do it informally. We are both experts.” The fact that election studies and his medicine have similar status intrigued me. But watching the Bihar election where tantriks, psephologists and astrologers moved guiltlessly convinced me that elections was a matrix for many sciences.

I must confess that psephologists are a less confident lot than tantriks. When Narendra Modi swept the initial phase, and then as the results kept changing, they came up with new explanations for the numbers every few minutes. They tried to explain away competing or new data with new mumbo jumbo of numbers. One sensed the comic in their acts and realised that politicians had a more gut level understanding of number and people. In fact, they were more open to the idioms of language and body.

Lalu, as the perennial politician, conveys a sense of this. There is a slapstick, Falstaffian, village idiot-cum-savant-like quality which allows media to treat him like entertainment or otherwise condemn him as an epitome of “Jungle Raj”. Lalu’s hybrid language is as shrewd as folklore. He has a presence and often a shameless one. His presence, waving his sons as proud successors, is impressive. He hammers away acting as the pride of Bihar and the secularist knight of the nation, and it creates a difference. The shrewd folklore and the shrewder organisation let him obtain almost 80 seats. His was the biggest part in the Bihar elections and to Lalu, success in elections appeared like poetic justice. One can rant and rave but nothing succeeds like excess in our political dramas. Our new political serials will vouch for this.

Also read - BJP went to Bihar with the cow, came back with dung: Twitter jokes not stopping

Watching Lalu play the patriarch inaugurating a new version of “The Dynasty”, one is awed by his blatantness. He is the patriarch. Yet more impressive than Tejashwi and Tej Pratap, the sons, is Misa, his daughter, who is very much a media-lovely. One can almost visualise a future battle between Priyanka Gandhi of the Congress and Misa of the RJD — two individuals who can claim political genes in their blood.


But going beyond Lalu and Misa, one has to comment on the theatrics of the BJP. There is arrogance in its performance. It fancies itself as a juggernaut from Delhi, convinced that Bihar will abide by its diktats. As it swamps Patna with epidemics of Scorpio cars, one begins wondering where all the money is emerging from. The BJP presents Modi as a star but the star starts dimming halfway. Stars should realise when not to alter script. When Modi’s body language changes, he looks like any local politician, yet with the touch of the sinister and the paranoid. One suddenly realises that he is not the head of a nation but of a party, not a leader but a party boss conspiring for victory at any cost. He is crass and the nation is astonished watching this “Jekyll and Hyde” change from Silicon Valley to the electoral battlefields of Buxar. As his sidekick and double, Amit Shah matches his leader, and the spectator begins to wonder if politics is only about winning...


Another intriguing aspect of the election is the battle between two electoral consultants — Nitish’s man, Prashant Kishor, and Shah. Kishore was once in the Modi fold and responsible for media forays like “Chai Pe Charcha”. A former UN official, Kishor provided Nitish with a different kind of expertise from using Twitter as a deceptive weapon to plan media campaigns. Kishor must be content after the victory, having checkmated Shah’s legendary confidence about elections. It was not just Modi but also Shah who lost the mojo, that magical sense of always winning. The dimming of Shah and the breakdown of the juggernaut legend might have far-reaching consequences.

Finally, the only farcical bits of action came from a Congress representative on TV. It is true Rahul Gandhi provided the glue that held Nitish and Lalu together, but Congress representatives are overplaying their roles as guardians of “secularism”, when all they fought for was survival by piggybacking on regional forces. Yet, the Congress still fancies itself as the only national party. A footnote blows its own trumpet till it sounds like an epic victory.

There is a touch of the comic and the farcical in the Bihar drama.


Shiv Visvanathan Shiv Visvanathan @shivvisvanathan

The writer is a social nomad

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