HERE is what
is known to a fair degree of certainty: For over a year now, the RSS has been
using its deep network to carry out periodic surveys designed to gauge the mood
of the electorate.
In this time, various thoughts were floated, and
tested: Simultaneous assembly and LS polls to make the election truly
presidential and thus play to Modi’s strengths; bringing the election dates
forward if the conditions were found favorable, etc.
The rest is rumor. Persistent rumor, coming in from
various quarters unconnected to and in some cases unknown to each other, but
rumor nonetheless. And rumor said that one of the first such surveys, conducted
early last year, gave the BJP around 120 seats if the election were held then,
and the NDA around 160 in total. (Keep in mind that the contours of the alliance
were not known then). Subsequent surveys, all of which kept the Delhi media
circles buzzing (and which several journalists hinted at, but never wrote
about, because obviously…) didn’t move the needle significantly in the
direction of the ruling party.
The last such survey was conducted in early/mid-March
and again, the results were believed to be far from encouraging. Again,
multiple journalists and media houses had the results, courtesy leaks from
within the RSS (sections of which are, to put it mildly, upset with the
autocratic behavior of Modi and Shah); some hints were thrown around on social
media but again, no one published it till Nagpur Today, a daily that comes from
the RSS’ backyard, the other day.
Here is the published
survey. It gives the NDA – not the BJP, the NDA – a mere 182 seats.
In common with several other journalists, I’ve been
hearing of these surveys and occasionally getting toplines via whispers on
phone – but absent seeing the actual survey, there is no credible way of
verifying any of this. Even this published one, though the outcome roughly maps
to what I’d heard, is not authenticated – and for obvious reasons, mainstream
media has steered well clear of either publication, or even references to this
on social media.
So why deal in unauthenticated rumor? Because, this: I’ve
been following the various political moves the BJP has been making, including
the notion of holding simultaneous polls which at one point the party pushed
for very hard. And I’ve been connecting those up with the evolution of the BJP’s
campaign through its various tropes: Sabka saath…, Namumkin bhi…, Sahi niyat…
and all the variants that have at various times been floated and withdrawn. And
a few things make sense – most particularly the virulently communal, hardline turn
the campaign has taken in recent weeks, which maps on a timeline to when
pollsters (not merely those of the RSS/BJP internal surveys) began noticing
that the Pulwama/Balakot bump – which, even at its peak, was not seen as moving
the needle significantly – had begun to fade.
Net net, one thing has become very clear: The BJP is
getting zero traction on the stump for its various “development schemes” and
its attempts to sell itself as the party of progress. Its other electoral
pillar, anti-corruption, has been taking a beating, not just because of the
opacity surrounding Rafale but also the various scams – or, at least,
allegations — that have been surfacing every other day. They now have nothing
left but to stoke the same fires, prey on the same manufactured fears and, like
a tired, aging, increasingly querulous Don Quixote, tilting with an old, broken
lance against the same enemies from five years ago. Most recent case in point:
Modi, yesterday in Maharashtra, on how it was Sharad Pawar and not the BJP-led
state government that was responsible
for the woes of the farmers in the state.
Take the survey with a pinch, or even a bagful, of
salt – but equally, keep an eye on the increasing shrillness of the campaign,
and see what you make of it.
One more thought on surveys and election coverage –
try doing your own. On a piece of paper, list the states from biggest (in terms
of seats on offer) to smallest. Alongside that, list the number of seats the NDA
won in 2014. And next to that, put down your most optimistic assessment,
based on the state of play, of how many seats you think the alliance can win in
each state this time around. Tally it up, and see what the results tell you. And
on that note, a few stories that caught my eye:
UTTAR PRADESH Chief Minister Adityanath (while on this, I personally refuse to use the honorific ‘Yogi’ to describe a rabble-rousing thug who today roams free only because he used the powers of his office to wipe out dozens of cases of mayhem and murder filed against him) previewed his campaign tropes the other day when he contrasted the Congress, which “fed biriyani to terrorists”, with the Modi government, which gives terrorists a “muh tod jawab”. Inter alia, he referred to the Indian armed forces as “Modiji ki sena,” in violation of EC norms that prohibit the use of the armed forces during electioneering.
On the latter point, the Election Commission has “asked for a report”. And then what? A week or so after the damage is done, the EC will likely come up with a waffling statement that no rule was broken. Such violations have been common ever since the Model Code of Conduct came into force – and the deliberate strategy behind this stems from the realization that nothing much can be done anyway. How do you unring a bell?
In this connection, remember what happened with the ‘chowkidar’ tea cups? The Air India boarding passes with the images of Modi and Shah? It’s such a transparent trick: Do anything you can to push the propaganda a notch higher; if someone makes a fuss, quickly undo what has been done, move on to the next ploy, and the next.
As to the “biriyani for terrorists” charge against the
Congress, this again is a classic BJP ploy – just keep repeating a lie; as long
as you spew enough of them, the fact-checking machinery will never catch up
with you. Also essential to this strategy, the knowledge that public memory is
short. Remember the “biriyani for terrorists” story and its origins in the
Kasab case? Here
you go. (Also an AltNews
NASA is pissed with India’s recent testing of the capability to shoot down low flying satellites — which Modi has been referring to as “chowkidari in space”.
The Indian satellite was destroyed at a relatively low altitude of 300km (180 miles), well below the ISS and most satellites in orbit.
But 24 of the pieces were going above the apogee of the ISS, said Bridenstine. “That is a terrible, terrible thing to create an event that sends debris at an apogee that goes above the International Space Station,” he said, adding: “That kind of activity is not compatible with the future of human spaceflight.”
“It’s unacceptable and Nasa needs to be very clear about what its impact to us is.”
But hey, that is NASA and we all know the US is jealous of our progress, so we can discount this. Only, there is this statement from 2012 (emphasis added):
A little fine tuning may be required but we will do that electronically. We will not do a physical test because of the risk of space debris affecting other satellites.
Which is to say, it was a known risk. The man quoted above, from this 2012 article, is VK Saraswat, then chief of the Defence Research and Development Organisation and scientific advisor to the defence ministry of India.
The man who knew the risks that NASA is worried about now, the man who led the program, is the same man who after India carried out the test said that the tests could have been conducted earlier, but the UPA did not give permission, and then went into a rhapsody about Modi and his decisiveness. That Saraswat, now a member in good standing of the BJP/RSS family who has been rewarded with the post of Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University and a seat on NITI Ayog, was lying is clear from his own words of 2012. Then there is this:
Serving and retired officials working with the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) have criticised former DRDO chief Vijay Kumar Saraswat, who is now the member of the NITI Aayog, for making DRDO a topic of political slugfest.
Refuting reports that the Manmohan Singh government refused to allow the Defence and Research Development Organisation (DRDO) to conduct a test of its anti-satellite capabilities, former national security adviser Shivshankar Menon told The Wire, “This is the first I have ever heard of it. Saraswat never asked me for permission for an ASAT test.”
The thing is, it is not a he-said/the-other-guy-said issue — it is easy to prove, or disprove, Saraswat’s allegation against the Congress. Presentations at such high levels are not made off the cuff, nor are they made by a single individual. Thus, if such a presentation had in fact been made, DRDO would have sent a team; there would be official records of the meeting; both could be accessed and revealed by the government. Evidently, no such official meeting was conducted, nor was any presentation made. We know this how? Because after being challenged on his lie, Saraswat has changed his tune. He now says he made an “informal presentation”.
So that is where we are now: We tested a capability we knew we had; we did that knowing the risk involved and the fact that such an act was highly irresponsible; those chickens have now come home to roost. And all this so Modi would have something fresh to talk about — because he has nothing constructive to talk about.
A word in passing about NITI Ayog, which seems to exist simply in order to talk up Modi’s achievements, and to deflect all criticism related to the economy, jobs, etc. In one of his recent policy announcements, Rahul Gandhi had said that if the opposition comes to power, NITI will be abolished, and replaced with a less clunky, more streamlined advisory mechanism. In that connection, this:
The fifth floor of NITI Aayog is making waves in bureaucratic circles. Amitabh Kant, the CEO of the think tank, along with his key aides, checked into the fifth floor—whose renovation cost Rs 9.26 crore—early this year.
Said to be a workplace for “New India”, which has no parallel even in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Rs 34 lakh was spent on greening the office space alone, with exotic indoor plants dotting the place. But Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar and the four members— V K Saraswat, Ramesh Chand, Bibek Debroy and V K Paul—are still holed up in their modest offices on the first floor.
NITI Aayog, in response to a Right to Information (RTI) query filed by this newspaper, admitted a sum of Rs 8.4 crore was allocated for renovation, refurbishment and re-development of the building’s fifth floor. “Besides, a sum of `34 lakh was approved for horticulture; Rs 52 lakh has been incurred on networking and telephone cabling,” the RTI reply stated.
Your tax dollars at work, ladies and gentlemen.
TALKING about things to talk about: So we did a surgical strike after Uri to ensure that Pakistan knew the cost of cross-border terrorism; then we did Balakot after Pulwama so Pakistan would learn there is a cost to transgression, right? So now all is well in Kashmir, yes?
- A Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) trooper was injured after militants hurled a grenade on CRPF bunker near SBI Branch in Pulwama town in Pulwama District on March 30, reports Daily Excelsior. Militants attacked a bunker of paramilitary CRPF 182 Battalion guarding the SBI branch Pulwama. “In the blast, one CRPF man suffered injuries. The injured have been evacuated to hospital for treatment where his condition is said to be stable.”
- Pakistan Army violated ceasefire and pounded civilian areas with long range mortar shells and artillery fire in several sectors along the Line of Control (LoC) in Poonch District… Two houses were damaged at Mankote in which a civilian, identified as Mohammad Mushtaq a resident of Mankote was seriously injured.
- A group of militants fled from the security cordon after a brief exchange of fire in Tangpawa village of Kokernag area in Anantnag District
- The Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) claimed responsibility for the blast that took place at Banihal near the Jawahar Tunnel on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway (NH) in Ramban District…. SATP had earlier reported that a car hit a bus carrying Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel, and exploded at Banihal near the Jawahar Tunnel on the Jammu-Srinagar NH in Ramban District… According to the reports, militants attempted to repeat February 14-like Pulwama terror attack in Banihal, but failed as LPG cylinder Improvised Explosive Device (IED) along with explosive material, inside a Hyundai Santro car was blasted off by a militant, who was driving the car, few yards short of CRPF convoy and the troops had narrow escape as the car caught fire and was gutted.
All this, and more, happened on just one day: March 30. And this from yesterday:
And it is not as if nothing happened between March 30 and April 1. Here is a resource that helps you track the goings on in the Valley. You can go by year, and by month. Take a walk around, see for yourself how grim things are, and ask yourself this: Do you hear a single peep out of Modi, his government, his NSA, his Kashmir-in-charge Ram Madhav, or anyone else in authority about any of this? Any tears being shed, crocodile or otherwise? Anyone have any comment on what is becoming increasingly evident — that in the post Pulwama Balakot operation personally monitored by Modi, who if you recall neither ate nor slept, we shot down one of our own helicopters, leading to the deaths of seven military personnel? But yeah, we have a strong government in charge, one that does not feed biriyani to terrorists.
- Remember the kids who were playing cricket on Holi, and how that led to a gang of armed men attacking not just the kids, but also breaking into the home of a Muslim family and beating everyone up? The police have now filed an FIR against the victims on a charge of attempted murder. There is a video of the incident, but hey, who cares? The truth, today, is what thugs and their allies in a thoroughly compromised, communalised police force say it is.
- Apropos the points made earlier about the BJP’s increasing communal rhetoric on the campaign trail, do read this archival piece by Pratap Bhanu Mehta, one of our sharper political commentators.
- Have you heard of the World Book of Records? You should — it is an organisation of dubious provenance that exists solely to provide the BJP with “world records” to talk about. Here, read.
- Amit Shah famously used “jumla” to describe Modi’s ‘Rs 15 lakh in every account’ poll promise from 2014. Here is his latest: We said we will jail all corrupt people. Robert Vadra is a corrupt person. We did not say we will jail Robert Vadra. Make sense of this, if you can.
- And finally, a Snigdha Poonam/Samarth Bansal piece for The Atlantic on how misinformation is playing havoc with India’s electoral process.
Update: Manifestos are important — it is through these, rather than stump speeches of politicians, that we get some idea of what the various political parties hope to do if they attain power. The Congress has just released its manifesto. Here are the main points, for your information:
To ensure a life of dignity to all Indians, Congress will introduce the Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY) under which Rs. 72,000/year will be transferred to the poorest 20 per cent house- holds in India. It will be transferred to the woman in the household, as far as possible.
To the youth of India, Congress pledges to make jobs our no.1 priority, both in the public and private sector. We will ensure 34 lakh jobs in the public sector by;
- Filling all 4 lakh central government vacancies before March 2020.
- Persuading the state governments to fill their 20 lakh vacancies.
- Creating an estimated 10 lakh new Seva Mitra positions in every gram panchayat and urban local body.
We will also provide a fillip to private sector jobs by;
- Rewarding businesses for job creation and employing more women,
- Requiring businesses with over 100 employees to implement an apprentice programme.
Farmers and farm labour: For farmers, Congress promises to put them on the path from “Karz Maafi”, to “Karz Mukti”. This will be done through remunerative prices, lower input costs, and assured access to institutional credit. We will present a separate “Kisan Budget” every year. We will also establish a permanent National Commission on Agricultural Development and Planning.
Universal healthcare: Congress promises to enact the Right to Healthcare Act and guarantee every citizen free diagnostics, out-patient care, free medicines and hospitalisation, through a network of public hospitals and enlisted private hospitals. We will double expenditure on healthcare to 3 per cent of GDP by 2023-24.
GST 2.0: Congress will radically simplify the GST regime with a single moderate rate of tax, zero rating of exports, and exemption for essential goods and services. We also promise panchayats and municipalities a share of GST revenues.
Armed Forces and Paramilitary Forces: Congress will reverse the trend of declining defence spending under the NDA govern- ment, and increase it to meet the requirements of the Armed Forces. We will expedite all modernisation programmes of the Armed Forces in a transparent manner. We will improve social security, education and health facilities for our Paramilitary Forces and families.
Quality education for every child: Congress promises that school education from Class I to Class XII in public schools shall be compulsory and free. We will especially focus on learning outcomes. Schools will have ad- equate infrastructure and qualified teachers. To achieve this, we will double the allocation for Education to 6 per cent of GDP by 2023-24.
Gender Justice: Congress promises to pass in the first session of the 17th Lok Sabha the Women’s Reser- vation Bill reserving 33 percent of seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the State Legisla- tive Assemblies. Congress will also reserve 33 percent of all posts/vacancies in the Central Government for women.
Adivasis: We will implement, in letter and spirit, the Forest Rights Act, 2006 and secure for the Scheduled Tribes the rights guaranteed under the Act. No forest dweller will be unjustly evicted. We will establish a National Commission for Non-Timber Forest Produce. To im- prove the livelihood and income of Adivasis, we will offer Minimum Support Prices for NTFP.
Right to Homestead: We will pass the Right to Homestead Act to provide a piece of land for every rural house- hold that does not own a home or own land on which a house may be built.
End to Hate Crimes: In the last 5 years under the NDA Government, hate crimes and atrocities against vulner- able sections of the people have increased manifold. Congress promises to end the sense of impunity, stamp out mob violence and lynching, and prevent atrocities and hate crimes against the SC, ST, women and minorities. Congress will hold accountable the police and district administration for proven negligence in the case of riots, mob violence and hate crimes.
Celebrating freedom: Congress promises to uphold the values enshrined in the Constitution of India and pro- tect their freedoms, including the freedom to dissent. Congress will pass a law on privacy; restrict the use of Aadhaar to the original purposes of the Aadhaar Act; protect the rights of every citizen especially students, journalists, academics, artists, civil society activists and NGOs. Congress will review all laws and repeal those that are outdated, unjust or unreasonably restrict the freedom of the people.
Protecting our institutions: Congress promises to revitalise the institutions that were brazenly undermined in the last 5 years such as RBI, ECI, CIC, CBI, etc. Congress will restore their dignity, authority and autonomy while making them accountable to Parliament. In order to ensure free and fair elections, we will abolish the opaque electoral bonds introduced by the NDA government and set up a National Election Fund that will be allocated at the time of elections to rec- ognised political parties.
Cities and Urban Governance: Congress promises a comprehensive policy on urbanisation to address issues concerning our towns and cities, including city governance, livelihoods, housing, habitat, pollution, climate change, urban transport and disaster management. For the urban poor, we promise the Right to Housing and protection from arbitrary eviction, and a Slum Upgradation and Transformation Scheme. We will introduce a new model of governance for towns and cities through directly elected mayors. We will transform cities into engines of economic growth.
Environment and Climate Change: Congress promises an action agenda that will place India at the forefront of the battle against global warming and environmental protection. We recognise that air pollution is a national public health emergency and will significantly strengthen the National Clean Air Programme. Forests, wildlife, water bodies, rivers, clean air and coastal zones are precious natural resources that belong to the people and we will protect them. We will set up an independent, empowered and transparent Environment Protection Authority, redefine the role of the Forest Departments and increase our forest cover.
Once the BJP releases its manifesto, I’ll do a compare and contrast, and also look back at the manifestos the two parties released in 2014 to see what has changed and how thinking has evolved, if in fact it has.
I will be traveling this afternoon with a cramped schedule, so this blog is on a break until Saturday, when I am back at base. Be well, all.