Fire burn, and cauldron bubble
2018 is likely to be one long round of electioneering — besides the north-eastern states, assembly elections are due in Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Rajasthan where the BJP is incumbent, and in Karnataka that the BJP is trying to wrest from the ruling Congress party. And it is all shaping up into the sort of witches’ brew that Shakespeare provided the recipe for.
#1. In Uttar Pradesh, the always-innovative Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath — who, last month, came up with the Kamadhenu model to kickstart the state’s economy — has solved the problem of backlog in the state courts. His government will soon withdraw nearly 20,000 cases against politicians.
The move is aimed at reducing the pendency of cases. Yogi said that the police usually registers petty cases against people’s representatives staging dharna or protesting on some issue. “These cases should be closed.”
A small news item from the day before yesterday — the day before the counting of votes in Gujarat and Himachal, the day before Parliament belatedly went into its much-delayed winter session — deserves your attention. The Prime Minister, it said, was in Mizoram to kick off the election campaign in that state. Today, he is in Karnataka and then on to Kerala and Tamil Nadu to “extensively review” the damage caused by Cyclone Ockhi, never mind that the storm hit the Indian coast over two weeks ago. (Nothing — not Parliament, not the responsibilities of government, not even natural disasters — ever come between Modi and an election campaign.)
A constant trope during the Gujarat election cycle is the political rejuvenation of Rahul Gandhi. The celebration of his political comeback was at times almost Shakespearian, echoing the transformation of ‘Prince Hal’, the intimate of Falstaff and his set of scoundrels, into the King Henry V who would lead England to glory at Agincourt when the time was right. Remember?:
May 25, 2014: The then Delhi BJP chief Harsh Vardhan says that the first issue he will take up with the prime minister, if his party won the Lok Sabha polls, was the cause of granting full statehood to the capital city. The move, he said, would solve the problem of multiple authorities; he said the NDA had earlier tabled a relevant bill in Parliament but the successor UPA government had not followed up.
Harsh Vardhan’s predecessor Madan Lal Khurana had made a similar demand in 2003, coincidentally, again, just ahead of assembly elections. “The BJP leadership at the Centre says it is drafting a new Delhi Statehood Bill,” the article points out. “This is something it had done in 1998 as well, a few months before the assembly elections in November that year.”
For the two weeks that I have been away, I lived a pre-internet life. I consumed “news”, such as it is, through the morning papers and ignored the internet; I avoided calls except for a couple of absolutely urgent ones; I left messages unresponded to; I refrained from obsessively checking my mailbox, and limited mail time to 15 minutes at the end of each day.
In this time I went for long walks; I met a couple of friends for long conversations over breakfast/lunch; I caught up with my wife who, too, had put her phone away for the duration; I learned to breathe again.
Then, yesterday, I reverted to type. I scrolled through the main Twitter timeline and my curated news links; paged through the few dozen news websites I’ve bookmarked in my ‘dailies’ file; checked messages and DMs as they came in, and I realized just how much the internet shrinks the time and the mind-space available for everything else.
#1. When the most powerful man in the country takes time out from the onerous task of building a New India to reach out to a lay party worker, it sends a message — the prime minister, like democracy itself, is of and for the people. Here, watch this chicken soup for the political soul moment:
Finally, we have dates. December 9 for the first phase, and December 14, for the second phase, of the Gujarat elections.
The lead-in to the announcement had its share of controversies, the confusion being compounded by the Election Commission’s self-serving statements at various points in time. For instance, the CEC said the reason the dates for Gujarat were not announced at the same time as those for Himachal Pradesh was that flood relief work was still ongoing in the former. Not true, NDTV found when it spoke to officials on the ground.