For a little over two hours, I’ve been watching/reading the news out of the Las Vegas Strip, where one lone gunman created mayhem in a matter of minutes. Consider those numbers: One shooter. 55 dead. 515 injured.
Many of those injured are believed to be critical, so that toll can only go up. But even where it stands at present, the shooting at the Mandalay Bay Resort on the strip is the deadliest mass shooting in US history.
Back in 1998, in course of covering the national elections of that year, I ended up in Baramati. The object was to find out why Sharad Pawar has such a hold on that constituency that he does not even campaign, and yet in every single election anyone who opposes him loses his deposit.
Pawar is known to reach Baramati late night on the penultimate day of campaigning. On the last day, he drives to a few select areas where he holds public meetings; just before campaigning officially ends, he holds a large meeting in Baramati town.
I spent three days traveling around Baramati, talking to people, trying to find out the reasons behind his political success. And very early in the morning of the last day, I went to Pawar’s home hoping to get time to ask him a couple of questions. Talk of early birds and worms — he had just finished breakfast and was about to drive to his first meeting; he told me to get in the car, and to travel with him through the day, and ask whatever I liked.
The entire transcript would fill a decent-sized book — Pawar was in a loquacious mood that day. The interview that was finally published is sizeable enough and covers a wide area of politics.
Among the many themes he spoke to that day one, in particular, has resonated a lot in recent times as serial unrests roiled educational institutions ranging from the FTII to JNU, Delhi University, AMU, Hyderabad, and most recently Benaras Hindu University. Here is that portion, in full:
#1. March 28: PM Narendra Modi outlines seven-point scheme to double farmers’ income. Yesterday in New Delhi: Modi asks cooperatives to get into new business streams to double farmers’ income. By 2022. Varanasi, today: Modi says his government is trying to double farmers’ income by 2022.
Back in 64 BC, the orator par excellence Marcus Tullius Cicero was contesting for the post of consul of Rome. His brother Quintus, a Senator, wrote a primer on how to fight elections, titled How To Win An Election. It is an interesting read — the recommendations of then continue to figure in the playbook of today. One such tip, which should be familiar to anyone who has followed any election, anywhere, runs:
Promise everything to everybody.
Back in 2014, Modi in course of his election campaign told farmers that the minimum support price formula would be rewritten — “the entire cost of production, plus 50%”. This was in line with the MS Swamination Commission’s recommendations made during the UPA regime.
The incentives of a party fighting elections are straightforward: they want to win the elections. The spoils of power are tempting, and everyone works hard. But once they come to power, their incentives are not quite so straightforward.
Consider the two things they needed to come to power: money and votes. Let’s start with money. All democratic politics is about the interplay between power and money. You need humungous amounts of money to win elections. Special interest groups or wealthy individuals provide this money. They do it as an investment, not out of benevolence. And when their horse wins, they want an RoI. They used money to buy power; now they want the power to be used to make them money.
Amit Varma looks at the symbiotic relationship between money and political power in an exploration of why ‘democracy’ is of the special interests, by the special interests, for the special interests.
Bonus, Amit’s review of the Prashant Jha book How the BJP Wins Elections. (Which I read earlier this week, and will recommend as a primer on the Indian political process and how the BJP plays it to brilliant effect).
This dates back to 2000 but is incredibly prescient and hence worth re-surfacing in the present context.
In a January 22, 2000 article, a soi dissant maverick wrote an explainer about the RSS gameplan for a total takeover of the country. He spoke of how an aging right-wing leadership, feeling that time was running out on them, planned to up the ante, to implement what the writer called the Final Solution.
The writer broke the plan down into a series of sequential steps. I’ll quote, extensively, with an apology to the publishers — the only reason I am doing this is because this piece, and the points it makes, needs to be brought back to the center of public consciousness at this point in time. Here it is, emphasis added where required:
THE first component of the game plan is to discredit the RSS’ opponents but protect its converts. The First Information Report in the Bofors case is a classic instance of this strategem. In that FIR, Rajiv Gandhi’s name figures in the list of accused (n ever mind the column). But those Cabinet Ministers who vetted and signed the deal, or had even held secret negotiations on the “financial parameters” with the Bofors company as representatives of Rajiv Gandhi, are prosecution witnesses. Naturally we can guess what they will say in the witness box…. The motto is: “Join us and be free. Resist us and see you in court.” By a series of such sham prosecutions and managed associate media leaks, the RSS expects to undermine the democratic Opposition in India.
Last night (Sunday, September 10) produced a remarkable display of histrionics by Arnab Goswami of Republic TV. In what was billed as a debate on whether the left or the right was more intolerant, Arnab focused his considerable energies on the ongoing cycle of political killings in Kerala. He referred to recent attacks that had led to the death of RSS workers, and segued into an attack on the “liberals”. Where was Sagarika (Ghose), where was Barkha (Dutt), where was Rana (Ayyub), he demanded.
He banged the table as he brought his peroration to a close. “Where were the Not In My Name people?”, he thundered as he flicked back an errant lock of hair.
It was an awe-inspiring performance that I watched with all the morbid fascination of a spectator at a train wreck.
Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad is not given to such infantile histrionics. Speaking recently to the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh, the minister was calm and reasonable as he condemned the killing and segued smoothly into an attack on “liberals”.
“Why is it that all my liberal friends who speak so eloquently and so strongly against the killing of a journalist, perfectly so entitled to, or even maoists and naxalites, maintain a conspicuous silence when so many RSS workers are killed in Karnataka or BJP workers in Kerala?” the minister asked.
Subramanian Swamy has been accused of many things, but ‘grace’ has never made that list, so his valedictory post (and related snark that peppers his timeline, sandwiched between humble-brag retweets of laudatory messages from his fan club, and of news reports crediting him with having added ‘another scalp’ to his bag, is only par for his course.
Here’s what comes next: Continue reading