“The news is staged, anticipated, reported, analysed until all interest is wrung from it and abandoned for some new novelty,” said Thomas Griffith, one of the most powerful American editors at Time.
Indeed, that’s precisely what happens in developing political stories, moreso in the run-up to elections almost everywhere. The novelty factor matters most — whether it’s in Donald Trump’s USA (2016) or Narendra Modi’s India (2014).
That the Indian voter falls for the novelty factor especially when it’s coupled with rebellion is a well-settled issue. There needn’t be any further debate over it. Recent history is replete with relevant examples. Just forget what psephologists are now hinting at through their perplexing maze of numbers. Their science, or call it art, of prediction has been falling flat repeatedly. You need to recall what happened to the business of forecasting in the US presidential elections, Brexit referendum, and Delhi and Bihar Assembly polls.
Make no mistake, the ensuing Uttar Pradesh elections may be overwhelmed by the twin factors of novelty and rebellion dwarfing all other hitherto burning issues such as notebandi, surgical strikes, Ram Mandir, the war within the Samajwadi Party parivaar and goonda raj. To understand all this better, you may take a look at the following four instances to get a feel of the way the common voter reacts in India under, more or less, similar circumstances:
First, take the case of India Gandhi in the second half of the 1960s. She was pushed to the prime minister’s position by the then Congress bosses, known as the ‘syndicate’, thinking that the baby doll would do their bidding. But that was not to be as the baby doll rose in rebellion, split the party vertically, usurped all powers, rolled out pro-people, pro-worker measures in a hurry and swept the national elections. Thanks to her bold political and diplomatic initiatives, she earned the sobriquet of “the iron lady” of India. Rightfully so. And what happened to her otherwise taller opponents within the undivided Congress? Almost all of them, with the sole exception of Morarji Desai, faded into oblivion.
Second, look at the way the people of Andhra Pradesh tilted heavily in favour of Chandrababu Naidu after the latter’s rebellion against NT Rama Rao in the mid-1990s. During the revolt, Naidu’s argument was that he was getting sick of extra-constitutional interference in day-to-day activities of the government by NTR’s wife, Lakshmi Parvati. The Telugu Desam Party was split. And Naidu, whose party retained control, never looked back from then on. He swept the next state elections. The rest is history.
Third, next door in Tamil Nadu, where J Jayalalitha had revolted against MGR’s wife, Janaki Ramachandran, in an unprecedented, bitter struggle for supremacy within AIADMK, it was the rebel who emerged victorious. After she saw to it that the Janaki faction was decimated in the elections, Jayalalitha’s stature rose by leaps and bounds so much so that cadres of her party began calling her Amma (mother), Puratchi Thalaivi (revolutionary leader) and Thanga Tharagai (golden maiden) in the years that followed. Yes, that’s what happens when a rebellion succeeds.
And fourth, take a closer look at the success story of Modi, who caught the imagination of the masses like never before despite facing stiff opposition from some of the tallest leaders of his party and his allies in 2014. No doubt, he emerged on the national scene as one the strongest-ever leaders of Independent India. Remember the phrase: When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
But the BJP’s problem in Uttar Pradesh’s context is that it seems to be overselling Modi’s image. The party’s predicament is understandable: They have nothing else to sell — no state leader worth the name and no major party activity in the past five years to show. All they can do is to tom-tom some of the Union government’s achievements. And that’s precisely what the BJP is doing.