Yes, everybody says he will. Their reasoning: If not Modi, will people vote for Rahul Gandhi, Mamta Bannerjee, or Mayavati? No way. So Modi will be back, India says. A view that is echoed in tens of thousands of daily conversations. I have another theory. When a democracy goes to vote, strange things happen. Look at recent history.
Hillary Clinton was seen as a certain winner. She lost to Trump. Dead sure of winning, British PM Theresa May called a snap general election in 2017. She lost. Her predecessor David Cameron held a Brexit referendum in 2016 fully expecting to win. He lost too.
Britain has 20 times fewer voters than India. The US has three times fewer voters than India. If these mature numerically smaller democracies can produce poll upsets, why not India? Remember Indira Gandhi way back in 1977? She had muzzled the press and looked more unbeatable than Modi does today. She was routed.
The year 2005 saw a charismatic Atal Behari Vajpayee losing to a lacklustre Italian bahu Sonia Gandhi with her halting accented Hindi. So Modi can lose too. Right now this seems unlikely because Modi strides like a Collossus over India’s political landscape. And his powerful voice rings from a million TV sets. But does anyone listen to him? I doubt it. Modi’s become India’s biggest bore. The reason is over-exposure. Just as we tire of even a brilliant talker who talks non-stop, nations get fed up with a leader who talks non-stop. This is Modi’s situation today. India’s tired of him. And the more he talks, the more votes he loses.
Looking at Modi, we almost miss robot Manmohan Singh’s unblinking eyes and sqeaky voice with Sonia Auntie’s benevolent eyes resting on him. Somehow, he seems so much more attractive than Modi. In a beauty contest, he would beat Modi hands down.
With next month’s election looming, my mind shoots back to Bill Clinton’s famous four-word slogan when he beat the first George Bush in 1992. Clinton’s slogan was, “It’s the economy, stupid”. Just as Modi’s crowing about his Pulwama strikes today, George Bush was rejoicing over routing Iraq in the 1991 first Gulf war.
But a canny Bill Clinton zeroed in on a gathering US anxiety over a looming recession. And his campaign focussed on how George Bush’s rule had led to job losses and falling incomes. Sure enough, Clinton touched a chord in anxious American hearts and they voted George Bush out.
I see the same fate overtaking Modi next month. India’s unravelled economy is the elephant in Modi’s room that Modi refuses to see. But a harsh reality doesn’t go away if you ignore its existence. It’s the Indian economy which may doom Modi. India’s job situation today is the worst in the last 45 years. Some 12 million young boys and girls enter India’s work force every year. Which means 33,000 new jobs required every day. But wherever we go in India, we hear a two-word lament: No
jobs. By the way, when a young Indian talks of a job, he means one of two things.
One, a government job. Or two, a private-sector job with a five-figure monthly salary. Widening joblessness and farmer distress apart, Modi’s economic mismanagement has even damaged India’s independent self-employed professionals. They saw a huge income drop thanks to demonetization, according to M. V. Vyas, India’s most credible cruncher of economic data, a Gujarati.
Ranging from engineers and doctors to architects accountants, lawyers and chemists, these entrepreneur professionals numbered 1.6 million in Jan-April 2016. Their number fell to one million in May-August 2018 in a space of two and a half years, Vyas says.
Meaning that Modi’s unravelling economy forced them to shut shop and take up salaried jobs. Look at the significance of this. If qualified professionals cannot survive indendently under Modi’s misrule, how will the plain BA graduates coming out of our colleges?
Meanwhile, Modi keeps strutting around. His passion for multi-coloured turbans is deepening.
He wears a new one every new day. His kurta chooridars pajamas are becoming brighter too.
To hone his image, Modi’s seeking newer and newer photo ops. Wearing a bright yellow Modi jacket, he washed the feet of five sanitation workers at Kumbh Mela.
He rode the Delhi Metro flanked by two bearded Muslims wearing skull-caps. Modi’s face was split into a grin he summons when a camera’s watching him.
He immersed himself chest-deep in the Ganges fully clad in a black kurta, mercifully sparing us the sight of his bloated torso.
Alas for Modi, when a UP or Bihar peasant casts his vote, he doesn’t think of how cute his PM is.
He thinks of how he has suffered since Modi came to power. India’s 900 million voters have one fixed image of Modi. As a bringer of misery.
WITH PERMISSION FROM ARVIND KALA