Courtesy: The Indian Express

The good and the bad about Uttar Pradesh Election Results, 2017.

Finally, the results came in yesterday. If you have been keeping an eye on the elections, you have to be surprised. I was. The most populous state in India went into elections and threw a resounding mandate (It just blew the roof off) in favor of the ruling party at the center in spite of its general lacklustre performance and one spectacular screwball move. How does one explain it? Modi’s charisma? The stinking awfulness of the available alternatives? Splintering of the Muslim vote? Consolidation of everybody else? People on the streets and in the newsrooms will be talking about it for days and weeks to come.

Here is how I see it. I live in this state, okay. And here is how I see it. I am actually confounded. I didn’t see it coming. Did anybody? Because it makes it look as though everybody just adores BJP and supports all that they have been doing. People critical of the government would like to ask — Where is the dissent against highhandedness ? Where is the anger against the habit of browbeating opposition voices by labeling them anti national or corrupt or both? What did people really agree with when they voted for BJP — the slew of empty rhetoric and zero follow up, its policy of shoving inane decisions down people’s throats or its blowing up of institutional balance? In short: What the fuck!

I totally get why the people of UP voted the way they did. The theater of endemic corruption and rampant crime orchestrated by the two regional parties has sickened people and impoverished the state for more than a decade. And I don’t know and can’t tell you who you, as a voter in UP, should have supported. I can’t. Here is what I do know — how this mandate is going to be read by those who have won and what they are going to do after. And it’s worrisome.

Those who lead BJP will see this as a validation of all they have done during the three years they have been in power — decisions that range from poorly planned to downright dangerous. And they will not scrutinize their actions so long as they keep winning elections. A victory of this proportion is not going to make them think too hard on good decision making.

Here is a primer on the performance so far. The central government has failed on major promises it made. There has been no tangible progress on recovery of black money. There is no foreign investment to speak of (Because you know, if there were, this government will sure as hell, make sure that everyone hears about it). Job growth has been dismal. The government has completely forsaken the issues of health and education. So what the hell is going on? Do facts not matter anymore?

With this government, actually no. This government runs on a ‘show and tell’ premise. First, you dangle something unusual, kinda glitzy, sorta miraculous, aspirational. Secondly, you talk about it incessently, for months. Let media do half the work. They are more than willing to fill their airtime with new bullshit. Then, as you see waning interest show something else and then repeat. That is how you keep people glued and invested.

We saw a whole year worth of foreign tours undertaken in the name of building India’s prestige on world’s stage which the party stood cheer-leading, as the prime minister came and gone and called it an achievement (Yeah, this from the party that questioned the utility of multiple foreign trips of former president Pratibha Patil). Those trips were made to bring in badly needed foreign investments to fuel rapid industialization and job creation. But boy, did that fail stupendously! BJP doesn’t ever mention those numbers anymore!

After the prime minister restored the glory of our country on the world stage he came back and started coining terms (4 P’s, 5T’s; it would be funny if it weren’t taken so seriously by a lot of people); launched a slew of marketing campaigns unveiling new schemes every couple of months with absolutely no follow up ( look up: Bullet trains, Make in India, Skill India… TO BE CONTINUED). Remember, show and tell. BJP doesn’t talk about them anymore.

And finally, the blast from the still reverberating past. The demonetization. I can write a lot about how every credible institution decried the soundness of such a decision. But that is not the focus of this article. We can debate the pros and cons but what should concern all of us is how functioning of an autonomous institution, RBI, was compromised to serve the agenda of the ruling party.

What is particularly galling is how facilely this government spins the news to suit their narrative or even change the conversation altogether. Every government does that but this one assumes a moral and patriotic high ground to attack skeptics and critics . When the spectacular failure of demonetization as a step to curb black money and recover most of it became too apparent, the government shamelessly switched narrative to claim the whole effort was channeled to usher a cashless society.

AND PEOPLE BOUGHT IT ? You have to ask. But apparently most did.

What I am trying to say, what I want to say, is that a government that has a policy problem is going to horribly misinterpret the election verdict. The people of Uttar Pradesh chose from the options that they had, not necessarily the options they liked or wanted. These are strange times that we live in. A large section of the nation is being convinced that it is okay to muzzle opinions that are critical of the state. And we have a prime minister who openly, unabashedly pitches the poor against the rich and draws cheers as he presents himself as their hero while really giving nothing to them. Can an election be a referendum on those things?

I am hopeful that the UP state administration would be more responsive to people’s problem. Law and order would improve. I genuinely do hope that. But I also genuinely fear that the central government would be further emboldened to make more reckless decisions in the name of strong leadership and force them down people’s throats without consultation in the name of winning majorities. With a weak and demoralized opposition the executive is stronger than ever. The institutions of checks and balances are kowtowing as there is further erosion in their credibility. Dissident voices are swifly labeled ‘disloyal’ and ‘insidious’. Here we are. Pitching tents in opposite camps thinking we won or we lost while something more valuable than that is vanishing — our collective ability as a society to see truth.