Last week the disconnect between what our politicians believe India needs and what India really needs became painfully obvious. Even as Amit Shah wandered from temple to temple in Uttar Pradesh and Rahul Gandhi posed with his 117 candidates at the Golden Temple, student riots broke out in Allahabad and Patna. When protesting students were interviewed by TV reporters, they made it clear that it was the fear of being unemployed that was at the root of the protests that in some places turned violent. Railway stations and railway properties were targeted because the enormity of the unemployment problem became evident when 1.25 crore candidates applied for the 35,281 jobs that Indian Railways was offering. It should shame Indian politicians and policymakers that a government job remains the ultimate Indian dream in the year that we celebrate 75 years of independence.
Unemployment should be the biggest issue in the elections that are currently underway, but if you follow the current election campaigns, you will find hardly any mention of the unemployment crisis. The Home Minister chose on his tour of western Uttar Pradesh to try and get Hindus to remember that their interests were different to those of Muslims. And, that under a BJP government there had been no ‘appeasement’. He then declared that the election in Uttar Pradesh would decide the fate of India. Message? You better vote for the BJP.
In Punjab where Rahul Gandhi went after yet another mysterious trip abroad, he never got around to real issues because he had to spend most of his time calming tensions within the Congress party. But, in campaigns past he has concentrated on attacking Modi more than on raising issues like the alarming rise in unemployment. He appears these days to take his cue from the BJP playbook by allowing TV cameras to follow him on his temple tours and by trying to identify differences between Hindutva and Hinduism. It is a futile exercise, and the popularity of Narendra Modi will continue to soar until the Congress party discovers new ways to communicate what it stands for.
It is pointless saying that the BJP has more money. It does. And it is hard to think of a state election campaign on which more money has been spent than the BJP campaign to win Uttar Pradesh. For many months now we have seen Yogi Adityanath pop up many times a day on our TV screens in propaganda films disguised as news stories. The propaganda seeks to erase memories of bodies floating in the Ganga, and project him as the man who has taken the state from being an economic basket case to being an economic miracle. If this were true, there would not have been student riots in Allahabad.
The BJP stands by what it does. It builds temples, cynically divides Hindus and Muslims, spreads religiosity, hyper-nationalism, and hatred under the illusion of ‘vikas’ and ‘parivartan’. Since there are no challengers to Modi’s BJP, it can do what it wants. We need a challenger, and this can only come if the Congress party finally rises from the ashes of two humiliating electoral drubbings and proves that it is still relevant.
At this point I must clarify that I have never voted Congress and have only contempt for those who allowed it to be turned into a family firm. When R P N Singh became the latest ‘young leader’ to resign and walk into the welcoming arms of the BJP, he said it was because the Congress party was no longer what it used to be. Hard to disagree. Having said this, it also needs to be said that only if the Congress finds some way to revive will there be a real challenge to the BJP’s dangerous monopoly over national politics.
The only political party at the national level that can challenge the BJP is the Congress party. But, instead of learning from the mistakes made in past elections, it continues to remain in exactly the same place it was when it was swept out of power by the Modi wave in 2014. There is still the same old talk about the ‘idea of India’ being destroyed without any Congress leader noticing that Modi has made it clear that he has a different idea of India and that it is equally valid and apparently more popular.
If Congress leaders had discovered by now that our oldest political party cannot survive as an appendage of Sonia Gandhi and her children, then today it may have been in a strong position to challenge Modi. If young Indians continue to grow up believing that the apex of their ambitions is to get a government job, then seven years of rule by a powerful Prime Minister with a full majority in Parliament has changed nothing.
Modi cannot be blamed for all the problems they face or for the tragic reality that millions of young Indians have only one alternative to finding a government job and that is to become economic refugees and flee India. The Gujarati family that was found frozen to death in Canada recently paid human smugglers a small fortune to try and get into the United States illegally. Modi once promised to build an India from which young people would not have to flee in search of jobs. A promise that now seems forgotten.