Last week, the disconnect between what our politicians think India needs and what India actually needs became painfully evident. Even as Amit Shah wandered from temple to temple in Uttar Pradesh and Rahul Gandhi posed with his 117 Golden Temple candidates, student riots broke out in Allahabad and Patna. When protesting students were interviewed by TV reporters, they made it clear that it was fear of being out of work that was driving the protests, which in some places turned violent. Railway stations and properties were targeted because the enormity of the unemployment problem became apparent when 1.25 crore applicants applied for the 35,281 jobs offered by Indian Railways. It should put Indian politicians and policy makers to shame that a government job remains the ultimate Indian dream in this year when we celebrate 75 years of independence.
Unemployment should be the biggest issue in the current election, but if you follow the current election campaigns, you will find hardly any mention of the unemployment crisis. The Home Secretary chose during his tour of western Uttar Pradesh to try to make Hindus remember that their interests were different from those of Muslims. And that under a BJP government, there had been no “appeasement”. He went on to say that elections 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 tackled the real problems because he had to spend most of his time easing tensions within the Congress party. But, in past campaigns, he has focused on attacking Modi more than raising issues such as the alarming rise in unemployment. He seems these days to take inspiration from the BJP’s playbook by allowing TV cameras to follow him as he visits temples and trying to identify the differences between Hindutva and Hinduism. It is an exercise in futility, and Narendra Modi’s popularity will continue to soar until the Congress party finds new ways to communicate what he stands for.
Needless to say, the BJP has more money. It does. And it’s hard to think of a state election campaign that more money was spent on than the BJP’s campaign to win Uttar Pradesh. For many months now we have seen Yogi Adityanath appear several times a day on our television screens in propaganda films disguised as news reports. The propaganda seeks to erase the memories of the bodies floating in the Ganges and project him as the man who took the state from an economic basket case to an economic miracle. If this were true, there would have been no student riots in Allahabad.
The BJP sticks to 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 in Modi’s BJP, he can do whatever he wants. We need a challenger, and that can only come if the Congress party finally rises from the ashes of two humiliating election beatings and proves that it is still relevant.
At this point, I must clarify that I have never voted in Congress and have nothing but contempt for those who allowed it to be turned into a family business. When RPN Singh became the latest ‘young leader’ to quit and step into the welcoming arms of the BJP, he said it was because the Congress party was no longer what it was. Hard to disagree. That said, it must also be said that only if Congress finds a way to revive itself will there be a real challenge to the BJP’s dangerous monopoly on 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, he continues to stay in exactly the same place he was when he was swept away by the Modi wave in 2014. There is still the same old talk about “the idea of The Destruction of India without any Congress leader noticing that Modi made it clear that he had a different idea of India and that it was just as valid and seemingly 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 might have been in a strong position to challenge Modi. If young Indians continue to grow up thinking that the pinnacle of their ambition is to get a government job, then seven years of rule by a powerful Prime Minister with a full majority in Parliament has not changed anything.
Modi cannot be blamed for all the problems they are facing or for the tragic reality that millions of young Indians have only one alternative to find government jobs and that is to become economic refugees and flee. India. The Gujarati family who were found frozen to death in Canada recently paid smugglers a small fortune to attempt to enter the United States illegally. Modi once promised to build an India where young people would not have to flee in search of jobs. A promise that now seems forgotten.