I haven’t read Rajdeep Sardesai’s book on the 2019 elections, and I don’t intend to. I did come across an extract though that was published on a web portal. In it, he described a conversation he had with late Arun Jaitley about Sadhvi Pragya’s candidature from Bhopal, and Jaitley allegedly admitted to him that it was wrong on BJP’s part to have fielded her. This gave me a fair sense of the kind of book it was. The question is hardly about the convenience of quoting those who are no longer amongst us, or whether a seasoned politician would admit something of this nature to a hostile journalist. The question is about who tells us the story of our elections, or rather who it is that we want to hear the stories of our elections from.
What prompted a BJP landslide in 2019? Ask hundred Indians this question and you will get hundred different answers. The fact of the matter is that elections are a complicated business. The final results are for everyone to see, but the interplay of various forces and undercurrents that produce these results are often hidden from Khan Market or Noida’s TV studios. In the past, the narrative was often set from there. Elections were reduced to simple one-liners. For example, those who weren’t around in 2004 will be taught in the future that Atal Bihari Vajpayee lost the elections that year because people were unhappy about the ‘India Shining’ campaign. But that era of narrative creation especially to impose some warped perspective on future generations is over. Even if content is created for future generations with the message that Narendra Modi was re-elected because Sadhvi Pragya polarised the 2019 elections or that Arvind Kejriwal was re-elected because he revolutionised education in Delhi, such myopic bluffs will not stand the test of time.
Among the reasons they will not stand the test of time is the creation of alternative content. And it’s here that I come to the crux of this article- Pradeep Bhandari’s book Modi Mandate 2019. The conclusions this book draws is based on the travels that the writer undertook in the run-up to the 2019 elections. Conversations with common people on the ground gives us a glimpse into the minds of voters, and each conversation offers a unique perspective. A multitude of factors dictate why an individual votes the way he does, and it is important to put these perspectives in the public domain for a simple reason- what good is any political analysis that appears in newspaper columns and so on if it’s only the figment of somebody’s fertile imagination? The perspectives from the drawing rooms of Lutyens’ Delhi or the bar at the Gymkhana Club have their place, but the fact that these perspectives shaped the thinking around Indian elections for decades makes us question many supposed gospel truths.
And how have people reacted to the emergence of this alternative content? Take Pradeep’s book as an example. It went into reprint within a week of its launch and was out of stock on Flipkart when I checked yesterday. I for one am not surprised. The advent of Narendra Modi in 2014 was not just about the BJP taking control of the levers of power. It was as much about the common man taking control of his country from a ruling elite, a shift that has been evident in many walks of life. Seizing the political narrative has been one such battle where the common man has put up a valiant fight against the elite. Therefore it is hardly surprising that content offering the common man’s perspective has found huge traction.
The 2019 elections was after all a victory of the common Indian man on the ground, and a defeat of the Khan Market frequenting elite. Both have a story to tell. Who’s version do you want to hear?