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Re-interpreting Winning and Losing: The Elections

By R. Umamaheshwari

Beyond all the games of numbers and predictions in the context of the electoral season (that continued rather long into peak summer), is the question of who won and who lost?  And I choose to write of winning and losing from a different perspective. Irrespective of the final numbers (many of us – who read the newspapers still – dreaming of waking up to hope-filled headlines in the papers of 5th of June, on the World Environment Day), here are a few things that already won. I begin with a simple example. A young post-graduate student in a small village in Himachal Pradesh where I used to live would regularly send me messages expressing her anguish, whenever the so-called ‘Whatsapp university’ hate-speech forwards made appearance and had some of her own cousins and neighbours in a trance. She would write, “inko kaise samjhaayen; yeh sab andhbhakt hog aye hain” (trans. How does one explain to them; they have become blind devotees). This is a ‘victory’: a young literate woman in a village increasingly polarised, who can see the truth and worry for the country’s direction, while still being a consumer of the same ‘Whatsapp university’ system.

Independent journalism secured a big victory, too, this year. YouTube became the alternate medium for a more diverse representation of truth and facts, based on on-the-ground reporting by several YouTubers and independent citizen journalists. We saw and heard people with faces and names that would never enter TV studio debates. Of course, you also had those among the “Creators Awards”-gang, who became state P.R. machinery overnight. But the number of likes and subscriptions for the real reporters on the ground increased by leaps and bounds, as the electoral battle intensified. As they say, “you cannot fool all the people, all the time.”

The epithet “Godi media” entered cultural consciousness and that represents its wide acceptance among people, which I would call another ‘win’ for a new understanding of the state-media nexus. Many prior stalwarts of TV channels that had mushroomed (alongside globalisation and opening of new markets) realised over the last few years that shareholder-tied news journalism cannot remain free. Many have now transformed into YouTube and social media journalists. The fact that YouTube allowed for (at least in the election context) multiple and plural voices to be seen and heard, made it a rapidly growing commercial enterprise; for it to grow, the plurality of content on it will have to remain. Yet it was a major victory for democracy that the unpaid advocates for freedom of speech found their space in it with likes and subscribers crossing the million-mark. It is a major victory that many people, fed up of consuming the vitriol and shouting matches on TV channels, found means to express themselves through social media countering even the hate campaign. Comedy, parodies, spoofs and memes, too, found space on the internet.

One of the major victories, politically, has been the agenda set by the INDIA alliance partners via their manifesto, which focussed on the well-being of the last person as being tied to the well-being of the nation, which forced the BJP to tweak its own election messaging, even while it led them back to their own original slogan: the Muslim, as the enemy.

Yet another victory has been the clarity we got regarding the political leanings and consciousness of cine stars in India.

Another win – if only in a skewed sense – was (this went rather unnoticed) poster (“postcard” forwarded by Whatsappers) that Yogi Adityanath issued in the midst of the hate speech debate surrounding Modi, wherein he stated: “I respect Allah…”(the latter part was the problematic, which I shall come to, but even to start the poster with those three words was huge for Yogi) “as much as a Muslim respects Lord Ram”; “I give the same respect to the Quran as a Muslim gives to the Gita or Ramayana”… and so on. The problematic? The respect would be conditional. So, this was a poor take on Mahatma Gandhi’s “I am also a Muslim, a Christian a Buddhist, and a Jew…”

In a sense, this may be seen as a victory for the agenda set by the INDIA alliance on secularism, that led to this messaging. Religious discrimination cannot go too far in this country, beyond a point, if winning an election is the target.

Another victory was that the Supreme Court stood its ground on justice in many cases, asking the right questions, scrapping the electoral bonds, seeking answers from ECI, releasing Kejriwal on bail, etc. And it was the victory of advocates who fought for the Constitution of India to be upheld.

Who lost? Or Who will lose or who will have lost? For one, the idea that the Election Commission of India was a fair referee. So many hate speeches, violations of the code of conduct, etc. went past without any disqualification, especially if the wrongdoings were by the BJP and its allies.

Another loss that the BJP needs to take into cognisance, is its identity as a Party. That they upheld candidatures of even people accused of (proven) sexual offences and assault. That they had only one singular face for campaign across the country: Modi became bigger (it seems) than the party named BJP, just like the poster of a taller Modi leading a shorter child Rama. Nobody can recall the BJP candidates even as he asked people for votes for Modi and not the candidates. Federalism in the true sense has also had its losses (with BJP trying to topple duly elected governments in different states, before the Lok Sabha elections). Another loser tactic was for BJP to hire truly mediocre YouTubers for PR and PR firm heads (such as those called out during the MeToo movement).

TV channels (mainstream) and the highest paid anchors lost their face for a lot of people on ground. Some TV anchors were booed and shouted out from places where they went (sometimes alighting a helicopter) to. Their true faces – as stooges of those in power – came out stronger than ever.

Finally, irrespective of whether the BJP loses or wins, this electoral battle will still be a spiritual and moral victory for the idea of India in its vibrant united opposition (after a long time) having stuck together through thick and thin with one secular and progressive agenda; in the fight for freedom of thought and expression exemplified by the comic Shyam Rangeela (whose candidature was rejected) aiming to fight for a principle (that there was a possibility of it, had the EC not played spoilsport); in candidates like Kanhaiya Kumar (and in the context of Lahaul and Spiti, in Himachal Pradesh by-elections, Anuradha Rana) without hefty bank balance or advantages of class or powerful lobbyists.

Who will have won, ultimately? The people of India, who have the staying power to fight and those – in the now-established independent media – who will stay the course, no matter what the outcome of the current battle. And this victory is the sweetest of all: speaking truth to power as a matter of principle. At another level, a new social and political consciousness has percolated at the ground level and irrespective of who wins and who loses, this consciousness is hopefully likely to bring about a change in the kind of acceptance of ‘news’, as well. And people are likely to get more creative with the use of social media, when their voices are otherwise stifled in democracies.

R. Umamaheshwari (independent historian-journalist) is author of From Possession to Freedom: The Journey of Nili Nilakeci (Zubaan Books)among others.

4 June 2024

Source: countercurrents.org

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