Saturday, March 28, 2009

THE VARUN FIASCO: CONGRESS SCORES ANOTHER SELF GOAL

For the last one week, the media have done little other than talk about Varun Gandhi in the context of a "hate speech" that he gave in Pilibhit. After saturating the nation with visuals of those speeches, which Varun says were doctored, countless unidirectional debates in TV studios and columns by media luminaries in leading newspapers, they thought they had got Varun Gandhi by his unmentionables, the BJP on the back foot and all Muslim votes in the bag of the Congress or other "secular" parties that are pitted against the BJP. The fatal blow, everyone thought, was the Chawla-tainted Election Commission hastily issuing an unprecedented advisory to the BJP to not field Varun as its candidate.

"Varun Gandhi must not be allowed to get away". That was the shrill refrain of all who thought they had a winner for the Congress and the other Gandhis, at last.

But, the script seems to have gone horribly wrong. As always, the media and, possibly, the SWOT analysts of the Congress have forgotten that democracy involves real people and not the elite who live in Delhi and frequent TV studios. The party has for long been paying a very heavy price for getting disconnected from the people and becoming dependent on a vocal and seemingly knowledgeable few who dominate the media space and little else.

The Varun sting is further proof that the Congress in now totally dependant on communal arithmetic rather than a genuine connect with the masses to win political power. The muted and almost zero reactions of Mulayam Yadav and Mayawati to this sting operation should have woken the media and Congress to the danger that their massive campaign could backfire badly. But, they were so caught up in the excitement of having got a "brahmastra" to beat the BJP with that they never even considered that possibility.

Mulayam Yadav has been courting Muslims openly for years, going even to the extent of saying that the seditious SIMI was a secular organisation. Indeed, the "secular" Mulayam Yadav has built his party solely on the basis of Muslim and Yadav vote banks. That has necessarily involved ignoring the interests of all Hindus except Yadavs. So, he is fully alive to the electoral danger of giving too much air to what Varun Gandhi has said. Mayawati has built her party on the strength of Hindu dalits and, of late, brahmins. She too knows that she will be hit hard if she is deserted en masse by brahmins and by some dalits who get swayed by emotions based on ground reality.

The Congress, on the other hand, has lost almost all voters in UP and Bihar, and has absolutely no clue about what it needs to do win them back. With that total disconnect, is it any wonder that the party has come to rely on the opinion of the same half a dozen or so faces that are seen in all TV studios and the "voice of the people" being projected in cleverly manipulated elitist chat shows? That blunder, coupled with the killer Tehelka sting just before the Gujarat assembly elections contributed in no small measure to the decimation of the Congress in Gujarat and the rise and rise of Narendra Modi. And that is what it appears is happening with Varun Gandhi too.

A bit too late, the media and the Congress have woken up to the horror that their blitz has backfired badly. The tables have been turned on them most unexpectedly. Their "hate campaign" against the BJP and Varun Gandhi has apparently achieved the exact opposite result. So, now they are crying that the BJP is doing nothing but a "drama" by letting Varun Gandhi surrender and court arrest in Pilibhit rather than apply for extension of anticipatory bail in the Supreme Court. They are also accusing the BJP for trying to gain political mileage out of the incident and for making Varun Gandhi a hero. Conveniently forgotten is the fact that it was the Congress and a politically aligned media, not the BJP, that had been shouting hoarse for over a week to get such mileage for the Congress and make a villain of Varun!

The unending media drama has electrified the atmosphere in Pilibhit in a manner that no one in Delhi ever thought it could. Thousands of supporters of Varun Gandhi who have descended on the town gave Varun Gandhi a hero's welcome as he arrived a couple of hours back to surrender before the local court. Even though they all have violated Section 144, Mayawati has been intelligent enough to keep the police away, not wanting to make any personal contribution to Varun Gandhi's spiking popularity at her party's expense. He has quietly been remanded to judicial custody till Monday and the police have taken him into custody.

Before he surrendered, Varun Gandhi spoke briefly to his supporters. Defiant as ever, he said: "I am ready to take whatever steps are necessary to fight for the people...I believe in my principles and am willing to fight for them. I am not going to back off...If by my going to jail people get strength to fight for their rights I am ready to go to jail".

"I am not going to back off". This is not the kind of response any one of those who had planned the sting down to the last detail would have even dreamt of. Earlier too, Varun had taken everyone by surprise by saying: "I am a proud Gandhi, a proud Hindu and a proud Indian in equal measure". When was the last time a Hindu from his kind of background was heard being proud, not apologetic, of his religion? That refrain was always identified with Indians of other religions, many of whom have routinely been putting their religious identity ahead of their national one, without ever being called communal.

Varun Gandhi, whether we like it or not, has been unwittingly catapulted to national limelight by a media and a party out of tune with the India outside of Lutyen's Delhi. He has arrived, as they say, and has already carved a niche for himself. That is something that his cousin Rahul Gandhi has not been able to do at all, despite being at the very top of the heap in the Congress for seven years, with a very supportive media that have spared no efforts to project him as the energetic voice of India's youth.

Varun Gandhi's unexpectedly strident response to the sting and the support that the BJP has given him indicates that the CDs were actually tampered with in the 19 most incriminating places that Varun says they were. That will take years to prove, given our slow legal system. Knowing that, the media and the Congress had calculated that countless replays of those portions on TV along with relentless and vicious condemnation in the media would be enough to critically damage the BJP and negatively force Muslims into voting for the Congress across the country. All that they saw were two sitting ducks waiting to be killed with one stone. Only fools let such opportunities slip. Or so they thought.

The way in which the whole sting operation has been turned on its head by Varun Gandhi, now christened Saffron Gandhi by the media, is nothing less than a double whammy for the Congress, a nightmare that it would have easily foreseen had it had its ear to the ground, or learnt its lesson from Tehelka. But, like always, it remains tuned only to a supportive media living in the same bubble in Delhi and has forgotten that real democracy is quite different from designer democracy. Is it any wonder, therefore, that it has scored another avoidable self goal?

How costly this is going to prove to the party will be known only on May 16, 2009. Wait with bated breath.




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Readers may also read:
1. The Varun sting: who is not playing the communal card?
2. Can the Congress stem its slide?
3. Rahul, Varun and the politcs of hate