The other day social media erupted with jokes as Arvind Kejriwal’s written apology to ex-Punjab Minister Bikram Majithia went public.
Now there is nothing wrong with a little bit of fun. The question is : was the joke really on us?
Let’s take a look at the course of events. Arvind Kejriwal, backed up by an entire media choir, went around spread the “information” that Punjab is crying for help under a drug menace. The youth of Punjab had been left hopeless and unemployed, coping with the despair in their daily lives by taking drugs.
And who was to blame for the supposed doom and gloom in Punjab? The Akali-BJP government of course, which was then in its second consecutive term in the state. They had been elected for a second term in 2012, breaking the long running cycle of incumbency in state.
Not only was the Akali-BJP government responsible, it was also directly culpable in the drug menace, with Bikram Majithia, a relative of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, supposedly being a “drug dealer.”
Now, we know we all responded to these allegations roughly according to our political inclinations. The Congress supporters probably swallowed them without asking any questions. The right-wing was more circumspect, although it probably insisted that supporting Akalis was a small price to pay to strengthen the hands of Prime Minister Modi. The wider public was probably somewhere in between.
But the thing is : we all believed Kejriwal’s allegations at some level. After all, we know that the world of politics is dark and murky.
Mass media was only too happy to fuel the illusion. Movies were made to cultivate, sustain and deepen the impression that Punjab is suffering a drug menace and that the ruling Akalis are feeding it.
In course of time, the election in Punjab came along. Again, the media fed us fantastic stories of how Akalis had been wiped out of the contest, fanciful stories of humongous, delirious crowds at AAP rallies. The impression that was given out was that of an election being fought between Congress and AAP, with Akalis reduced to non-players, even vote cutters.
The key aims had all been achieved :
(1) Huge negative perception created in the public and even right wingers about the Akali-BJP government in Punjab.
(2) Complete demoralization of Akali-BJP workers on the ground, who thought they were fighting for second place, rather than trying to win.
(3) This attitude filtering into the electorate, who began to wonder if voting for Akali-BJP would be wasted votes.
On March 11, 2017 when the results came out, I remember a liberal TV anchor asking if BJP workers were also “celebrating” the results in Punjab. Why? Because AAP didn’t win.
There was probably a decent amount of truth in what the anchor said, especially if you go by the sentiment on social media. A number of right-wingers expressed relief that Congress had won Punjab instead of AAP!
What a situation to be in for supporters of BJP! The duo of Modi-Shah has created in their supporters such a ruthless, such a relentless hunger for victory that they don’t give up even on Nagaland. At the same time as the BJP is winning a historic victory in Tripura, BJP supporters anxiously watch the scoreboard in Nagaland. Once it is clear that Nagaland is in the bag, they do not rest easy until it becomes known that BJP will also be part of the government in Meghalaya.
This is the new culture of BJP, where winning becomes the new baseline expectation. In such a backdrop, the fraud of Punjab was pulled off superbly, like a well-oiled scam, reducing BJP supporters to celebrating a Congress victory.
In hindsight (which is forever 20-20) we can now see just how well the ecosystem pulled off the Punjab scam on all of us. A myth of “drug menace” was manufactured in Punjab along with a vicious rumor about a prominent Akali minister being a drug dealer.
The punches were being thrown at the Akali-BJP government not from the discredited Congress Party, but from AAP which was set up to be a decoy. The BJP supporters were then baited into attacking this decoy, which was suddenly the main enemy.
The media screamed from the rooftops that the decoy was winning the battle.
Even to BJP supporters, suddenly the bad old Congress party didn’t seem so bad at all. Because of the decoy. But this decoy was never in the fight and never intended to be.
Worse, there was fear that this decoy was conspiring with Khalistanis. Some of the urban Hindu vote in Punjab was terrified into polarizing in favor of Congress. But the decoy wasn’t even fighting. It was just placed in the electoral battlefield, playing with hidden fears of Akali-BJP supporters, causing their minds to play tricks on them.
Then, the election happened. Like a Nigerian email scamster, Kejriwal dismantled the decoy, wrapped it up and disappeared. Since that day, no one has heard a squeak, not from Kejriwal, not from a journalist nor an intellectual about the drug menace in Punjab.
This is exactly what happens after you send some money to help the “prince” in Nigeria who was in danger of getting murdered by the generals who had betrayed his father the king. You never hear from them again. There was no king, there were no generals, there was no prince in exile and there was no treasure chest. Just like there was no minister in Punjab running a drug cartel.
But, a true conman is someone who sees himself as an artist and takes pride in his work. This is why Kejriwal has resurfaced almost exactly a year after the results in Punjab with a letter. He is not apologizing to Majithia, he is rubbing it into our faces. He is reminding us of how we all fell for his trick. We can laugh about it, but the joke is ultimately on us.
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or not be an Assistant Professor at IISc Bangalore.