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Why did 9 anti-Modi parties demand from Election Commission that rallies must be held?

Let us get into the dirt and start pointing fingers, if that is what everyone wants. How did the second wave come to be?

If you thought that the pandemic would bring out the best instincts in people, you would be wrong. If you thought that the deadly second wave would make us all work together, you could not be more wrong. Whether people are dying or not, the apparent priority is to prove that all of this is Modi’s fault. So called liberal state governments have done a fine job of drafting letters for help addressed to the Central government. Even the states where the second wave began, which would be Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh. Their job ends there.

So let us get into the dirt and start pointing fingers, if that is what everyone wants. How did the second wave come to be? Apparently, there were two sources. One was the Kumbh Mela in Uttarakhand. The other was the huge turnout at BJP rallies in Bengal, which left every liberal unnerved. These were the sources of the second wave in Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh. Because, as we all know, time flows backwards.

But you don’t have to control time itself. You can just control the media narrative instead. Since people want to talk about election rallies, let us do that. To find out who insisted on a ground campaign in elections, let us read from The Hindu on July 17, 2020.

Bihar elections campaigning

All nine of them are ‘liberal’ parties; the Congress, the RJD, three Communist parties and some others. As The Hindu reports:

Together, the parties came up with a joint memorandum opposing the EC’s decision to prohibit the traditional mode of campaign and allow only a ‘virtual election campaign’.

In case anyone is confused, the BJP does not conduct elections. The Election Commission does that. And the Election Commission had decided to that coming elections should only see virtual campaigning. As the Economic Times reported on Jun 30 last year, the BJP was perfectly content with that.

Both BJP and JDU appeared supportive of the proposal at the EC representatives’ meeting with political parties in Patna a few days ago.

But opposition parties were sharply critical of this idea, using some really heavy words.

Opposition parties were against digital campaigns

“Discriminatory” and “violative of equality norms.” In case the opposition did not make itself clear enough, they presented a written memorandum expressing their view.

“It will be a travesty of unparalleled proportion to officially legitimise a mode of election campaign which is not only severely limiting by its reach but exclusionary by design,” the Opposition parties’ memorandum said.

When someone uses that many big words, you know they want to be taken seriously. This is in writing. And yet, the opposition comes with a straight face today and election rallies for spreading the virus. They demanded it. They got exactly what they wanted. Evidently, they don’t like it so much any more. And that is somehow Modi’s fault.

I want you to do a thought experiment. I want you to suppose that the EC had rejected the memorandum from opposition parties. Suppose that the EC had ordered that election campaigning should be restricted to digital mode only, which the BJP was perfectly happy to accept.

You know exactly how that would have gone. The opposition parties would have rushed to the Supreme Court, armed with their best PIL trolls. From New York to New Delhi, the refrain would have been the same. Modi is using Covid to throttle democracy. He is enforcing digital only campaigns to restrict voter participation to rich, upper caste, heterosexual males with smartphones. The rhetoric practically writes itself. After all, this is what the opposition parties had said at the mere suggestion of this from the EC:

RJD, Congress, the Left parties and others have argued that the concept “is socially and economically discriminatory” and, thus, against the “principle of equality” and “violative of a level-playing field in the democratic exercise” as virtual campaigns could exclude a large section of the rural people and the poor who have no access to digital connectivity.

Of course, the real complaint is not about digital campaigns or ground campaigns. The real complaint is that BJP is campaigning at all. And that people are coming to their rallies in large numbers. Does anyone seriously believe that if the TMC was winning in Bengal, there would be so much discontent in media against election rallies?

If I had better English, I would have said that the liberals want the elections to be “exclusionary by design.” As in they get to campaign, but BJP does not.

Despite getting their wish in the campaign, the liberal parties failed to make way with the electorate in Bihar. Does anyone remember what happened after that? The liberals decided to rally an entire army of supporters and march them to the outskirts of the capital. Missives were sent out to global media to come and see the so called largest protest in the world.

CNN boasting about crowded protests

No, it was not the largest protest in the world. Not even close. But the hyperbole shows the kind of message they wanted to give. For three months, there was saturation coverage of this event. People saw this on their TV screens. Now tell me who gave the message to the country to stop worrying about the pandemic. Remember this crafty smile?

Ravish Kumar’s NDTV India gloating about a crowd at Mahapanchayat elections

You seem happy, Ravish ji. It seems you want the viewers to know that massive crowds attended the mahapanchayat in Muzaffarnagar. It wasn’t just him of course. Most of the media wanted India and the world to know.

January 2021 crowds
More croweds for January 2021
Tikait’s rally in January 2021

And from the tone of their coverage, it does not seem they were particularly bothered by the flouting of Covid norms. See all those face masks in the picture below?

Tikait’s show of strength in January 2021

Now tell me what message people across the nation got from these three months of saturation coverage. Nobody even talking about the Covid hazard any more. Mass protests with zero protocol being followed. Did it not send the message that the pandemic was over and people could go back to living life exactly as before?

In 2013, during the initial stages of his campaign, Narendra Modi had accused the Congress of hiding behind a so called burqa of secularism. In India of 2021, as long as you wear a face mask of “liberalism” you can do anything. Because only BJP rallies and Kumbh mela spread the virus.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee is a columnist and author.  

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