Who I Would Vote For: Language Matters

The elections are taking over my mind. I’m thinking about who is voting for who and why, and who said what about who and where is the next big scandal coming from. It’s tiring, because some of us are also trying to hold down other lives, other jobs… (Which sometimes makes me feel slightly guilty, because, I mean – look at some of these volunteers to political parties who leave everything and jump into the fray to serve their nation!)

Anyway, the chief concern I have right now, of course, is Mr. Narendra Modi. I consider myself a fairly well-read individual – I mean I’ve read Wikipedia articles, I’ve followed the references, read news reports, seen documentaries, debates on television, I’ve visited political offices and asked lots of questions, I’ve sort of done my homework. Still, there is no clarity. I really don’t know if he did it. I really don’t know if Modi was directly or indirectly an accomplice to mass murder.

There is sufficient, reasonable doubt. You can trust our judicial system, and say he’s innocent until proven guilty. Or you can say, well, every other day justice in our country is sold to the rich and powerful, so who’s to say the verdict was true? It may have been justifiable during investigation, but it may not reflect the truth. Or you can look to first hand accounts of people caught on camera, who admit to being protected, even directed by Mr. Modi to conduct mass killings in Gujarat. They are there, in front of a camera, and they are saying it, how can they be lying? If they were such brilliant actors, wouldn’t they have a career in films instead? Shouldn’t they? But then, someone raises his hand and says no, those tapes were all considered by the SITs and the juries and the public. Despite all that he’s clean.

So… did he, or didn’t he?

And then there’s the development saga. So, DAMMIT, is Gujarat doing well or NOT? I’ve got an uncle telling me about his wonderful experience with the Gujarati civil service, another friend telling me that the development has eaten away at the poor, made the rich richer. Ram Jethmalani says hallelujah, Jean Dreze says no, no, hold on, hold on, not really… Some quote stats, some quote other stats to counter the first stats, some are even starting to heatedly quote thermostats, which does nothing but increase the temperature.

Honestly, I doubt there is a resolution to be had to this discussion in the near future, certainly, a resolution to my inner dilemma is not going to happen before the election results are out.

So I need an out. I need a reason to vote this way or that way.

Let me take you back to a discussion I had with two very learned friends in a neighbourhood Nirula’s. Lime ice, fries. You know the works. The same protracted, tiresome argument above, with an additional line or two of Rahul-bashing. (Apparently Mr. Gandhi went to NLS Bangalore and openly questioned actual facts, which was kind of… dumb).

Anyway, so two learnings that came up:

1. People are not secular. That’s why we need the state to be. The word “secular” is so unfortunately misplaced at the hands of individuals – people usually have faith or belief systems, and they usually match or contradict other people’s belief systems. These can be religious beliefs – I’m Hindu, I’m Muslim, I’m a cricket fan; or a contrary standpoint –  I’m atheist, I’m nihilist, I’m a pugilist. But all these people, to live peacefully together, came together and made a political pact. This is known as the Constitution. This document is what is secular. It’s unfair to expect people to dissociate a huge part of themselves, like their religion, to carry out any duties at all. Because eventually everyone’s religious or other beliefs would impact their decisions. And that’s totally ok – that’s why we have a pluralistic state.

So in the case of Mr. Modi – is he communal, or secular? Communal! Just like all the other kids on the block. Obviously! And why shouldn’t they be – if the leaders of the coutnry can’t freely practice their religion, then I don’t know what the point is… BUT… is the BJP secular? Now that’s the right question to ask.

2. My very enlightened cousin recently wrote a piece in which she interviewed a young man at a polling queue, who said that Modi will take care of us (Hindus) and they(minorities) will have to accept the dominance of the majority. There’s this latest trope making the rounds, about how Hindus must not be ashamed of calling themselves Hindus, that we have the right to claim our place, our orthodoxy, our rituals! The problem is not the point being made by such arguments. The problem is the distinction being made on the ground on the basis of religion. While Modi ji himself in most of his speeches (I haven’t heard all of them, sigh) might talk about Indians, the impression he has on people is that he is about Hindu ‘resurgence’ (as if we went anywhere). The Modi supporter’s rhetoric and language is increasingly acidic, increasingly rude, increasingly ‘us’ vs ‘them’. “Ye mussalman kattar ho sakte hain, toh hum Hindu bhi ho sakte hain!” In the Ashish Khetan sting video, in which some perpetrators of violence in Gujarat said Mr. Modi’s blessings were with them. The claim is not airtight, of course. But what’s weird is what Mr. Khetan told them to get them to talk. He said he was documenting the rise of Hindutva in India, and that he was writing a book on the champions who helped Hindutva return. Again, this is a shadow line being etched firmly into our social fabric by rhetoric and fervent reiteration. The “us” vs “them” idea was rampant in the Muslim League’s pre-partition campaigning, for instance… And we were left with the subcontinent divided into two.

Anyway, so we slurped the lime ice, and polished off our fries and left Nirula’s.

If you haven’t deduced it yet, let me shove it in your face: language is important. When I used the phrase shove it in your face, you probably felt an unpleasant tingle. Similarly, rhetorical moves this way or that way affect entire societies profoundly. Read Orwell’s 1984, or see Nazi propoganda, or just how bad my Hindi is relative to my English. Language patterns are also very subtle, you need to look carefully, listen patiently to see them. When BJP supporters – nevermind, who am I kidding – I mean, when Modi supporters talk about community, their mental structures are increasingly polarized. It doesn’t help that people like Subramanian Swamy ji keep asking bizarre things of minorities, like declaring their Hindu heritage(!), polarizing discourse even further.

The biggest issue is that the two generations that went before me suffered greatly at the hands of communal politics and violence. Brimming hot right under the cool secular exterior, is usually an ocean of unresolved communal differences. Worse still, sometimes the exterior is not even there, and the animosity is plain for everyone to view. This is the delicate, turbulent part of our heritage that the BJP’s rhetoric is scraping away at. And that worries me a lot.


I can surmise, from the general structure of political arguments, that the three main parties are being subjected to the following examinations:

1. Congress:

For: They are secular, they’ll take care of everybaady, they do caste and religious politics but not as bad as BJP! 2002 is more recent than 1984! Soniaji is Italian and I love pizza!

Against: They are corrupt! They presided over communal riots! UPA has ruled enough, they did nothing, Manmohan ji speaks too little, Rahul ji’s dimples are not qualifications. They’ve left our country poorer than it should’ve been, we need change! Aaa!

2. BJP:

For: I don’t know anything about the rest of the party – but Modiji is the best! He will save us (Hindus), he is amazing, he is innocent, he did nothing wrong, he’s rescued Gujarat, he will rescue India too. He met Rajnikanth! So I will vote for Bharat Jaago Party. (Psst. Wrong acronym.) I mean Bharatiya Janata Party!

Against: They are corrupt! They presided over communal riots! I know about the rest of the party – they suck! PLUS Modiji is NOT the best, Manik Sarkar is! It is communal, Hindutva will take us down, they’re divisive!

3. AAP:

For: They are new! Haven’t presided over any riots! They hate corruption!

Against: They are new! Haven’t presided over any riots, communal or laugh… And they keep quittin’ on people, on a matter of principle – seriously who cares about principles. Not cool.

So when I’m deciding on who to vote, I decide to vote for AAP.

In the the pros and cons of an elected government formed by AAP, I hear concepts like novelty, freshness, naivete, disappointment, opportunity, anti-corruption, inexperience, ‘aam aadmi’. These are all acceptable to me. I’m ok with disappointment with performance, I’m ok with a possibility of great success or failure. What I don’t want to vote for any more, whether as pro or con, is another 5 years of discussing violence, corruption, riots, pogroms, injustice, Hindu-Muslim-Sikh, minority, caste… I’m just sick of these words, and I’m tired of our increasingly communal national conversation.

So, thank you but no thank you Mr. Modi and Mrs. Gandhi. You’ll need a pretty solid revamp of your strategy for me to even consider you in 2019.



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