Election 2019: A Mockery of Democracy — Arundhati Roy

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Illustration by Aazeen Kirmani

Arundhati Roy

IN the days after he was elected, following some harsh criticism in the international press, Modi made a speech in which he spoke about protecting minorities and upholding the Indian constitution. He more or less directly contradicted what he himself and his senior colleagues had said the previous day. This sort of expediency is pure RSS tactics.

Interestingly, the deification of Modi has overshadowed the idea of the BJP as a party. Its massive wealth, its party machinery, have all been harnessed to the crowning of the monarch. There is a ridiculous hagiographic Modi bio-pic, full of falsehood, that has just been released. No doubt it will contribute to his deification. But despite all this, Modi can only be the monarch for as long as the RSS wants him to occupy the throne. RSS-rule is the new normal.

You ask this can be challenged. At this moment, in northern India, most of the other political parties are in shambles. The Congress has been vanquished, the Communists destroyed, the political parties that identify themselves as Dalit/backward caste parties have been more or less decimated. On the whole, the opposition parties behaved pettily and arrogantly with each other, diminishing each other while their ship went down. Hopefully, they are asking themselves some serious questions.

The RSS has about 600,000 disciplined, highly trained cadres it can deploy. The others have almost none. This time around the BJP had 20 times more money than all of them put together. Next time that will probably become 50 times more money. And certainly, elections in India are more and more about money, about spectacle, about controlling the mainstream media and social media.

Every institution in this country was bent to their will, including the Election Commission and, who knows, perhaps the electronic voting machines. That money bought them tens of thousands of IT experts, data analysts, social media activists who ran thousands of Whatsapp groups with carefully directed propaganda — tailored and tweaked for every section, region, caste, and class, every voting booth in every constituency.

That kind of money can sell anything it decides to sell — in this case a product so toxic, it created an epidemic. Not a single thing of importance, not climate change, not the looming economic crisis, not health, not education was a part of the campaign. Nothing except toxic, medieval stupidity on an epic scale. How can we treat this as a fair election? It was a race between a Ferrari and a few bicycles — and the media cheered the Ferrari as though they hadn’t noticed anything unusual. And now lathers it with praise while it mocks the bicycles for their poor performance.

So, what are the avenues that remain to challenge this formation? Existing political parties in this particular model of first-past-the-post democracy will not easily be able to take on this formidable, money-filled hate-filled machine. I believe that peoples’ rage will one day break the machine. I’m not talking about a revolution. I’m talking about an outbreak, the re-emergence of non-NGO-ized social movements. It will come. And that will create new energy and a new kind of opposition that cannot be managed. We will have to play a new game—one that has not been fixed like this one has. This election in India, that is being hailed as a great exercise in democracy, is the opposite — just a mockery of what democracy is supposed to be.

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