Tenali Rama

Hey Ram ! An election in God-se’s own country

By Tenali Rama

The elections are almost over save the last phase of polling that will get over on 19 May. The fate of several high-profile candidates is locked in the EVMs and to be doubly sure, in the VVPATs. It has been a bitterly fought election, one that could result in a hung Lok Sabha, a dead heat. Pun unintended.  

What made this election hatke was the number of `late’ candidates who seemed to be in the fray, going by how the narrative revolved around them.

Let us look at the top five `contestants’ who occupied the headlines for a significant part of the virulent election campaign.

1. Nathuram Godse : He was easily the most talked-about candidate in the last two phases of polling. He contested both from Bhopal Lok Sabha constituency and the byelection to the Aravakurichi assembly constituency in Tamil Nadu. In the latter, Makkal Needhi Maiam president Kamal Haasan launched a frontal attack on his principal rival, Godse calling him the “first Hindu terrorist in Independent India”. 

Sadhvi Pragya Thakur of the Kamal party took umbrage at Kamal’s certification, calling India, `Godse’s own country’. She defended Godse, calling him a “deshbhakt” (patriot). That proved the adage that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter

Two other BJP MPs from Karnataka also campaigned for Godse though one of them later retracted his words. A probe is on to find out whether it was the MP’s nephew who had in fact proxy-campaigned for Godse. 

The BJP jumped to do damage control. Before Narendra Modi headed into the cave in the Himalayas, he became the Monk who denounced the Godse. But was it too late to embrace the Mahatma who had by then been hijacked by the Congress on its social media platforms?

2. Mahatma Gandhi : The last time the Mahatma had been elected to a post was at the Belgaum session of the Indian National Congress in 1924 where he was chosen as president. But the 2019 election saw Bapu dominating the discourse especially with Godse being both glorified and vilified. It was a strong comeback by the Mahatma after the manner in which certain versions of Gandhi had been declared as “illegal tender” ahead of the Uttar Pradesh elections in 2017. This time, the Father of the Nation dominated the 2019 poll with voters given several Gandhis in exchange for a vote, especially in south Indian states.

Photo courtesy : Wikipedia

The Congress decided to make Gandhi its mascot, with the party putting his face as its profile picture on its official Twitter handle. So did many of its state units, making this a Gandhi vs Godse election. Hey Ram ! It would seem India was still in 1948. Psephologists will need to tell us did India swing away from Gandhi towards Godse or the other way round

3. Rajiv Gandhi : He was an unexpected candidate. Given the focus on Jawaharlal Nehru for most of five years of the Narendra Modi regime, it was widely believed that Rajiv Gandhi’s grandfather would be projected by the BJP as the PM candidate of the Congress-led opposition. After all, the BJP had all along alleged that Nehru had been unfair to Sardar Patel and Subhash Chandra Bose and had not done much of note between 1947 and 1964 when he was Prime Minister. 

But in the midst of the campaign, Narendra Modi decided to shift generations, moving from first to third gear and fielded Rajiv Gandhi as a candidate of the Congress party, digging up the ghosts of Bofors. But Rahul Gandhi said he felt no anger against Modi ji for changing the candidates of the Congress according to his whims and fancies and announced he will field only one BJP candidate – Anil, the Ambani with the Rafale symbol. 

4. Jayalalithaa : She was the AIADMK’s candidate in all the seats it was contesting in, vote to continue Amma’s rule being the slogan. With the alliance with the BJP cemented, the AIADMK, to quote Tamil Nadu diary minister Rajendra Balaji, in the absence of Amma, now had a “Daddy” in Narendra Modi. Interestingly, Jayalalithaa was fielded even by TTV Dhinakaran’s party, making a mockery of `one leader, one party’ norm. 

5. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar : He was a completely unexpected candidate, pulled out of his college and pushed into the electoral fray in Kolkata. Things took an ugly turn during the election campaign as he was the victim of an assault. But with the BJP and the Trinamool Congress pointing the finger at each other, both parties fielded Vidyasagar as their candidate. Like the Congress with Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee made Ishwar Chandra her profile picture on her Twitter handle and in response Modi promised a new statue of Vidyasagar.

Some others were also fielded in the elections despite the Election Commission’s disapproval. Like the 40 CRPF jawans who had been killed in the Pakistan-sponsored attack in Pulwama. Lord Ayyappa, the presiding deity at Sabarimala, in whose names votes were asked for by more than one party in Kerala. 

But there were some omissions as well. Like LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Sumitra Mahajan who decided to give the general elections a miss, Tipu Sultan too opted out. The ugliness of the Karnataka assembly election campaign in 2018 in which Tipu Sultan was a Congress candidate, it would seem, was more than what the Tiger of Mysore could fight.

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