Since they have been asked, let me put down my answers to these questions for the record: Why Modi? Why this self-inflicted – and, presumably, on others – two-month personal campaign? Why FB? How did it go? What next?
But first, why me? I’m political. I’m consciously political while in conversation, staging a play, writing for the screen or my newspaper column, and even inside the classroom. This means my social life is completely boring to normal people, by normal standards. I keep meeting the same friends of a small personal group, which is often fragmented because even these friends don’t always share the same views on a political question. We talk news and politics, culture and politics, Bangalore and politics, gossip and politics, elections or no elections. My friends and I meet in the same places too, in this order of preference: The Bangalore City Institute, Bowring Institute, Bangalore Golf Club, Press Club of Bangalore or Koshy’s. All the time. The point is, to reiterate, I’m political, intensely.
So now, “Why FB?” I’m not popular by the benchmarks of TV, film industries or even the stage. Some Kannada tabloids used to introduce me to their readers as the ‘flop’ director. By political benchmarks, it’s worse. I contested from the Sunkenahalli ward as a Loksatta candidate during the elections to the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) in 2010 and got – I don’t remember the exact number – some 600 or 800 voters. I didn’t exactly thrill the crowd. It had to be FB (I haven’t figured out Twitter yet).
Also, FB offered a discipline – not a virtue I could claim as my own, usually – which is very appealing to me. You get to choose your friends. You can expose yourself to them to the extent you wish to. You let them post only stuff that you like, don’t mind or are willing to bear. It’s exactly like the club! You have to be ‘clubbable’ first to be there, but you get to choose not just the club, but even the entire membership.
Why Modi? This was the most important of Indian elections in a long, long time. Most of us, and I mean my small circle of friends by “us,” knew that this would be the big one. UPA (I and II) had done 10 years, was perceived widely as a weak and corrupt regime, and there was no Third Front potential we could perceive. By the middle of last year, we agreed for sure that Narendra Modi would play a major role in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Most of us also agreed, in spite of strong dissent from some, on two assumptions: firstly, that the BJP would improve on its 2009 tally of 116 seats by at least 50 more, even if it remained the shambles it was; and, secondly, that Narendra Modi, if brought to the fore as the BJP’s PM candidate, could perhaps give it 50 more.
We were not Modi supporters then. The reasons are obvious but, for the record again, here: The standout one was that his actions or otherwise in the the 2002 riots were open to question. We also felt his attitude to the riots was less than decent. But another important reason was that his entire persona and bluster on achievements in Gujarat suggested to us a self-confidence that belonged more to the Fool (as in Shakespeare’s) than Hero and his agenda for India seemed to be that of the regular old Hindutva. Some in my circle of friends continue to maintain this impression of Modi even after his spectacular win.
But I had begun to worry that I could be wrong about him, even before the court accepted SIT’s verdict on Modi of ‘not seen to be guilty.’ For instance, his statement “toilets first, then temples” took me by surprise. I had also heard from friends in government service and consultants who had been to Gujarat that Narendra Modi had indeed introduced interesting reforms in administration and they were working. Even with reservations about “development” – Manmohan’s, Montek’s or Modi’s – I understood stuff like sweeping reforms in electricity distribution “with separate feeder lines” for the countryside and so on. I’m a BE, Mechanics. But the intellectuals were quarrelling about the usual things.
The regular Indian Intellectual – the term does not apply to people who are experts in real professions – doesn’t understand much about all this and, somewhat curiously, won’t even care to. The Indian Intellectual is a strange creature. He (and many a she) don’t understand or care about science and technology; budgets, fiscal or monetary issues; finance and banking; trade and commerce; taxes and duties; stocks and shares; agricultural production and soil issues; law and policy; international agreements and security issues; industry and job creation. But the Indian Intellectual is not short of confidence. The I.I. will give you the ‘ultimate’ opinion on anything.
It’s true. Try one. If you point out that Sam Pitroda, for instance, understands a lot of the above and so must be considered a real intellectual, I.I. will look up Sam’s caste, ideology and political affiliation before responding. The work doesn’t matter if you are on the wrong side – communal, elite, upper caste, fascist. This supreme confidence is disturbing because the Indian Intellectual gets into all kinds of advocacy positions in public. The media is always going to them for columns, bytes and quotes. And, this tendency is compounded by friendly politicians and bureaucrats who bring them into government consulting bodies where they, of course, waffle, dither and dissemble, forever on ideology, secularism and social justice. But if you take away this power of ‘moral certification’, the I.I. is rendered invalid.
But, I digress. Euphoric after the Delhi poll verdict, we decided to go all out with AAP. Then a series of absurd street drama acts came until Day No.49, when Arvind Kejriwal resigned. I was in the Bangalore AAP office the previous night and, believe me, we had no clue he was going to resign. The Provincial that I am, with my thick Kannada accent and fear of smart Delhi people, I knew then this was ‘high command’ all over again. AAP was only a party mechanism in the hands of maniacal personal ambition. Not this, I thought.
Then, a person I cannot name came to my apartment in Jayanagar and asked me to support Nandan Nilekani for Bangalore South. I had two queries: 1) Is it really Bangalore South that Nandan wants or is he using us as a perch to fly into a higher zone?; and 2) Why Congress; why contest, even? I know he is honest and capable, but I believe Nandan doesn’t really care for Bangalore, even if he prefers to live here. I don’t mean it as an objection. It’s not even a judgment. Some things you love, some you don’t. But what I told the person who came to my apartment was something like this: “If Rahul Gandhi is appointed as the prime-ministerial candidate of the Congress on 17 January 2014, I will pledge my support to Nandan.”
Not that I care about Dynasty One, but any change was preferable to status quo in the UPA. That didn’t happen. The Congress, we knew by then from rumours and murmurs, was looking to control a Third-Front government from the dark recess, possibly projecting Jayalalitha for PM. I personally believed that the Third Front with Congress backing would have meant a government run by blackmail and deal-making, something worse than what UPA II could contrive. And then that photograph came in the papers, of the three gentlemen from the Left, cringing and cramping themselves into a sofa in front of her. That was it for me.
Modi was in pole position by then, cleared by the court, talking sense and change. I decided I would go with him. It was only inadvertently that I gave the impression I was officially appointed as media advisor to the BJP. While I did attend a couple of media team meetings in BJP’s Bangalore office, I did nothing much to help the official campaign. I did not become a member of the party. I decided to go it alone with the FB campaign.
It didn’t go very well to start with. Many people, even close friends, got pretty personal and nasty. Some queried my intent: how much do I get per status update and so on. A longtime friend and very strong critic of Modi wrote privately to me: “I’m disappointed that you are supporting Modi and making a big deal about it.”
I didn’t understand the latter. What’s the point of advocacy if not to be heard, heard widely, and accepted? But the advocacy was bound by three simple rules: 1) Not ask anyone to back Modi, but explain only why I would; 2) Not make nasty comments or get personal, but neither tolerate it from anyone; and, finally, 3) Not agree, when someone turned coy, to continue arguments ‘off-line’ once he or she had commented or committed on a FB thread. No deals. Take a side or retire from the debate.
And so it went. What next? I’m grateful Narendra Modi won. I feel even more confident about him now than when I had started on the FB campaign. I made many new friends, learnt from them and many of us think, though we haven’t spoken about it, this kind of campaign can be sustained beyond government formation. I won’t get any BJP goodies because I’m not a party member. I won’t get any NDA government posts because I’ve decided to work with non-NDA and non-UPA groups for the BBMP polls in 2015. I won’t even get a government site because I was already allotted a fancy G-Category site by the SM Krishna government 10 years ago. I won’t get a ticket to contest because I don’t want to contest. There’s nothing more that any government could do for me. There’s nothing anyone could do to me, either, because I’m too small a score. So, I’ll flip and ‘flop’ and do what I do – on stage, on screen and for the newspaper. Not to forget FB. I will keep at it. We need those promised good days.