By Ajaz Ashraf
Ajaz Ashraf is a writer at Scroll.in
Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah’s declaration that his party aims to win 350-plus seats in the 2019 general elections mimics the psychology that Australian cricketers displayed at the time they were considered nonpareil and dominated world cricket. Their triumphs had them set new goals, intimidate their rivals, disregard the sporting spirit to deploy unfair means to win, and mentally debilitate their opponents who became veritable rabbits on the cricket pitch.
Likewise, Shah’s mission of 350-plus seats seeks to paralyse the Opposition, which does not have a leader to match Prime Minister Narendra Modi, just as other teams did not then have players comparable to the Chappell brothers, Ian and Greg, or Dennis Lillie and Jeff Thomson, or Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, or the Waugh brothers. It was because of their skills that Australia dominated world cricket, as does the BJP over India politics because of Modi and Shah.
The Australians were relentless. Their skippers, commentators and journalists would speak of pulverising their rivals, as if they derived sadistic pleasure from such victories. But the logic behind this belligerent talk was to ensure that the aura of invincibility enveloping Australian cricket did not diminish. It could, after all, encourage their rivals to think they could vanquish the Aussies.
Even as the Opposition, disabled by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s departure from its ranks, seeks to regroup, Shah has set a new goal of bettering the 282 seats that the BJP won in 2014. His goal to win 350-plus seats implies that he thinks his party’s victory in 2019 is assured. Because victory for the BJP is certain in 2019, or so Shah thinks, he must set a higher goal for the party to aspire.
This strategy is similar to how the Aussies would predict the number of days their team would take to win. That would send their rivals on the backfoot – they would take their defeat for granted, their only recompense being to fight for an honourable loss. Shah wishes to psychologically wreck the Opposition into believing it can only play to save an ignominious defeat.
This strategy isn’t just to demoralise the BJP’s rivals. It is also about Shah inspiring his own party. The BJP bagged 31% of votes in 2014 and about 40% in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections earlier this year. Given the minority of votes the BJP bagged, Shah knows that a combined Opposition will pose a formidable challenge to the party winning a second innings at the Centre. His 350-plus seats talk seeks to prepare party workers for the 2019 Mahabharat.
Australia and Amit Shah
Before embarking on the 2001 tour, Australian skipper Steve Waugh declared that he considered India the “final frontier” that Australia needed to conquer. His team had more or less won everything, everywhere. But Australia had not managed to trounce India in India for nearly three decades. It is altogether a different matter that the Australians lost the series 2-1, stunned by VVS Laxman’s epic 281 at Eden Gardens and mesmerised by the spin of Harbhajan Singh.
Unlike Australia, the BJP does not have just one frontier to conquer. It has a few – Kerala and Tamil Nadu, for instance, West Bengal, Tripura, and Odisha as well. Mamata Banerjee in Bengal and the Left-Congress in Kerala know their turf well – Modi’s stature and the BJP’s enviable organisational capacity tend to get neutralised on wickets it is not in charge of preparing. Different tactics are therefore required, the one reason why some of the states which the BJP wishes to win are in ferment.
In 2004, Australia returned to India to clinch the series 2-1. The final frontier was finally conquered. The Telegraph’s cricket writer Simon Briggs credited the victory to Australia’s new orientation. He said, “Where [Steve] Waugh insisted on attacking at all times, [Adam] Gilchrist has opted for a more flexible approach, falling back on containment where necessary. His ingenious field positions frustrated India’s key batsmen, the so-called Big Five…”
Likewise, after its defeat in Delhi and Bihar in 2015, the BJP returned to the drawing board to rethink its electoral strategy. The BJP plucked Himanta Biswa Sarma from the Congress to batter the party in 2016 in Assam. A year later, Nitish Kumar, for reasons many, walked over to the BJP to gift it yet another state. Many cricket buffs would think Kumar’s manoeuvre was an outcome of the BJP fixing the political competition there.
In other words, the BJP has figured out that it is not necessary to win a state on its own. Organising defections can be a telling strategy. It is akin to Gilchrist’s flexible approach. The BJP is reportedly working on both factions of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu to come together to stitch an alliance with it. It helps that the BJP has both power and wealth. Just like the time the Indian cricket board started calling the shots in world cricket after its revenue from the sport grew astonishingly.
Victory at all costs
On February 1, 1981, New Zealand and Australia were locked in an exciting one-day match at the Melbourne Cricket Club. The Kiwis needed a six of the last ball to tie the match. Its number 10 batsman was at the crease. Though it was improbable that he could clobber the ball over the fence, Aussie skipper Greg Chappell asked his brother, Trevor, to bowl underarm – the ball rolled down the wicket and couldn’t be hit.
Underarm bowling was then legal, but against the spirit of the game. But Chappell’s philosophy was to win anyway he could. This seems to have become the BJP’s as well. Ahead of the Rajya Sabha elections in Gujarat, which was seen as a personal battle between Shah and Congress leader Ahmed Patel, Sonia Gandhi’s principal advisor, the Opposition party was forced to fly its Gujarat MLAs to a Karnataka resort to prevent them from crossing over to the BJP after six legislators resigned from the party days before the election. The Income Tax Department then raided Karnataka minister, DK Shivakumar, at whose luxury resort the Congress legislators had been housed.
That seems to be gradually becoming the norm – organise raids on rivals to win a political battle against them. Ask the Aam Aadmi Party: Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s office was raided and his principal secretary suspended; its government has been hobbled. Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati’s brother was named for accumulating unaccounted wealth before the Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh. In Bihar, Lalu Prasad Yadav’s family was raided weeks before Kumar jumped on to the BJP ship.
These are just three examples of the BJP bowling underarm in the political world – an action not illegal but certainly not in keeping with the spirit of politics.
The innuendoes the BJP throws to communally polarise voters, as both Shah and Modi did during the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections earlier this year, are of more or less the same order. Recall the shamshan ghat-qabristan (cremation ground-graveyard) analogy? Prime Minister Modi certainly bowls underarm when he exaggerates statistics to bolster his achievements and runs down his rival parties, particularly the Congress, for not undertaking development.
In the days of Australian domination in international cricket, spectators would chant, “Thommo, Thommo” or “Lillie, Lillie” to egg on Thomson and Lillie, cheering as batsmen ducked or were hit. Likewise, BJP supporters chant, Modi, Modi, as he launches sallies against the Opposition. The leader and his supporters seek to overawe the Opposition into submission.
Unlike the cricket spectators, however, the role of BJP’s supporters is not confined to just cheering and jeering. Think the lynching brigade, the cow-protectors who beat up cattle traders, the anti-Romeo squads, the activists who go around collecting evidence of madrassas not flying the tricolour or priests having converted someone to Christianity.
Over the years, obviously, the Australian cricket team has lost its edge, not least because its cricketing style and psychological ploys have been imitated by other teams, including India. But the culture of politics is different from that of cricket. It was socially harmless for the Australian cricket to redefine its goals – it only made their victories monotonous for cricket lovers outside Australia.
Assume the BJP wins 350-plus seats in 2019. What will Shah’s goal be thereafter? Every seat in the Lok Sabha? But such questions are rarely asked by commentators who too have been persuaded of the BJP’s invincibility. This, in turn, frays the nerves of the Opposition, just as the outpourings by cricket writers in Australia would psychologically debilitate visiting teams.
It is nobody’s case that the Opposition should copy the BJP’s style of politics. But its leaders do need to insulate themselves against the psychological blows that the saffron party regularly delivers. Or else they will become mental wrecks as the English cricketers were during the 1974-75 Ashes series, as symbolised by the Sydney newspaper Sunday Telegraph’s caption to the photos of the two Australian fast bowlers, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, if Thomson doesn’t get ya, Lillee must.”
For a healthy democracy, it is vital that Opposition leaders in India do not come around to thinking that “if Modi doesn’t get them, Shah will”.
Featured image source: bsmedia
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