'Open letters': By asking public to vote against Narendra Modi, campaigners may end up achieving the opposite

Sreemoy Talukdar
Ayushman Bharat Scheme or the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PM-JAY), was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 2018.

If elections are here, can open letters be far behind? They are coming in all shapes and sizes, from all corners of the nation. From individuals and groups in various vocations, and even from a convicted and jailed political leader whose bail plea has recently been rejected by the Supreme Court. These letters may roughly be divided into two categories €" proactive, that urge Indians to defeat forces of "divisiveness and hatred" and entreat voters to throw out Narendra Modi-led BJP government and reactive, that repose faith in Modi's leadership.

So far, the proactive camp that consists chiefly of "impartial intellectuals", "progressives" and "liberals" are outnumbering their ideological opponents with the sheer volume of their response and the righteous indignation of their letters. We are being told that unless the BJP is ousted, democracy cannot be "saved". The interesting thing about this campaign is that it is intensely political under an apolitical garb.

The authors, filmmakers, artists who issue such open letters call themselves "liberals" or "progressives" and yet they step up before any major election to provide intellectual horsepower to those that they support with alacrity and consistency. The act of "openly naming and shaming a legitimate political party" robs these worthies the right to be called "neutral", this piece in The Print argues.

Filmmakers, numbering over a 100, came under a 'Save Democracy' platform to issue a statement in March that India has "changed for the worse" ever since the Modi government came to power and "fascist forces" may "strike us hard with all its might if we don't choose wisely in the coming Lok Sabha election".

They were shortly followed by 600 theatre personalities and actors who took it upon themselves the sacred duty of advising their fellow unlettered countrymen whom to vote for and whom not to. The gist of the letter is similar. Unless the Dark Lord (read Modi) is defeated in polls, forces of "darkness and barbarism" will reign and drive "equality and social justice" away. In the joint statement issued by signatories such as Naseeruddin Shah, Girish Karnad, Konkona Sen Sharma and Lillette Dubey (among others), they appealed to the public to vote against the BJP and its allies to "save the Constitution" and even "song, dance and laughter" that is under threat from bigots.

The writers were not to be left alone. About 200 authors including Arundhati Roy and Amitav Ghosh urged the voters to reject "...hate politics. Vote out the division of our people; vote out inequality; vote against violence, intimidation and censorship."

The subtext is that India was the land of milk, rose and honey before 26 May, 2014, where censorship, intimidation and inequality were alien concepts. Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasreen or VS Naipaul may disagree though. Interestingly, Amol Palekar, one of the signatories of the letter, had his Marathi film Thang by the CBFC in 2006 when Congress was in power.

Then there were scientists, 199 of them, who appealed to the all Indian citizens to "remember our constitutional commitment to scientific temper" and "to vote against inequality, intimidation, discrimination, and unreason" in elections.

About 70 organisation launched voter-outreach campaigns in 50 cities across India highlighting the "failures of Modi government" in creating jobs. These were, according to reports, mostly Leftist units. Not to left behind, 108 economists and academicians slammed the Modi government for interfering with unemployment data and subverting the statistical institutions. These included global experts.

In between, former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav who is now serving jail term after being convicted in fodder scam and has recently been denied bail by the Supreme Court wrote a letter from the prison asking supporters to "fight and save democracy". It is amusing enough that a politician jailed in a corruption case is calling for democracy to be saved during the holding of general elections, what's even more interesting is the unfettered access he has to social media while serving jail time. Lalu's letter was uploaded on Twitter.

Finally, the icing on the cake from a letter written purportedly by retired army chiefs and veterans from armed forces and sent to the President's office protesting against "unusual and completely unacceptable practice of political leaders taking credit for military operations like cross-border strikes, and even going so far as to claim the Armed Forces to be "Modiji ki Sena" (a remark made by Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath during a poll campaign)."

The Congress wasted no time in taking aim at the BJP, saying that the armed forces have spoken against the politicisation of the military attempted by the BJP to win elections.

Then came the interesting part. The President's office denied receiving any such letter. A Rashtrapati Bhavan source said that they have received no such letter.

Then some of the signatories of the letter to the President, that included former Army chief General SF Rodrigues and former Air Force chief NC Suri, denied on Friday that they have given their consent or signed such a letter. Former army chief General Rodrigues called it "fake news".

Former air chief Suri said he never gave consent for any such letter.

Suri's words were reiterated by former army vice-chief Lt General ML Naidu, who said his consent has never been taken.

Amid the confusion, certain issues are clear. In the battleground of general elections where the stakes are so high, everything can be legitimized as a political weapon. The logic behind writers, filmmakers, scientists and even retired armed force personnel being made a part of the insidious political war is that they bring credibility into a political campaign. The strategy is to catch the electorate unguarded. Voters may give such an apparently "apolitical appeal" more credence than campaign rhetoric from politicians.

The trouble with this concept is that it undermines the intelligence of the electorate and condescendingly assumes voters to be a susceptible lot who could be swayed by any narrative. This has historically proven to be counterproductive. All that such righteous indignance from self-important "progressives" achieves that it highlights how deracinated and disconnected they are from reality and how utterly delusional they are about the extent of their influence.

If anything, such insidious messaging in the age of social media manages to achieve quite the opposite by triggering a counter-polarisation. It makes Modi appear larger than life and induces ordinary voters €" who look at these pompous highbrows with disdain €" solidify their resolve to vote for Modi.

Also See: Ahead of Lok Sabha polls, BJP maintains safe distance even as hardline Hindutva groups plan to mobilise over 10 mn for Ram temple in Ayodhya

'Letter' by military veterans urging President to stop politicisation of armed forces is fake, say ex-chiefs: 'We are apolitical'

Explainer: What is NOTA option? Can it have an impact on the outcome of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections?

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