“It is not so manly to resign oneself to one’s degraded position or to sit weeping in the house like women, but it is our duty to strive strenuously to remove the cause of our misfortune” was a screaming clarion call of Tilak in his Newspaper, Kesari, in 1905. That was an India deep in slumber, resigned to her Karma of slavery to foreign powers. An India that simply had no will or means to fight back. Bal Gangadhar Tilak understood the Indian mass psyche like very few ever did, so he was appealing to the very manhood of average Indians to rise against their colonial masters.
A few months later, when the Hindu Gymkhana challenged the Bombay Gymkhana (composed purely of white Europeans), the latter gleefully accepted the offer in the firm belief of their own superiority on a cricket field. In the ensuing cricket match of February 1906, history was created when Hindus defeated the mighty Europeans by a massive 109 runs!
That 1906 victory on a cricket field not only restored Hindustan’s naak (literally, nose, but colloquially refers to self-respect) but also gave a self-belief to an entire civilization that they can take on the white man and defeat him in his own game. Tilak’s appeal to Indian manhood had hit the target. After that, in a very short period of time, India’s freedom struggle became a mass movement – thanks no less to the Mahatma – and India attained independence in about 4 decades.
At the outset, this sequence of events in a pre-independent India may look farfetched or even trivial, but there is a lot of underlying truth in them. Most of our learning about ourselves is a deeply western construct. The “idea of India”, our history and politics are all mostly narrated through a white man’s perspective, so we rarely go beyond the Gandhis and Nehrus and Round-Table-Conferences and Cripps Missions et al. The hurt self-pride of an ordinary Indian man or the grief of a woman that triggered a revolution seldom make it to the final cut of our history textbooks. Unfortunately, for the liberal intelligentsia, India doesn’t follow the white man’s idea of mass behaviour.
Why do CHEAP ‘stripped down versions’ of products don’t work in India whereas they are lapped up by the ‘working class’ in western countries (one big example of that is the failure of Tata Nano)? Conversely, why are even rural consumers willing to pay a premium for Ayurvedic Patanjali products when cheaper products are available in the same market? Why do even the poorest of families spend beyond their means on grand family weddings? Going further, why do some families (and Khaps) resort to the extreme measure of ‘honour killing’ (sic) their own offspring when faced with affairs beyond the unwritten societal code?
The answer to many such questions is that proverbial Indian Naak! Most Indians might be poor, but value their Izzat and self-respect far more than any other aspects of life like success or money. For most Indian families, their pride in the society outweighs all other achievements. Thus, vast majority of Indians who visualize life through the prism of self-respect also tend to define their politics through a similar prism.
Opposition politicians, many Lutyens journalists and a big band of the intellectual brigade may have tried to colour the recent “surgical strikes” against Pakistan through various hues of ideological lenses, but large numbers of ordinary Indians had a simple uncluttered view of the entire event. A combined total of a whopping 70% of ordinary Indians in the election bound states of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh gave credit to the Narendra Modi led government along with the Indian army for the surgical strikes against Pakistan. At a fundamental level, India simply feels that Modi has restored the country’s ‘self-respect’ by reversing a meek policy of peace to a “manly” aggression after the Uri attacks.
The two poll bound states of UP & Punjab provided us with a unique opportunity to measure demographic reactions to ‘nationalistic’ events like a surgical strike on Pakistan which is possibly the first such exercise in actual ground data collection of the contours of patriotism. Indeed, we are proud that team 5Forty3 has been able to assign authentic, weighted, non-biased data metrics to this new surge of nationalism which till now had been shaped by the whims and fancies of some intellectuals and opinion makers sitting in air-conditioned rooms of Delhi.
Not so surprisingly, we found that there was greater awareness about India’s short-term conflict with Pakistan and the surgical strike event in a bordering state like Punjab (81%) than Uttar Pradesh (74%) – although the fact that more than 3/4th of all respondents (urban as well as rural) had some knowledge of the entire event is testimonial to how fast and how far news travels in this era of a deeply connected world. Among those who were aware of the surgical strike event, a huge 70% approved of India’s military adventurism which also uncannily corresponds to the exact 70% of people wanting to give credit to Prime Minister Modi (give or take a few percentage points of interchange) either solitarily or along with the Indian army.
What this data tells us is that almost everybody who approved of the surgical strikes also believe that it happened because of Modi’s no-nonsense leadership. Conversely, those who are not willing to give credit to Modi govt for its courage also do not wholeheartedly approve of India’s action against Pakistan!
In fact, there are more layers to this data. 9 out of 10 Hindus and almost 8 out of 10 Sikhs approved of India’s action against Pakistan “overwhelmingly”, while only 3 out of 10 Muslims did the same. There is another interesting divergence; the highly educated urban respondents tended to be less enthusiastic while their more simpleton rural and suburban counterparts were more enthusiastic about India’s border aggression against Pakistan.
In stark contrast to people’s reactions towards Modi’s leadership is the apparent anger against Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and the main opposition leader, the Gandhi scion, who both raised questions on the military exercise. While both the opposition reactions were seen as being broadly “anti-national” in nature, Rahul Gandhi’s “Khoon ki Dalali” statement was also perceived to be anti-army by more than 1 out of every 3rd respondent. Interestingly, Kejriwal’s questioning of surgical strikes was perceived to be also pro-Pakistan by 1 out of every 4 voters. [We had a two-tier questionnaire system wherein at level 1 we recorded people’s reactions voluntarily to open ended questions and at level 2 we gave multiple choices. Level 1 was given higher weightage and level 2 lower weightage in our final calculations while the resultant gamut of reactions were clubbed together into 4-5 broad categories].
In essence, what we are seeing is a broad contour of two different coalitions emerging on the Indian political landscape. On one side of the divide is the “nationalist” coalition and on the other side of the divide is what can be termed as the “non-nationalist” coalition (for want of a better word). Here, once again, Narendra Modi seems to have read the political trajectory far better than the opposition, the assorted political pundits and the Lutyens brigade put together, for he and his party have been working to subtly stress on this division for quite some time now.
The media and the opposition had already fallen into the JNU trap by questioning the essence of simple patriotism in the wake of ‘anti-national’ protests by the liberal left gang of JNU students. This narrative was further driven to the length and breadth of India with BJP’s Tiranga Yatra which subtly bracketed the saffron brigade into the nationalist coalition while the opposition was left out. In fact, mass politicians like Mayawati understood the import of the Tiranga Yatra even as she warned her core Dalit voters not to fall into “patriotism trap” in an open public rally. The last inflection point to this build-up of hyper-patriotism came in the form of surgical strikes which completed the circle for both Narendra Modi and his opposition.
In 2014 when Modi built the USHV – United Spectrum of Hindu Votes – for the first time by broadly amalgamating various classes and castes of Hindu voters to create a 30%+ vote-share for BJP, the one important question that we demographic scientists and psephologists faced was related to the long-term sustainability of the USHV phenomenon. Indeed, the two reverse cycle electoral trends of Delhi and Bihar (especially the latter) raised considerable doubts about the longevity of the united Hindu coalition.
Thus, the USHV enterprise nurtured by Modi had to acquire newer dimensions in order to make it more viable for future political trajectory. Today the advent of “nationalism” is creating those unique synergies for organic growth of the Modi coalition beyond the 2014 sunrise. In fact, USHV has now acquired a much wider base from where it can derive its strength as is evident from nearly 80% of average Indians (mostly constituting Hindus, Sikhs & other associated sub-religions) subscribing to the broader nationalist classification.
Despite very high approval ratings for Modi’s action against Pakistan the electoral trajectory is by no means linear. Indian voters have always been pretty complex creatures despite various hindrances like poverty and illiteracy historically plaguing their supposed ability to discern political understanding. For instance, one of the oft repeated divergence is reflected in how average Indians vote differently in a state election as compared to national election even when both polls are held either simultaneously or within a short time frame interval.
In order to understand how average voters process an information chain to reach a voting impact decision, we used an indigenous adaptation of a probability model developed by the Center for Economic and Social Research and the Jesse M. Unruh Institute for Politics, both at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. In this model, instead of asking for a straight response from voters to their likely voting decision, we elicited a range of responses from zero to ten and then assigned weightages to different subranges. For example, any response above 7 would get a weightage of “big impact”, while a response between 4 to 7 would be considered as that of middling impact and so on and so forth (zero and 1 represent “no impact”).
In conclusion, at this point in 2016, USHV has acquired a lethal new dimension of creating a nationalist base (in opposition to a broad non-nationalist coalition) which has provided a much needed dose of stability to the Hindu coalition of votes. Yet, this new dimension may not be enough for the long-term sustainability for USHV which also requires economic optimism as another organic extension. Possibly, BJP and Modi are entering a goldilocks zone now as the reform policies of the central government have begun to slowly yield results even as a good monsoon year is bringing cheer to the rural landscape which could potentially add greater saffron momentum to the ‘nationalist’ base.
P.S: Palwankar Baloo, a ‘Dalit’ left-arm-orthodox spin bowler was at the forefront of Hindu Gymkhana’s victory over the British dominated Bombay Gymkhana in that historic 1906 cricket match which possibly rekindled the Hindu self-respect lying dormant after centuries of slavery. Perhaps in that historic template of a Dalit leading from the front is a spark that USHV needs today in 2016, a full 110 years down the line.