Hail or Heil?

BY DARIUS NAKHOONWALA

Wonders will never cease. The Hindu whose response to anything the BJP says or does has always been one of disgust and contempt, has changed its tired old tune. It actually wrote a fair editorial on the party’s election manifesto. That, or else two or three different people wrote it, which is not unlike what happened to the BJP’s manifesto itself.

Thus, wrote the Hindu, blissfully unaware of the irony,“Conflicting ideas can coexist peacefully in the mind. But when put out in cold print, the contradictions will be manifest.” Oh dear, someone hold me before I roll off the log.

That said, the paper grasped the subtle shift in the BJP’s emphasis in its stand on the uniform civil code. “…the call for a uniform civil code is no longer a Hindu-Muslim issue, but a question of gender equality…the emphasis on protecting the rights of all women while pushing for a uniform civil code is a welcome departure from the BJP’s default position on this issue.” I am sure even the BJP had not thought of this.

The last sentence of the edit reads, “The manifesto thus is an attempt to appeal not only to the core Hindutva supporters but also to the larger populace. But this attempt essentially represents the papering over of serious contradictions.” Indeed.

The Indian Express wrote a low-level quickie, focusing in the first paragraph on the delay in releasing the manifesto. Then it gave its conclusion, again in the first para, relieving you of the need to read the whole thing. “…it is, making familiar prescriptions, avoiding bold policy directions, trying to keep the flock together while also trying to placate every constituency” — which, I thought, was the whole purpose of manifestos.

The Times of India called it a “lacklustre effort” that lacked “freshness in terms of ideas, inclined to follow some ruinous economic policies of UPA governments and reiterate stands on social issues that are unlikely to enhance its acceptability… It’s on economic policy that BJP’s confusion shows up in stark terms…” Done and dusted, thank you, you can all go home now.

The Business Standard groaned that the late release of the manifesto had not left it enough time to study it but then it wrote the edit anyway. “The manifesto itself is perhaps not as sharp and as radical a document as in the past… There is little in this manifesto to gladden the heart of those hoping for deep, structural reform. It is more likely that Mr Modi’s focus, if he becomes prime minister, will be on unclogging the administrative arteries of India…”

The Hindu Business Line took a safe line. “The… manifesto reflects the tension between its relatively liberal modernising impulses and the party’s archly conservative ideological core. The manifesto’s delayed release was a result of this very contradiction, one that is well nigh impossible to reconcile; the final document ends up accommodating both points of view…If the making of a manifesto has been such a struggle, it seems germane to ask how the conflict between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ will play out in the event the party comes to power.”

The Financial Express made it clear that it was a Modi manifesto. “Most of Narendra Modi’s big ideas are in the BJP’s manifesto…few doubt he will be able to fix the governance deficit…” It also made the subtle point that by not mentioning the specifics of reform the manifesto increased Mr Modi’s room for manoeuvre. “…important thing to see is what the manifesto expressedly rules out. To that extent, the manifesto allows Modi the freedom to do a lot.” Then, sadly, it went onto deplore the lack of specificity.

The Telegraph as is its wont these days, wrote a day later, which also delayed this column. It started by saying it was wrong to be cynically dismissive of manifestos and went on to say “…acolytes of Narendra Modi would like to believe that the …the manifesto represent a victory of Mr Modi over the older leaders of the BJP who prefer to equate the party with Hindutva. Mr Modi prefers, or so his fans say, to make the BJP the party of economic development and good governance. This seems to be borne out by the fact that Hindutva and its agenda have been relegated to passing mentions in the new manifesto.”

Then it takes a side-swipe: “…If Mr Modi is indeed the author or the mastermind of this manifesto then there is nothing in it that suggests that he is made from a different kind of clay than other political leaders, past or present.”

-by arrangement with The Hoot