18-24 April 2014 #703

The backlash against the BJP

Ajaz Ashraf
I asked a friend who is of a radical leftist bent at a recent party in Delhi which party she was going to vote for. “I am a committed ABM member,” she replied, “a ABM isn’t a bank.”The acronym stands for Anybody But Modi. Its followers seek to identify the party best positioned in India’s month-long staggered elections to challenge prime ministerial aspirant Narendra Modi, leader of the Hindu-right BJP. So ABM supporters will tactically vote for any party or candidate that is capable of defeating the BJP, no matter what its ideology is. To vote against the BJP is to also vote against the BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.

You may think that ABM supporters are mostly Muslim, but they aren’t. Even the BJP’s own former Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh, who exhibited the ABM symptoms weeks before he was expelled from the party, could be classified as ABM.To be a committed ABM member you must have a deep antipathy to Modi, toxic enough to cast aside your existing ideological affinity for one party in favour of another one only because it can trounce the BJP. The ABM is a post-2011 phenomenon, gathering members directly proportionate to the rising crescendo of Modi-for-PM. It received a fillip at the battering of the Congress in the assembly elections in December, conveying to all that the Congress couldn’t become a pan-India bulwark against Modi, that it was imperative to rally behind a party expected to lead the fight against him in an ABM member’s constituency.

Overnight, the ABM membership swelled. It includes constitutionalists,communists, socialists, liberals, secularists, Muslims, devout Hindus dismayed at the politicisation of their religion, bohemians, gays, lesbians, people in live-in relationships, feminists, bookworms, scholars, conservatives who don’t wish to impose their values on others, and  victims of policies favouring big business. Ostensibly, a majority of non-Muslim ABM members are often, but not always, middle class as well as upper caste.

For instance, in Varanasi last week, an intellectual from the Dalit caste muttered wistfully: “Nothing can make me happier than seeing Arvind Kejriwal defeat Modi. Hindutva’s sharpest edge is reserved for us Dalits, and Modi symbolises that.” Yes, he is an ABM member. The man who fixes my computer was an ardent Modi fan, but perceiving an authoritarian streak in him, he will not vote for him now. The computer man is an ABM. A friend trembles at the idea of India having a prime minister whose administration in Gujarat stalked a woman. He, for sure, is an ABM member.

Opposition to Hindutva is a sufficient, but not the only reason to qualify for ABM membership. People are turned off by Modi’s authoritarian streak, his affinity to big business, his spreading personality cult, and his refusal to appear live on tv. A waiter at a plush hotel in Varanasi could wear the ABM badge. Even though he is a traditional Congress voter, he confessed he would have voted Modi had Kejriwal not stood from Varanasi. But it may be too late for ABM to challenge the Modi juggernaut. The ABM factor will determine the voting decision of many individuals, but we will have to wait till next month to see if it has critical mass.

[email protected]

Read also:

Modi’s momentum, Kanak Mani Dixit

The vote in Varanasi, Ajaz Ashraf

The shaky pillar of Indian democracy, Anurag Acharya

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