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Modi's postal ballot confusion

By Rajiv Shah
The Gujarat state assembly elections last month brought back chief minister Narendra Modi to power with a resounding victory. A month has gone by, yet I am left wondering what prompted Modi – in his first speech after the victory, delivered at the BJP headquarters in Ahmedabad – to thank the government staff for overwhelmingly voting for his party. Addressing a jubilant gathering of his supporters, which included a top Congress turncoat, Narhari Amin, Modi dished out a figure of the support he believed he got from the karmacharis – 70 per cent! 
This was, indeed, quite in contrast to what a few officials in the chief minister’s office (CMO), as also some senior secretaries, had been telling me all along – that the karmacharis had “generally cast their vote against Modi in the postal ballots.” There were even reports that, at some places, the karmacharis, especially cops, were prevented from posting their ballots. They were told to “perform their duty” instead of voting. When I tried inquiring from Anita Karwal, chief electoral officer (CEO), Gujarat state, about it, she said there was nothing unusual, that they “had the option to vote later”.
After the full results were out, I tried to find out how the Gujarat karmacharis had voted. The only way was to get party-wise breakup of the postal ballots, which the CEO’s office had. My desire to get the breakup became stronger after I was told that Congress should thank its stars that, at two places, Kalol and Sojitra, it could win by a very thin margin thanks to the karmacharis’ postal ballots. I officially tried obtaining the list, but I was told by Karwal, a Gujarat cadre IAS bureaucrat on deputation to the Election Commission, that newspersons were “not entitled to get constituency-wise results of the postal ballots”; she added, only “registered political parties were.” Someone commented, she was trying to “play safe”, to which I strongly objected. “She had nowhere else to go but join the Gujarat government, once she returns from deputation”, was the remark. Be that as it may, finally, one of my friends helped me get the list from the CEO’s office. It was absolutely revealing. Out of a total of 182, majority of karmacharis had voted for the BJP only in 52 constituencies!
I was left wondering: What made Modi offer the mysterious figure of 70 per cent karmacharis having voted in his favour? After all, he had won the polls hands down. Why was he seeking to provide wrong information? Till now, karmacharis would fear that their identity would be revealed in case they voted via the postal ballot, hence majority of them would never vote. However, this time, they voted heavily, without any fear, and with vengeance, unheard of till now. This wasn’t for the first time that Modi was providing imaginary figures. There are umpteen such instances, and one can add to these, what he declared at the Vibrant Gujarat global investors’ meet on January 12 – that, last year, Gujarat attracted 76 per cent of all employment of the country, and that Gujarat’s small and medium industries (SMEs) grew by 82 per cent. Consultants, present on the occasion, looked at each other. Does it mean that there was no job creation in the rest of India? A senior chartered accountant, who is in close contact with few top industrial houses, added: “The MSE figure is travesty of the truth. Industry circles are upset by stagnation in the sector. Only big industries are growing.”
A closer look at constituency-wise details suggest that barring three major districts – Ahmedabad, Surat and Bhavnagar – karmacharis across the state cast their postal ballot heavily against the BJP. Though Congress was the obvious gainer, it was anti-incumbency against Modi that seemed to be rampant. In Vadodara district, except for two constituencies, Sayajiganj and Savli, everywhere else the karmacharis voted against the BJP. In Rajkot district, Gondal was the only exception. A friend calculated all the figures and told me – out of a total of, 2.76 lakh postal ballots cast by karmacharis, the BJP polled 40 per cent, the Congress 51 per cent, and the rest went to the newly-formed Gujarat Parivartan Party, a splinter from the BJP, and others.
There is a need to find out the reason why the karmacharis – called as karmayogis by Modi – are not happy with him. While the refusal of the Gujarat government to implement the Central sixth pay commission recommendations could be one, if insiders are to be believed, the reasons are deeper. The view is strong that they are terribly upset by Modi wanting them to do odd jobs, especially organizing rallies, bringing people to the rallies, raising funds, and creating hype around him. District collectors are heard complaining that they have not been able to do their routine job because of mela-type rallies. A senior bureaucrat of the industries department told me on the opening day of the Vibrant Gujarat summit, January 11, that he was doing “chaprasi’s job” – of counting the number of chairs for VVIPs. Another IAS babu, Gujarat information commissioner V Thirupugazh, I was told, had sleepless nights ahead of the summit just because he was busy fixing the space meant for mediapersons at the summit venue in accordance with security requirements.
Modi’s efforts to woo babus through chintan shibirs for his campaigns have gone awry. Chintan shibirs for every level of karmacharis – from class one to four – have come to a grinding halt. The main aim of the shibirs, to instill among karmacharis a sense of duty, ostensibly following Bhagwat Geeta principle of doing work selflessly without thinking of the elusive fruit, apparently hasn’t gone down well with the karmacharis.
Modi’s worst experience has been with the safai karmacharis. In 2007, he got published a book, “Karmayog” – actually a collection of his speeches at his high-profile chintan shibirs of IAS officials. Here, he qualified the Valmikis' centuries-old caste-based vocation – of cleaning up others' filth, including toilets – as "experience in spirituality." Modi said, "I do not believe that they have been doing this job just to sustain their livelihood. Had this been so, they would not have continued with this type of job generation after generation….At some point of time, somebody must have got the enlightenment that it is their (Valmikis') duty to work for the happiness of the entire society and the Gods; that they have to do this job bestowed upon them by Gods; and that this job of cleaning up should continue as an internal spiritual activity for centuries. This should have continued generation after generation. It is impossible believe that their ancestors did not have the choice of adopting any other work or business."
A news item on Modi’s remark was published in the Times of India in mid-November 2007. It went unnoticed in Gujarat, but its translation was published in Tamil Nadu, where Dalits staged a protest for calling their menial job “spiritual experience”. They burnt Modi’s effigy. Sensing trouble he withdrew 5,000 copies of the book, but refused to change his opinion. Two years later, addressing 9,000-odd safai karmacharis, he likened the safai karmacharis’ job of cleaning up others’ dirt to that of a temple priest. He told them, “A priest cleans a temple every day before prayers, you also clean the city like a temple. You and the temple priest work alike.” Safai karmacharis and their activist mentors haven’t liked such a stance.
Activists wonder: if Modi values safai karmacharis so highly, why has he begun outsourcing all the menial jobs for a very low pay, between Rs 3,000 and Rs 3,500 per month per worker? Why are they not being employed on a permanent basis? Dalit poet Nirav Patel, while commenting on the reference in “Karmayog”, told me in 2007, Modi’s comment was part of the “larger conspiracy” to continue with caste divisions and exploitation. He asked bitterly: “Why didn’t it occur to Modi that the spirituality involved in doing menial jobs hasn’t ever been experienced by the upper castes?” Novelist-activist Joseph Macwan called Modi’s termed it a reflection of the “Brahminical world view and a status quo approach”. He wondered, “How can a person who has to work in a gutter be described as doing some spiritual duty?”
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https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/true-lies/modi-s-postal-ballot-confusion/

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