A nationwide outrage took place in the opposition camp amid the ongoing 2019 Lok Sabha election when former Border Security Force (BSF) soldier Tej Bahadur Yadav’s nomination was rejected in the Varanasi constituency by the Election Commission citing “inconsistency”. Yadav, who was dismissed from the BSF in 2017 for protesting on social media against substandard food provided to soldiers, decided to contest against incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi from Varanasi. He filed two nominations, one as an independent on 24 April and another as a Samajwadi Party candidate on 29 April. In these two nominations, Yadav replied differently on a question that asks a candidate whether they were dismissed from government service for indiscipline or corruption charges. While on the nomination papers filed on 24 April he answered in affirmative, in the last nomination he wrote no.
According to Surendra Singh, the District Magistrate of Varanasi and its returning officer, Yadav’s nomination was rejected as it failed to meet Section 9 and 33(3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. Yadav was contacted by the Election Commission on 30 April at 6.15pm and he was asked to furnish a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the BSF authorities by 11am of 1 May to fight the election. It was unlikely for a dismissed soldier, who tried fighting the election on crowdfunding, to travel to Delhi and return within an evening to Varanasi with the NOC from the BSF, whose officers loathe him for his audacity to expose their corruption. As 1 May was a government holiday, it would’ve never been possible for Yadav to bring the NOC on time. No extension was granted to him and his nomination was cancelled arbitrarily by the Election Commission.
Not only was his nomination cancelled, but an FIR was also lodged against Yadav by Singh under the BJP’s direction, accusing the former BSF soldier of rioting under section 147 (punishment for rioting) and section 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by a public servant) for protesting against the Election Commission’s tyranny and Modi’s direct intervention to stop his candidature. Yadav may face jail if he is arrested by the police. While Singh claimed that the FIR is a routine procedure following Yadav’s attempt to “create a ruckus”, the political optics of these incidents, juxtaposed together, points towards a perilous future that’s unveiled by the RSS-led Hindutva fascist camp.
Ironically, the Election Commission has no problems with the nomination of a Hindutva terror-accused like Pragya Singh Thakur aka Sadhvi Pragya, whom the BJP has fielded from the Bhopal constituency against Congress party’s Digvijaya Singh. She is still out on bail and is a terror accused, who was issued notice and barred from propaganda by the Election Commission itself for 72 hours, due to her communal diatribe over the Babri Masjid. She had shown the audacity to malign the image of a brave police officer like Hemant Karkare, who was killed during the 26/11 attack on Mumbai. Her verbal attack on Karkare, who played a crucial role in arresting her and unveiling the Hindutva terrorism plot, was rebuked by the opposition as well as the common people, yet the Election Commission didn’t cancel her nomination. Rather, a soldier, who exposed the pity state of the soldiers on whose name the BJP seeks votes, is blatantly denied a chance to contest the election under the pretext of “inconsistency” and the country was expected to accept it as normal.
The immense hatred and vitriol spewed by the BJP during the election campaign have far surpassed the vitriol spewed collectively by the white-supremacist fascist thugs of Europe and North America during the last one year. Communal propaganda, Islamophobic rhetoric, abuses, etc, are so common that they don’t catch any more attention due to their normalisation in the quotidian parliamentary political arena. The Election Commission never stops the candidates of the BJP from wrongdoings, it never cancels their nomination but only punishes them with few hours of propaganda barring to do a face-saving exercise. Despite Singh’s excuses, it’s quite evident that the nomination of Yadav was cancelled because of the diktat of Modi and the BJP. It was the Election Commission’s best gift to megalomaniac tyrant who can’t risk losing even a single vote to ensure his halo of invincibility remains intact throughout his lifetime by hook or crook.
Modi is seeking reelection to the top post of the country despite delivering economic disaster-ridden governance for the last five years. Due to a lack of real achievements that can be genuinely used to persuade voters, Modi and his coterie have to increasingly harp upon ultra-nationalist chest thumping, chauvinism and xenophobia to polarise and captivate the upper-caste Hindu elite and middle class voters. The military and paramilitary, which are now rechristened as “Modi’s Army” by the BJP, remain at the forefront of the saffron camp’s election campaigning. Citing the examples of a purported surgical strike in Balakote, of which neither he nor the military could produce any substantial evidence, Modi is trying to use the urban upper-caste Hindu elite’s and middle class’s emotive tug regarding the military to garner their support.
Despite the Election Commission’s directive of not using the military or the purported “surgical strikes” to derive electoral mileage, Modi and other BJP leaders have overtly violated the directions and kept playing the “army card” to woo voters. As the Indian middle class and elites, mostly from the upper-caste Hindu background, have a military fetish and show unconditional submissiveness to the military establishment, which is quite strange for a democracy that India claims it’s, for the likes of Modi and other Hindutva fascists, it becomes extremely easy to manipulate the emotions, especially the war-frenzy jingoism that prevails among these sections, to garner votes. Showing total servility towards the Modi regime, the Election Commission, which was supposed to be the neutral ruler of the country during the election period, remained nonchalant over the violation of the poll norms by the prime minister and the BJP in each rally and political communication.
By playing the military card, Modi and the BJP have been trying to distract the popular attention from the burning issues like four-decade-high unemployment caused by lack of jobs, a totally disarrayed state of the economy, falling industrial growth, immense crisis in agriculture and the mounting farm debt crisis. If the records of the voters’ behaviour are studied, especially the decision-maker middle class and elites are observed, one will understand why Modi still stands the chance to sweep the Lok Sabha poll despite popular anger against his policies and programmes, especially the demonetisation exercise. It will be found that as extreme xenophobia over Pakistan and Muslims captivate the consciousness of the politically-crippled urban, upper-caste Hindu middle class and elites, they will happily go with Modi’s bandwagon. This is a fact that Modi knows well and he is trying to exploit the xenophobia-affected, hyper-masculine, bigoted mindset of these two classes, which form India’s 25% and are the only classes that vote without any external pressure or class-caste compulsions, by improvising newer gimmicks and campaigns on social media, a place flocked by the representatives of these classes.
Countering the Congress party’s allegations over Modi’s involvement in the gargantuan Rafale Jet scam, which led to the popular slogan of “Chowkidar Chor Hain” (the guard is the thief), the prime minister’s publicity and PR team designed a new social media campaign with the tagline “Main Bhi Chowkidar” (I am also a guard), where most of the BJP leaders and their supporters are asked to use “Chowkidar” (guard) as a prefix on social media to show their support for Modi. All BJP members, activists and supporters, including the employees of its infamous IT Cell, have changed their prefix to Chowkidar to express solidarity to the prime minister accused of helping a crony-comprador capitalist to play with India’s national defence. This renewed attempt by Modi to showcase himself as a defender of India has been mocked severely by the opposition and they have collectively popularised their slogan — Chowkidar Chor Hain — to build up a momentum.
It was when Modi was doing roadshows spending billions in Varanasi and chest thumping over the military might of India, which he claimed has been possible due to his own leadership, Yadav arrived with a caravan of former soldiers, mostly dismissed from different paramilitary wings and the army as they dared to expose the corruption prevalent in the system. Calling the entire system as rotting, Yadav, a political novice, declared that he, as a real Chowkidar will contest against Modi — the fake Chowkidar — to stop the blatant misuse of the armed forces for the BJP’s personal gain. Yadav, who claimed to be a farmer’s son, claimed that despite the tall talk on military prowess of India, the Modi regime has done nothing substantial for the military and paramilitary personnel.
Yadav, who is also called “Fauzi” (soldier) by his supporters, actually brought thousands of ex-servicemen from paramilitary and army to Varanasi. Citing his own experience of guarding the border, Yadav dared the fake Chowkidar Modi to face him in the election. Modi’s fake love for the armed forces was also exposed by Yadav, who said that neither the Modi regime restored the pension for the BSF soldiers that the previous NDA regime led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee stopped nor did it do anything substantially good for the soldiers rather than abetting corruption within the establishment. Yadav accuses that the corrupt officials have become protégé of the Modi regime and it’s important for the sake of nationalism to defeat the Modi menace.
Giving an interview to the news website The Wire, Yadav said:
“Since he came to power, the number of martyred jawans has been the highest – the number of jawans martyred last year alone exceeds the figure of the last 10 years put together. Most importantly, the one thing that the media has not highlighted is the fact that as many as 997 jawans from the paramilitary services alone have committed suicide in the last one year. And Modi is responsible for it.”(sic)
Talking about the need to counter Modi’s fake love for the soldiers and constant peddling of lies over the status of the soldiers in India, Yadav told The Wire that it’s time that the soldiers confront the prime minister in the electoral battle to set new precedence and teach him a lesson:
“Because Modiji was the one who started it – playing politics in the name of jawans, that is. Now we jawans will confront him and teach him what politics is all about. That is the reason why I am contesting from here – to give him a lesson in politics.”
Such an incessant, direct and severe attack against the prime minister by a former soldier opened a new discourse in Indian parliamentary politics. A real soldier contesting election against a jingoistic and narcissist prime minister by exposing his government’s utmost indifference towards the rights and genuine demands of the soldiers, especially regarding a better working condition, better food, pension, social security, etc, would have been a nightmare for Modi and a lethal threat to the BJP in the temple town of Varanasi. If Yadav’s nomination wasn’t cancelled by Singh, acting as a proxy of Modi, then he would’ve holed the balloon of Modi’s patriotism and nationalism in broad daylight. After spending billions to rebuild Modi’s invincibility halo, the BJP or the RSS’s members weren’t willing to risk anything as suicidal as allowing Yadav to contest the election.
Hitherto only top officers of the armed forces have joined the political bandwagon for a post-retirement career. The BJP has accommodated the largest number of retired Hindutva-incensed military men in its rank. The number is quite higher than any other party due to the BJP’s ability to capitalise upon Islamophobia prevalent among the high-ranking Indian military officials to woo them. It’s for the first time that any soldier dismissed from service for exposing the pathetic condition of the soldiers, voluntarily came ahead and took the charge of fighting an election against an incumbent prime minister. This is a clear demarcation in India’s politics and Yadav was supposed to pay a heavy price for challenging the dominance of Modi and his narrative on nationalism.
Being David and facing the Goliath Modi at the battlefield of Varanasi wasn’t easy for Yadav. The large support he drew and the absence of any credible opposition politician to cut his votes would’ve seriously threatened Modi’s attempt to clean sweep the Varanasi constituency. The real soldier’s plight had to be buried and the cacophony of the Hindutva fascist camp was to be amplified to overlap the grievances of the very soldiers whose dead bodies are used by Modi and his ilk to return to and consolidate power. For the sake of xenophobia and jingoism to thrive, Modi had to clean the turf of the arena before he entered it to fight against no visible opponent. Yadav’s political journey was shortened by Modi so that the real soldier can never disturb the jingoistic equation prepared by megalomaniac politicians like him. However, though Modi has already won the electoral advantage, in the larger battle of politics, in the battle of confidence, uprightness and transparency, he has been defeated by Yadav and by millions of workers and peasants fighting against his tyranny and raising their fist in dissent.