Anybody But Modi gathers steam

ABM is a political formation whose members seek to identify a party best positioned to vanquish the BJP
Anybody But Modi gathers steam

A file photo of Narendra Modi addressing a rally in Varanasi. The ABM is a post-2011 phenomenon, gathering members directly proportionate to the rising crescendo of Modi for PM. Photo: Hindustan Times
It’s an acronym that is spreading like a contagion far beyond Delhi, where it was coined. I came to know about it when I asked a radical Left friend about the party she planned to vote for in the Lok Sabha elections. A legitimate question considering the only elections worth voting for the Left in Delhi are those of its universities. She threw a withering glance at me, and then said, “I am a committed ABM member. And hello, ABM isn’t a bank.”

Since then, I have met many ABM members, including the owner of a famous website. They provided me an insight into their motivations. To begin with, ABM is a political formation which has neither a structure nor wishes to capture power. It is, in fact, a state of mind, brought about because of an obsession with the formation’s one-point charter, from which the acronym is derived—Anybody But Modi.

Its members seek to identify a party best positioned to vanquish the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the constituencies on whose electoral roll their names figure, and voting for it, whether or not they believe in its ideology. To vote against the BJP is to also vote against Narendra Modi, its prime ministerial candidate. It is what you call tactical voting. For many, though, it is a conscience vote, entailing the abandonment of an ideology they have subscribed to till now. Since my friend never had a chance to vote for the Left in the Lok Sabha elections, she always voted for the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to demonstrate her fidelity to subaltern politics. Not this election, though, for she doesn’t want to waste her vote as the BSP can’t win in any of Delhi’s seven constituencies.

You might think that she is Muslim, because it is assumed Muslims will, once again, tactically vote against the BJP, apprehensive about their security under Modi’s regime. But she isn’t Muslim, as isn’t former foreign minister Jaswant Singh, who exhibited the ABM symptoms weeks before he was expelled. Participating in a debate on the LILA website on 10 March, he wrote that contemporary Indian politics was witnessing a competition between the extreme and the moderate. The extreme succeeds only for a brief while, for it is ultimately consumed by the “fire that it tries to inflame”. No prizes for guessing who Singh was alluding to. Yes, Muslims alone do not comprise the ABM formation.

Do not also commit the mistake of including in this formation all those who are clubbed in the category of secular, anti-BJP voters. In reality, a substantially large number of them are non-BJP voters, pulled to one of the many parties in the election fray because of their ideology, or because they have been voting for them traditionally, or they are mesmerized by its leaders whose caste-religious identity they share. 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 from the battering of the Congress in the assembly elections in December and the astonishing performance of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi. These results conveyed 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 politicization 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 a Dalit caste muttered wistfully, “Arvind Kejriwal.” He added, “Nothing can make me happier than seeing him defeat Modi. Hindutva’s sharpest edge is reserved for us Dalits, and Modi symbolizes 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 wouldn’t vote for him now. Yes, the computer man is an ABM member. 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 a necessary reason to qualify for an ABM membership. A person can become a member of ABM for his or her deep distrust of Modi for reasons ranging from his authoritarian style of governance to his affinity for big business to his disdain for opponents to his penchant for cultivating a cult following and operating in a controlled environment, the most apt example of which is his refusal to give a live interview to the media.

Before writing this paragraph, I called my radical friend to ask whether the waiter I had met in a plush hotel in Varanasi could wear the ABM badge. You see, the waiter, a traditional Congress voter, had confessed that he would have voted for Modi had Kejriwal not parachuted into Varanasi. “BJP to businessmen ki party hai,” the waiter added, persuaded by AAP’s diatribe against crony capitalism.

The friend sighed at the anecdote and said, “Wish the idea counter to Modi’s had had time to develop sinews.” For now, though, the ABM factor will influence her voting decision, but she feels real sad for all those ABM comrades who will have to vote for the Congress in states where it is the only opposition to the BJP. Democracy, too, can provide us with cruel choices.

Ajaz Ashraf is a freelance journalist.


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