Bees with glasses

Polls are around the corner. And may the best meme win

Rahul Gandhi dreams of an India buzzing with ideas and energy, like a billion Muhammad Alis dancing to "Flight of the Bumblebee". Narendra Modi dreams reverentially of a caring mother goddess. And in the forthcoming general elections, Mother India's heart will be won by the man who can say what her children want to hear, in an idiom they appreciate, accompanied by images they like. This is a comic age, and nothing less will suffice.

But these competing images feel incomplete, like works in progress. The beehive looks oddly capitalistic coming from a party that is cultivating a genteel politics based on welfare spending. Ever since the speech at CII, where it was aired, it has been inspiring jokes celebrating the "beehiveoural" school of political science, the music of Sting, the secret of Honey Singh's success, the secret of Madhu Koda. The buzz is relentless. Meanwhile, Modi is perhaps overusing the rhetoric of nationalism. When he redefined secularism in a manner unanticipated by the founding fathers, it was "country first". The response to Rahul Gandhi's hive attack is the same: India comes first. Except now, it is incarnated as Mother India. To expect nationalism to have all the answers is extraordinarily trusting.

When Rahul slings something memeworthy, like a sudden beehive, the public discovers its sense of humour. When Modi reprises the old moral lesson of the glass half full by letting some air into it, the matter is reported in all seriousness. It isn't fair. Not to RaGa and NaMo, not even to Mother India who may suspect, quite legitimately, that elections are now decided when the flakiest meme wins.

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