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Modi not Invincible

Jacob Peenikaparambil Jacob Peenikaparambil
19 Dec 2022
The PM campaigned extensively in the hill state, going so far as to tell voters that there was no need to remember the local candidate, and that a vote for the lotus would be a vote for Modi. Still, the Modi magic did not work.

The victory of the Congress party with a comfortable majority in Himachal Pradesh in the recently concluded Assembly elections and the defeat of the BJP in the elections to Municipal Corporation Delhi (MCD) indicate that Narendra Modi is not invincible, if the opposition parties, especially the Congress, take elections seriously and fight with passion. The possibility of BJP at any time resorting to ‘operation lotus’ and capturing power, as it did in Goa, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, cannot be ruled out. Therefore, the Congress cannot be complacent.  

Psephologists have analysed the results of the Assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh and have made a comparison between the two. The BJP had a landslide victory in Gujarat winning 156 out of 182 seats with a vote share of more than 50%. The BJP has been in power in Gujarat for 27 years continuously. Anti-incumbency was overcome by a combination of Hindutva, Modi personality cult, development promises, service delivery, a formidable party machine and a hunger to fight zealously for every seat.

At the same time, the above-mentioned factors did not work in Himachal Pradesh and Delhi to make the BJP a victor. The BJP did everything it could both in Delhi and Himachal Pradesh to continue in power. The MCD elections were delayed from March to December, municipal ward boundaries were changed, several AAP leaders have been charged with corruption, and some have been put in jail. Several Union Ministers and the PM campaigned for the BJP. But AAP was still able to win the election.

In the case of Himachal Pradesh, the PM campaigned extensively in the hill state, going so far as to tell voters that there was no need to remember the local candidate, and that a vote for the lotus would be a vote for Modi. Still, the Modi magic did not work. Compared to the Congress, the BJP had huge resources at its disposal and a robust election machinery and a strong party organization.

According to election analysts, what worked in favour of the Congress in Himachal is its focus on the local issues like government employees' worries about the new pension scheme, the woes of apple growers and Agneepath. These issues resonated with the voters. Himachaliyat, a term coined and made popular by Priyanka Gandhi, trumped Hindutva in the hill state.

Before the starting of Bharat Jodo Yatra by the Congress under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi the mood of the nation was characterized by the triumphalism of the BJP as a party that is unbeatable on the one hand, and on the other hand a kind of diffidence and fear on the part of the opposition parties whose leaders were targeted by the investigation agencies like ED, CBI and NIA. 

One cannot say that there has been dramatic change in the mood of the nation, but some indications of the change are visible. The enthusiastic support to the Bharat Jodo Yatra by ordinary people and people talking about the problems faced by them without fear is a positive indicator. Defeat of the BJP in Himachal Pradesh and the MCD, despite having massive resources at its disposal, is another indicator. Hence, there is hope for the future.

The Congress party has to learn lessons from its electoral rout in Gujarat as well as its victory in Himachal Pradesh, and put up a strong fight to the BJP on the electoral front. Many observers have commented that decoupling the Bharat Jodo Yatra from the electoral contests was counter-productive and the party was not visible in electioneering in Gujarat. The Congress's so-called "silent," localised door-to-door campaign has resulted in a near evaporation of the party. Some commentators have said that the party had already given up in Gujarat even before the election took place. On the other hand, the Congress party had worked actively in Himachal Pradesh. Priyanka Gandhi stayed in the state and conducted many road shows and addressed many rallies.

As India is a hugely diverse country, the political scenario is also diverse. Narendra Modi’s magic did not work in West Bengal and it is not going to work in all the states of India. Therefore, the Congress party has to take all elections seriously and it cannot present a depressive mood in any election. Although the BJP knew that it had an advantage over the Congress in Gujarat, it fought the election aggressively, focusing on each seat and marshalling all types of resources.   

The Bharat Jodo Yatra has helped to instil some vigour and enthusiasm in the supporters of the Congress party, as it has raised publicly issues that are vital to the common people like soaring price rice, massive unemployment, and rising economic inequality. The momentum created by the Bharat Jodo Yatra is to be followed up by taking various steps by the Congress if it has to give a tough fight to the BJP in the upcoming Assembly elections in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and the general election in 2024. People should get the impression that the Congress is determined to take on the BJP-RSS juggernaut.  

First of all, the Congress has to deal with factionalism that is destroying the party in different states like Rajasthan, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh etc. Its failure to find a solution to infighting resulted in the loss of government in Madhya Pradesh. Factionalism has been weaking the party in Rajasthan ever since Ashok Gehlot was made the Chief Minister. Factionalism in Rajasthan Congress has reached such a stage that Gehlot called Sachin Pilot, his opponent in the party, a traitor in an interview with NDTV. “The MLAs will never accept someone who has revolted and has been dubbed as a gaddaar,'' he said. If the leadership tussle between the two is not sorted out at the earliest, Congress could lose Rajasthan in the next election.

The greatest strength of the BJP is its robust organization with the solid support of the Sangh Parivar groups. Dedicated workers of the Sangh Parivar are available at various levels. Therefore, the election machinery of the BJP appears to be unbeatable. The Congress will not be able to compete with the BJP, unless and until it revamps and strengthens the party organization, especially at the grass root level -- village, block and district levels. Congress did not pay attention to strengthening party organization when it was in power from 2004 to 2014. As a result, when it lost power, it didn’t have the organizational strength to withstand the onslaughts by the BJP-RSS. Along with dealing with leadership tussles in different states, the Congress has to pay urgent attention to rebuilding the party organization.

Through the Bharat Jodo Yatra an image building of Rahul Gandhi is taking place. The negative image created by the BJP’s media cell is being replaced by the images of a serious leader who is compassionate and willing to make sacrifices for the people of India. The Congress and Rahul Gandhi have to decide what type of leadership role the latter is going to play. Will he be playing the role of a moral leader like Jayaprakash Narayan or the role of a political leader like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru? Leadership vacuum in the Congress party since the resignation of Rahul Gandhi as the president of the party did a great damage to it, and it got emaciated. In the absence of a strong leader projected as the PM candidate, the Congress will not be able to take on Narendra Modi who will be projected as an invincible leader by the BJP.

Throughout the Bharat Jodo Yatra Rahul Gandhi has been attacking the ideology of RSS, even though he was avoiding personal attacks on the BJP leaders, including the Prime Minister. He even showed the guts to criticize V. D. Savarkar, one of the protagonists of the RSS, while the foot march was passing through Maharashtra. The Congress has to be committed to its ideology of secularism coupled with centrism with regard to economic issues. Resorting to “soft Hindutva” by the leaders has not done any good to the Congress; on the contrary, it lost its credibility and its support base began shrinking. The AAP is emerging as another Hindutva party attracting Hindu votes. Against this backdrop, the Congress has to make clear to the people its ideological commitments.    

The Congress has to enter into dialogue with other opposition parties, as in the present scenario it will not be able to take on the BJP alone. For the sake of secular democracy and the Constitution of India, the Congress has to be humble and must be ready to make adjustments with other opposition parties and build a workable coalition well in advance of the 2024 election. A Congress-led coalition has to present before the people a credible and relevant common agenda as an alternative to BJP’s divisive, exclusive and majoritarian Hindutva agenda sugar-coated with welfarism and developmentalism.

History is a witness to the fact that no political party or leader is invincible. The dictatorship of the fascist leaders like Hitler and Mussolini came to an end. The BJP-RSS rule is detrimental to the pluralistic democracy of India, and it is to be replaced. What is required at this juncture is reimagining and reinventing by the opposition political parties, especially the Congress party.

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