THE presidential poll in Gujarat has just concluded. No, no, you will rudely interrupt, there was no presidential poll in Gujarat. It was just a little Assembly poll.
All right, all right, if it was an assembly election, who were the chief ministerial faces on the two sides?
There were no declared chief ministerial faces on either side or even if there were, there was nothing sacred in their nomination. The voter had, in effect, to choose between two prime ministerial faces: Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi.
When Modi took his first meeting with Amit Shah, they came to the conclusion that their current Chief Minister was weak. He could not be expected to lead the BJP to a win. The BJP would win only if Modi’s own prestige was placed as a stake.
So it was decided that the party would attack Rahul Gandhi the person, so that he came to represent the Congress in the public eye. The Congress should be forced to go on the defensive and attack Modi. That would turn the election into a Modi vs Rahul contest and there was no way Rahul could win such a duel.
From the outset, the Congress saw through the BJP’s game. They decided to refuse to be embroiled in a personality clash and tried to force the debate into an issue-based argument. Rahul insisted from the word go that Modi should give straightforward clear-cut replies to his pointed queries regarding the promises made by the BJP and the actual achievements in both financial and physical terms. Modi refused to fall into this trap and kept on harping on Rahul’s weak points.
The major point at issue from Modi’s standpoint was simple. Rahul was a prince, a shehzada, a yuvaraj, totally innocent with regard to the problems being faced by the general public, while he himself was a plebeian, a chaiwala’s son, who had experienced poverty in the raw. Rahul represented the concept of heredity, of dynasty, which did not fit into the philosophy of democracy.
As he warmed up to the theme, Mani Shankar Aiyar, an ex-IFS officer, a Doon School friend of Rajiv’s and a St Stephenian who was a Minister in the Rajiv era, tried to explain what the concept of dynasty was. For example, he explained, this concept was fully applicable to the Mughal era. If Jahangir died, his son Shah Jahan would ascend the throne.
Modi pounced on this innocent definition of dynastic rule. He did not let him finish. He took the dynasty further and compared Rahul not to the romantic Shah Jahan, but to the notorious Aurangzeb.
The unfortunate invocation of the Mughal era was lapped up by Modi and he made a big song and dance about Rahul’s similarities with Aurangzeb. He also spoke about Aiyar having publicly stated during the visit of a committee that went to Pakistan for negotiations that India and Pakistan could not arrive at a settlement till Modi was there. So he would have to be removed first. Modi put it as if Aiyar had floated a supari against him.
The Congress tried to defuse the situation by asking Aiyar to apologise. He was also suspended from the party.
Aiyar again featured in an incident where he hosted a dinner in honour of the High Commissioner of Pakistan, where Dr Manmohan Singh, a former Army chief, a former Vice President, etc., were present. Modi raised a huge shindy about this and insinuated that all these guests at the dinner had plotted against national interest. Singh came on national television and asked Modi to apologise for having maligned him.
Towards the end of the campaign, the Election Commission courted controversy by refusing permission to Rahul to grant interviews to some local journalists, while ignoring Modi’s taking out a roadshow on polling day
There was a similar furore about Rahul having changed the Congress’ policy of siding with the minorities and adopting a secular policy towards all. Rahul had not, in the past, claimed to be a Hindu, or visited temples or sported outer religious symbols. However, in the Gujarat elections he had visited as many as 28 temples, sported a janeu (sacred thread) and made other gestures in order to curry favour with Hindus.
Towards the end of the campaign, the Election Commission courted controversy by refusing permission to Rahul to grant interviews to some local journalists, while ignoring Modi’s taking out a roadshow on polling day.
There was some drama on the day of counting as well as the two parties ran neck-to-neck for a while. At one stage it appeared that the Congress would win. The final result gave BJP a decisive victory, but the Congress called it a moral defeat as the BJP‘s tally did not run into three figures and fell considerably short of the 150 seats promised by Amit Shah.
AND what about the future? 2018 will see elections to eight States and both sides must take the right lessons from the Gujarat poll.
The Congress will have to come up with a positive agenda of what they will do if elected, rather than only picking holes in the BJP’s narrative. They should select the most popular and effective leaders as CM faces well in advance. Similarly, any pre-poll alliances should be forged right now and be based on a cohesive common minimum programme rather than appear to be marriages of convenience stitched together at the last minute only to hoodwink the poor voter. The BJP needs to put its act together if it wishes to be a racehorse and a winner for the long haul. Modi has to stop being a mere purveyor of catchy slogans and show results on the ground.
At the individual level, Modi has to stop being the basket which carries all the eggs for the BJP and Rahul has to go beyond catchy phrases like Suit boot ki sarkar and Gabbar Singh Tax. He has to learn how to speak Hindi as it deserves to be spoken, a combination of Khari boli, Avadhi, Brajbhasha, Rajbasha, Bhojpuri and the rest.
In the final analysis, if he cannot speak Hindi as well as an RSS pracharak, he can never hope to beat Modi.