Election 2014 was supposed to be an unequal battle. Political observers had written off the possibility of a UPA comeback and the dice looked loaded in favour of the BJP-led NDA. The game has got even now.
Of course, back then nobody foresaw the implosion in the BJP and the NDA over the former’s decision to elevate Narendra Modi as the face of its election campaign. Everyone underestimated the power of the Congress’s survival instincts; some even predicted its death. Not many were willing to buy that Indian polity is no more about the Congress-BJP duality, but an arrangement of centrifugal forces whose support to national parties is more a matter of convenience than of compulsion.
With the playing field level, from now on it has to be a battle of strategies for the Congress and the BJP. Their task is cut out. They not only have to win a good number of seats but also attract allies to add to the numbers to go beyond the 272 mark. Touching 150 appears difficult for both at the moment.
With Rahul Gandhi at the helm, the Congress has started strategising much earlier. While the media and the opposition have been obsessing endlessly over whether he would be prime minister or not, or whether he has a view on issues of national import, he has been silently active reviving the moribund Congress organisation across states. Away from the media glare, he has been repairing the disconnect between the party’s leadership and the workers, tackling the problem of factionalism in state units and replacing deadwood with fresh blood. He is revamping local level organisations and declogging channels of communication between the top rungs of the party and the lowest.
It’s an arduous, long-term process. But Rahul has shown no fatigue so far. Many might find it a pointless, even an escapist, exercise but anybody with even pedestrian understanding of politics would acknowledge that leaders amount to nothing without a strong organisational network to fall back upon. He is busy with the basics; the media critics can keep debating whether he is prime minister material or not.
And yes, while Rahul is at it, the party is making its caste maths right.It was evident in yesterday’s Union cabinet reshuffle. The Congress is shifting whom it perceives to be efficient back to the organisation. It does not expect the reputation of the government to give it a victory and it does not expect the urban middle class’s perception of the government or the party to change dramatically no matter what it delivers now. So, the safe bet is to go back to the rural voter, which has so far shown no great resentment towards it. If it’s armed with something like the Food Security Act, it would provide the grassroots workers an effective talking point.
The BJP and the Sangh Parivar have decided to begin all over with a new leader at the helm. Of course, the decision to elevate Narendra Modi as the face of the campaign could not have happened without detailed analysis of the pros and cons. Their insistence to stick to him despite resistance from the marginalised old guard in the BJP and allies in the NDA, would come at a price but there is no reason to believe that they have not made a cost-benefit analysis of the move.
Modi is a polarising leader. It’s this specific asset that the wider Sangh Parivar is going to utilise to the hilt. The simple logic is, what’s the point having Modi at the top if there’s no polarisation? That’s his strength. All that talk of development and growth is for the consumption of the middle class and it could be countered easily with statistics. But to get votes eleswhere, polarisation is necessary. Don’t be surprised if you hear of the revival of the Ram temple movement soon from the fringe elements of the Sangh Parivar and the beginning of a mobilisation on a specific religious issue. The Congress is waiting for an electoral windfall by way of counter polarisation.
Both parties have discreetly redirected focus to the non-urban India as part of their strategy. Of course, Uttar Pradesh would be the major battle ground given the number of MPs it sends. Keep your finger crossed.