A Saffron Holi is very much likely in UP

Sitting almost 6000 kms from my country, I can claim no ground reports to validate my prediction that BJP is most certainly winning UP. However, I base my prophecy on qualitative observations that I perceive from insightful articles and debates in the idiot box. I have observed intangible elements of human behaviour to sense something that many may know but most of us don’t. At least not yet.

I have 4 observations to make for my baseless proposition.

1. The mood and tenor of Lutyen’s media has changed.

The elation in many quarters of the media in the aftermath of the alliance between SP and Congress was to be seen to be believed. It believed that, finally, a Bihar-type challenge was being mounted against BJP. UP ke Ladke were the toast of the town. It got further cemented in the first phase when the RLD was reported to have done much better with Jat votes.

Then something happened midway during the polls. The narrative seemed lost and `kaam bolta hai’ mattered less and less. The mood, demeanour and body language of anchors, party spokespersons and political pundits seemed rather different. It seemed as if the initial euphoria had evaporated and the tide was turning in BJP’s favour. In stark contrast to Bihar elections, voices of many vociferous anchors suddenly seemed muted.

And now even great TV anchors and psephologists are calling out the obvious – that the BJP are the favourites. I am sure they know something that you and I don’t.

I think that the Lutyen’s media played its card too soon. Or perhaps they tried to fan the gatbandhan wave and realised it too late that it had limited gas. They realised that even though Akhilesh has the goodwill, Rahul and the Congress was the baggage. UP and Bihar are poles apart. And now they are making amends.

2. The language of the SP and Congress altered midway.

Buoyed by the initial media narrative, it seemed a walkover for SP and Congress. In the initial stages, the upbeat mood and language of both parties, bolstered by the joint roadshows, was magical. It persisted till the first two phases of the UP elections and then something seems to have gone wrong.

I suspect that two things developed – first, the anti-Akhilesh faction began to bite and the Congress’ weaknesses began to be revealed, particularly in its backyard. The lack of symphony in the alliance became more evident, especially in the local media.

Midway, the narrative by the Akhilesh-Rahul duo became definitely reactive rather than proactive. The agenda began to be largely set by the Modi and Amit Shah and reactive sentiments by the SP-Congress became increasingly common. Akhilesh’s `Gujarat ke Gaddhe’ and Rahul’s `Modi has grown old and tired’ took the cake. Again, I am sure they knew something that you and I didn’t.

I sense that the alliance has not worked as expected. While the SP has punched hard, the Congress is likely to have underperformed. Akhilesh has good credibility, but Rahul has too little of it. Giving 105 seats to the Congress was a fatal mistake for the SP and particularly for Akhilesh. 

3. The knives are already out for Akhilesh.

The Yadav Pari`war’ is set to continue. The uncertain calm that descended after Akhilesh got the election symbol was a thaw, and the opposing Shivpal camp is waiting to strike back. And strike back they will.

The initial Shivpal comment on breaking the party after the polls must be read in conjunction with the attack by Sadhana Yadav yesterday on Akhilesh. The latter comment was a dead giveaway that many in the Akhilesh pariwar feel emboldened by the fact that the SP-Congress alliance has not performed well at the hustings. Do they know something that you and I don’t know?

The war in the family was for real; and it isn’t over yet. SP’s loss in the elections will trigger another round of jousting within the family. Whether it leads to a veritable split in the party remains to be seen. But Akhilesh has established himself firmly and will continue to remain a powerful leader in UP in his own right.  

4. Modi’s sprint at the last lap says it all.  

Many political pundits have surmised on Modi’s intensive campaigning in Varanasi before the last phase of voting. The reasons offered have ranged from `BJP losing, so he’s desperate’ to `BJP winning, so he’s consolidating further’.

My take on this is that Modi’s unusual 3-day campaigning in Varanasi was a definitive attempt to `make’ the likely BJP victory his own. Detecting the favourable winds, Modi – the astute politician that he is – wants to take complete credit for the win. He has risked his political capital because he senses the downside risks of losing are less now while the upside gains from winning are huge. This was in stark contrast to Delhi, where sensing defeat, Modi attempted to disengage himself from the campaign towards the end. He surely knows something that you and I don’t.

A win in UP will make Modi the favourite for the 2019 general elections. The BJP will continue to be the dominant pole in Indian politics. However, the opposition ranks will be in quandary. All permutations and combinations are possible for putting up a united front against the BJP. The Congress will be the biggest loser, gradually sliding into irrelevance.

And What if the BJP loses?  Well, I will admit to have read the tea leaves wrong.

Politically Yours

Vivek Misra

 

 

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It’s a battle for survival, dear!

The changing colour of political parties was always a feature of Indian politics. But in recent times, the way in which some political parties have redefined their stances and changed their alliances defy credulity. The advent of Modi not only changed the fortunes of BJP but also radically altered the then-prevailing status quo of politics. `UP Ko Yeh Saath Pasand Hai’ is a logical fallout of that just like Bihar’s `Chandan and Saanp’ embrace. It’s a battle for survival in the jungle and dangal of Indian politics.

Blame it on Modi.

2014 was not just any year. It was the year when tectonic shifts took place in Indian politics. Not only did it herald a majority government at the centre after thirty years, it brought Narendra Modi to the centre of Indian politics. Riding the Modi wave, the subsequent victories for the BJP in Maharashtra and Haryana signalled that the BJP was fast becoming the pole of Indian politics. Everything that has unfolded thereafter has confirmed the obvious, and something I had also alluded to in my earlier posts – it’s Modi versus the rest.

The growing national footprint of the BJP and the increasing national stature of Modi upset the prevailing status quo – a status quo that survived on political opportunism and backroom deals, where everybody had a chance, everybody could make a deal, and everybody was in the game, now or later. As long as the Congress and the BJP straddled two ends of a bipolar universe with neither big enough to call the shots, it was par for the course.

Modi changed this cosy political arrangement. With him at the helm, BJP transformed itself into an ambitious party, winning state elections and gobbling up vote shares even in states like Assam, West Bengal and Kerala.

A winning BJP is not what scares other political parties, it is the increasing salience that Modi seems to be getting from segments of population which have not been traditional BJP voters. As long as BJP was confined to its largely urban upper caste and bania base in the Hindi heartland, it was ok. But the churning taking place among the youth, the OBCs and the Dalits and its increasing salience in the non-Hindi speaking states is clearly giving many parties sleepless nights.        

Ideology? What’s that? 

No wonder the Congress is a diminished force. SP and BSP are struggling to guard their flanks. The Left in Kerala is feeling the jitters and Mamata is spewing vitriol. Even the Shiv Sena finds itself at the receiving end. Modi is the name of the game.

And soon the inevitable happened. Laloo and Nitish joined forces to defeat Modi and BJP in Bihar, with Congress latching on. And ideology was sacrificed at the altar of opportunism.

The Congress allied with its traditional opponent, the Left, in Bengal. Didi won the seats and BJP got more vote share. Now Didi has called out to the Left to fight Modi post-demonitisation. Does ideology matter?

Now the Samajwadis have joined with the Congressis in UP to take on a resurgent BJP. Well, it’s 50 years of socialist ideology turned turtle.

Ideology cannot trump basic survival instincts. A rampaging BJP has unleashed hitherto unknown fears among political parties, and forced them to compromise on their ideological values. Because, it’s their survival at stake.  

After all, Secularism is under threat!

Ideology be damned when secularism is under threat! Bihar was saved by the Laloo-Nitish duo from communalism; Mamata is continually striving to save secularism in Bengal; and SP-Congress have come together to do the same in UP. Tomorrow, it could be the Shiv Sena and NCP allying for secularism in Maharashtra!! The fig leaf for these bewildering set of alliances is always the need to protect secularism.

Of course secularism is not under threat when alliances are formed to consolidate minority votes. Or when pensions are paid to muezzins to cater to the muslim votebank. Or when illegal migration is encouraged to change the demography and add to your kitty of votes.

The BJP is of course playing the opposite game. And that’s stating the obvious. The more the likes of Sakshi Maharaj and Vinay Katiyar are tolerated, the more it adds fuel to fire. Gau rakshaks and anti-Romeo squads are just communal goondas draped in cultural clothing. It’s a double game that Modi and Amit Shah are playing – nationalism and developmental politics suffused with a soft Hindutva hue. If and when the latter comes to dominate the former, we have had it.

The game of secularism is the oldest game known to democracies. Identity politics is the bread and butter of the electoral tug of war, be it in the form of caste, religion, language or gender identities. But unbridled minority appeasement will take you downhill; and so also overt majoritarianism. Eventually.     

Political formations in states will look very different in the future. States with multi-cornered contests will slowly become bi-polar polities and vice-versa.

The changing political realignments have and will result in interesting outcomes. Win some, lose some.

This will be the trend. (a) Increasing alliances to stop the BJP (b) Secularism will be the pretext (c) This will help win the secular alliances win in some states, but lose in others. Those who win will live to fight another day. Those who lose will find it difficult to survive.

So let me do some crystal gazing.

States with multi-cornered political formations will increasingly become bi-polar, with BJP and anti-BJP poles. In such states, BJP’s growing footprint will reduce the political space for regional parties, in which one too many cannot survive.

In Bengal, both the Left and TMC cannot survive as political rivals; the BJP’s increasing vote share will squeeze out one of them, in all likelihood the Left. In UP, BJP’s growing stature will make one of the two, SP or BSP, marginal. Mayawati may be more vulnerable than Akhilesh.

To survive, political rivals will need to come together. Like in Bihar where RJD and JD (U) came together to defeat the BJP; otherwise one of them would have faced its political waterloo. However, the difficulty in sustaining such alliances is all too evident, given their conflicting ideologies and vote banks.

On the other hand, states with bi-polar political contestations will become increasingly multi-polar. The growing salience of BJP and the declining fortunes of the Congress will open political space for other parties in these states.

No wonder AAP has spread to Delhi, Punjab, Goa. Political formations in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh could also become multi-polar in future.

The fate of the Congress looks to be the worst. It’s a lose-lose kind of situation. On one hand, allying with regional parties like in Bihar, West Bengal and UP reduces it to be a bit player in states with multi-cornered political formations and, on the other hand, multi-polarisation in traditionally bi-polar states makes the task of winning these states back from the BJP more difficult.

Last word

The battle for survival is surely raging. The Congress and the regional parties are fighting hard to stay relevant. And anything goes to keep Modi and BJP at bay. Stay tuned for even more bizarre alliances!

But BJP is here to stay. Slowly and surely, it will come to dominate electoral politics in India, like the Congress of yore. Along the way, there will be some speed bumps like Delhi or Bihar. UP? Maybe or maybe not. But stopping this juggernaut will take some doing.

 

Politically Yours

Vivek Misra

 

Dove and Hawk – Modi plays it perfect.

The recent surgical strikes by India is not only an inflection point in India-Pakistan relations, it is also an inflection point in the political journey of Narendra Modi. Dove and Hawk – Modi has mastered the art of political positioning both domestically and internationally. As a pan-Indian leader, he stands heads and shoulders above his peers today.

Modi rode to power in 2014 on the crest of unrealistic expectations. Apart from expectations on inflation, jobs, black money and corruption, tackling Pakistan was expected to be a key challenge. His pre-election rhetoric and his strong leader image raised expectations towards a more muscular approach to Pakistan. Events that have unfolded since have highlighted how Modi has, played both dove and hawk perfectly and in the process enhanced his image, and that of India’s, both domestically and internationally.

Modi as Dove

New to the role, Modi’s peace moves with Pakistan were a little unsure and tentative. The on-and-off again talks hardly went anywhere, both due to India’s inconsistency as well as Pakistan’s internal politics. Modi’s critics and political opponents panned him for lack of a coherent strategy; and his right-wing supporters were disappointed with his peace overtures.

But Modi’s personal initiatives for dialogue took top-of-the-mind recall. His invite to Nawab Sharif for his oath-taking ceremony; his meeting with Sharif in Ufa and Pakistan’s subsequent back tracking; and his dramatic unplanned luncheon stopover at the Sharif’s in Lahore. He could firmly implant the idea in the international community that India desired peace and he could go out of the way to explore all possibilities.

The Kashmir agitation and Uri changed the script.

Modi as Hawk

Two and half years into his job, Modi is now clearly more confident. And more prepared.

Two developments pushed Modi to assume the mantle of a hawk. First, the Kashmiri insurgency that was ignited and sustained by Pakistani elements and a weak and impotent government in J&K that allowed the fire to burn. Second, the rhetoric of the Nawab Sharif government to counter challenges to its authority from its Army and opposition parties. India could no longer be a crutch to the civilian administration in Pakistan.

With Kashmir on the boil and with Nawaz Sharif fighting for survival, Modi unleashed his first card. Balochistan. And that certainly put the cat among the pigeons. This was also perhaps the signal that the tide had turned. For once, India was willing to consider unconventional means to counter Pakistan.

Then Uri happened. It will, perhaps, go down as the biggest blunder done by Pakistan in its war by a thousand cuts. The spotlight shifted firmly from Kashmir to cross-border terror and has ever since stayed there.

Modi’s decision to explore surgical strikes and publicly acknowledge it was a masterstroke. It has proved his credentials and enhanced his credibility like nothing else. The fact that he invested a good part of his tenure cultivating world leaders, India stood to harvest rich diplomatic gains in these troubled times.

Its early days yet, but Modi has shown he is a better offensive player than defensive.

Unpredictability trumps Irrationality. Most strategic experts view Pakistan as an irrational state and that its actions defy common sense. Few realise that this irrationality is actually predictable. Every period of relative calm has been shattered by either army incursions or by terrorist strikes. Jaw-jaw has always been followed by deception and deceit. And India’s response to this predictable irrationality was always that of a rational state exercising `predictable’ strategic restraint.

Uri changed that and a little more. For the first time, the Indian state displayed unpredictable behaviour by opting for surgical strikes and then making it public. It was a pure rational response but the fact that it was unpredictable and unexpected from India has put the irrational Pakistan state on the backfoot. We know and anticipate that the Pakistani response to this will be more `predictable irrationality’ – to be countered by more `unpredictable rationality’ from India. The rules of the game have changed. Forever.

Henceforth, Pakistan will continue to be predictably irrational. And India will be rationally unpredictable. Game on!

Dove & Hawk are two sides of the same coin

Both as dove or hawk, Modi’s biggest attribute is his ability to seize the initiative through `unpredictable’ actions. For peace, his invitation to Nawab Sharif and his unplanned stop at Lahore. In conflict times, his invocation of Balochistan and then the surgical strikes. Pakistan is perpetually on the defensive. And so also Modi’s political opponents in India.

The reason why Modi’s political image is at an all-time high is because of his credibility – both as a dove and as a hawk. In fact, both these aspects reinforce each other. His going out of his way to initiate dialogue burnished his dovish credentials; this gave him the elbow room to explore unconventional options in difficult times. And you can bet it will work the other way round too.

The recent Mood of the Nation poll by India Today places him very high on the popularity charts. The credibility that Modi enjoys also allows him to shape and mold the mood of the nation. He can either ratchet up the war rhetoric if he so desires; he can also play the peace game and simmer down tensions.

This is the best opportunity for Pakistan to smoke the peace pipe. Modi is the best man to do peace business with. But he could very well be the worst nightmare for Pakistan if it seeks conflict.

Politically Yours

Vivek Misra

The Ace that the Congress is not playing

 

Before Rahul Gandhi is anointed as Congress President, let me record my say. That there is an alternative that Sonia (not the Congress) is not exploring or unwilling to consider, for reasons not quite known. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.

And let me make it clear at the outset, unlike what Prashant Kishore suggests, Priyanka’s role should be at the National level, not at the State level.

The Congress is facing its sternest test ever and is staring at a possible meltdown after the disastrous results from the latest state assembly elections. If media reports about Sonia having decided that it’s time for Rahul to take over are true, then the Congress has a bleak future indeed. And if the Congress believes that it will bounce back just like it did post-emergency or post-Bofors, then they are living in a fool’s paradise. A ragtag coalition then is different from a muscular BJP now with an increasing national footprint. A hamstrung Morarji Desai or VP Singh then is no comparison to Modi now – a leader with pan-India acceptance and more than a personal grudge to bear against the family.

My premise is simple. For Congress to survive (emphasis intended), it has to be Priyanka. Else, it may muddle along as long as it can, but eventually will become irrelevant. She is the only Ace left in the bare Congress (read the family) cupboard. And it is time to play that Ace. And at the National level.

So why Priyanka?

To get to this answer, let’s ponder on the alternatives.

First and the most obvious one, Rahul Gandhi. Emperor with no clothes? Congressmen in private agree with this statement. Ever the political dilettante, he has flirted from issue to issue without showing a real and mature understanding of politics or governance in India. If political pundits rap him for his lack of political acumen, I shudder to think what they will make of his governance capabilities, should he hold executive authority. With the new guard waiting to take over once Rahulji is anointed, do expect more than some fireworks from the old order.

The second alternative would be for the family to let go of the party. The problem in this case is that the party will not let go of the family. There are multiple factions within the party both at the national and state levels, and a million mutinies would be mounted if the Gandhis decide to abort. This state of affairs reflects poorly on Sonia who has bartered the interests of the party to promote her son by consistently emaciating local leadership.

Truth be told, Rahul Gandhi is a sub-optimal choice. Any non-Gandhi is a no-choice. And Sonia has ruled herself out.

The only option left is Priyanka. But isn’t she untested? Won’t she have to grapple with the same factions that Rahul has to? How will she handle other regional parties and allies? And what about Robert Vadra?

The answer to the above is provided in the table below that compares the three options available to the Congress.

  Non-Gandhi Rahul Priyanka
Charisma Depends – none who can match Priyanka or even Rahul Okie-Dokie. But manufactured, not natural. A Natural. The biggest trait that she exhibits. Modi meets Anti-Modi.
Performance Depends – but none with exemplary credentials Poor. Unknown. No failure can be an asset.
Acceptance in Congress Zero. No Gandhi surname. Reluctant and forced. Expect dissent from the old guard. Huge. No one, young or old will dare to dissent
Working with Allies Depends – but unlikely to be accepted by all Will face problems to assert himself, allies will be demanding Likely to join forces with Congress and fall in line
Challenge from Regional Contenders Will form support groups to counter the threat Cannot take them head-on, try and make allies and thus play second fiddle Takes them head-on; if allies then Congress gets a better deal
Taking on BJP & Modi None with enough political capital A losing fight. Reactive not proactive – waiting for the BJP to make mistake Proactive. New narrative and a competing charisma.
Corruption Difficult to isolate individual (self) from party. Unable to distance himself; and National Herald beckons. Robert Vadra is compromised, not she. Challenge is opportunity. She can also distance herself from him or play victim.

So what will Rahul Do then?

Cool his heels, obviously!

There is no place for two `active’ Gandhis in the Congress. Mark my words – the emphasis is on active. Indira was `Gungi Gudia’ until Nehru was there; and so was a docile Rajiv till Indira’s death; and a dormant Rahul till he became VP. Since then, Rahul has upset the power structure just like Sanjay Gandhi did. History repeating itself! The party culture of sycophancy is centred on individual Gandhis as much as around the family.

Hence, both Priyanka and Rahul cannot live together – one has to give way for the other. And if the Congress wants to survive, it’s a no-brainer.

So, how can the brother make way for the sister?

Simple. Take political sanyas. For 10 years. But he could go out on a moral high ground. He could accept responsibility for the sorry fate of the Congress and quit. And we Indians are suckers. See we fell for the ultimate sacrifice that Mother Sonia made by sacrificing the PM post. Likewise, this will also create a wave of sympathy for the family. Most Indians will feel for him and agree with the decision he made. Some will ridicule him that `Pappu fail hogaya’ but nod their heads in agreement that he was a nice chap. Last but not the least, it will bring more than a sense of relief in the Congress.

What about Sonia?

Well, she has made up her mind to give up the post of the President, and she should stick to it. Remember, two `active’ Gandhis never tango together. Sonia should step down and call for elections for the post of the President and Vice-President.

You must be thinking I am crazy. Hold your horses, folks.

How should Priyanka come in?

Priyanka’s entry should be carefully strategized and managed. How she makes her entry could make or mar the Congress’s prospects.

First, build up expectations. With Sonia and Rahul out of the fray, there will be a massive outcry from the rank and file for Priyanka. Even senior leaders eyeing the vacant top posts will publicly back the call for Priyanka. The media will have a field day speculating on whether Priyanka will enter or not. There will be massive rallies with hundreds of placard carrying congress supporters chanting `Priyanka lao, Congress bachao’. A stoic silence from Priyanka or a `Its her decision’ from Sonia will further add fuel to fire till it reaches a crescendo.

Second, make the entry Modiesque. Once it is clear that the public mood is in her favour and the space at the top has just one and only claimant, she should announce that `she is willing to serve the party and the people’. `That her initial reluctance gave way to acceptance after seeing the love and blessings of thousands of congress karyakartas and people at large’. `And that she would serve the people just like her family has done for decades.’… etc. etc. you get the drift, I presume. It will fire up the hearts and minds of Congressmen of all hues, just like what Modi’s candidature did for the BJP.

Third, legitimise it through party elections. Once Priyanka acquiesces, call for party elections for all key posts. Priyanka throws in her nomination for the top post; and let’s see who contests against her!! Or maybe have a stooge who will, who can be rewarded later. Anyway, she will win hands down and so will a handpicked VP (not Rahul please, remember he’s already gone on a sabbatical).

But this process will legitimise her as the natural claimant of the Congress. If the Congress needs anything off their back, it’s their dynastic stigma. By legitimising Priyanka at the top, the dynasty argument of the BJP, though legitimate, will lose its sting.

When should Priyanka come in?     

The sooner the better for the Congress! And before the UP elections.

Legitimacy is built on track record. If Priyanka is given ample time before the UP elections, she can demonstrate success. Don’t assume that she can win UP, but she will do better than Rahul. She can galvanise the foot soldiers to fight and be a respectable force, and that is enough to keep the fire burning for the 2019 elections.

If kept later, the Ace may no longer remain one. To bring in Priyanka before the 2019 elections will reek of opportunism and dynasty politics – that because the son didn’t succeed, now the daughter gets a chance. Moral of the story – the more Priyanka is distanced from her family, the better. And that includes Robert Vadra!

But is Priyanka the Personality enough?

Nope. No political personality can survive on personality alone. Successful political personalities have an equally strong political narrative that backs them. Modi’s personality is backed and, perhaps, shaped by his political and governance successes in Gujarat. So is Nitish’s or Naveen’s. Or for that matter Jaya, Mamata and Mayawati. Personality politics is sustained on the basis of performance.

The charisma that Priyanka exudes needs to be backed by a suitable political narrative and vision. Charisma may work first time, but not second time. The fact that she has been away from the limelight means two things. First, she is handicapped by the fact that her political views are relatively unknown. But this could be an advantage as well. Which is my second point. She can articulate a new and different narrative, because she is rather disconnected from the current Congress discourse. The elbow room that she will get will certainly not be available to his brother Rahul.

And god (and you and me) knows that Congress needs to go beyond the Garibi Hatao-Sickular doctrine. Talk youth, talk aspirations, talk jobs (real, not 100 mandays), talk youth, talk women, talk inflation, talk corruption. And importantly, talk failure – as I said before `we are suckers’ for apologies. Only Priyanka can do this, not Rahul or any other Congress sycophant. Only Priyanka can change track 180 degree, and be accepted. Moral: Having no baggage is an asset!

So will it happen?

Unlikely. It seems that Sonia has made up her mind that Rahul is the way forward. And Rahul has concurred. That will indeed be a pity.

Everyone gets a chance to reform, to change track. This is the only chance for the Congress – to think out-of-the-box or to persist with the tried-and-failed. If it chooses the former and pitches for Priyanka, it will give sleepless nights to Modi and Shah, as well as to several regional aspirants. Mamata, Nitish and Kejriwal will have to temper their ambitions. And the Congress will live to fight another day. But if it chooses the latter and carries on as if it’s business-as-usual, the demise of the Congress could be sooner than expected. Sonia Madam, try it at your own peril!

Politically Yours

Vivek Misra

Disclaimer:  I have no idea about Priyanka’s state of mind – whether she is inclined to being in full time politics or play the usual hide-and-seek that she’s used to. That’s her choice, and she is fully entitled to it. But the Congress without her in the vanguard is a sinking ship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nationalisation of the BJP, Regionalisation of the Opposition and Marginalisation of the Congress

“Zindagi ko badalne mein Waqt nahi lagta

Par Waqt badalne mein Zindagi lag jati hai!”

 

Times have changed! And how!

The political landscape and the political narrative have undergone a radical transformation ever since Modi brought BJP to the helm of national politics in 2014. Delhi and Bihar notwithstanding, results from the latest assembly elections confirm the trend that started with the general elections in 2014 – of BJP slowly and surely expanding its national footprint; the Congress dramatically losing vote share and mindshare; and regional parties emerging as principle opponents to the BJP. These three factors have completely changed the political landscape in the country.

Nationalisation of the BJP

Not so long ago the BJP was labelled as the Hindi-belt party, and the Congress prided itself on its pan-India presence. Today, it’s a different story. With 13 states under its belt, the BJP’s footprint is now visible in all four corners of the country. The nationalisation of the BJP footprint is almost complete. What it needs to do now is to consolidate and build on its gains, particularly in virgin areas like Kerala and West Bengal, while maintaining dominance in its traditional bastions. This gives the BJP a good shot at coming back again in 2019, by effectively creating a buffer for the losses they are likely to have in their traditional states – UP, Rajasthan, Gujarat, MP, Delhi where it achieved a complete whitewash in 2014.

It was virtually unimaginable in 2013 that this would happen. And that too so quickly. The Modi magic has not only brought the BJP to power at the centre, it has also ensured BJP’s spread to hitherto unchartered waters. Modi will, perhaps, go down as the foremost political figure in BJP’s history who took the party to the zenith of political dominance.

Regionalisation of the Opposition

The shifting of the centre of gravity towards BJP and the consequent weakening of the Congress effectively makes the regional parties the main challengers to BJP dominance. And there are quite a few! If Arvind Kejriwal was the giant killer a year ago, Nitish `sushasan babu’ became the toast of the town six months ago, and now Mamata Di is the flavour of the season. And we haven’t come to the forthcoming elections in UP as yet.

What is clear is that the gradual weakening of the UPA (or what remains of it). DMK, NCP, IUML have stagnated. Older allies like TRS, BSP have deserted the Congress. The Left’s dalliance with the Congress has been a disaster in Bengal. With the Congress no longer remaining the pole for opposition, regional parties will venture out to be lead players.

Can they arrive at a common platform? Unlikely if we go by earlier evidence.

  • Mamata will not go with the left or with Congress
  • Now left will not go with Congress
  • Kejri will not go with the Congress
  • Nitish can go with Kejri only after he junks the Congress
  • Mayawati will not go with Mulayam
  • Mulayam will not go with the Congress or Mayawati
  • Jayalalitha will not go with DMK
  • Naveen will not go with anybody

Too many contradictions! But if Nitish could go with Lalu in Bihar and the Left with Congress in Bengal, anything is possible! Pursuit of power scores over ideology, especially when survival is at stake.

What about the Congress? Well, it can go with anybody, I guess. If only that anybody condescends.

Marginalisation of the Congress

Perhaps the most trending news today is the marginalisation of the Congress. As if the decimation at the centre was not enough, it is slowly and surely bleeding to death in the states. The real bad news for the Congress is the latter. First, in our federal polity, foothold in important states ensures relevance at the centre. The decreasing footprint of the Congress reduces its leverage at the national level, thereby allowing multiple regional players to fill that space. Second, lack of regional footprint reduces the ability of the party to perform electorally at the national level. It is indeed a vicious cycle that the Congress is likely to endure – decreasing leverage at national level will affect regional image and weak regional performance in turn will affect national electoral prospects.

This is also the reason that the Congress will find it difficult to fight back – it has not invested in local leadership. This will prove to be the fundamental factor for its bleak future. The culture of the Congress has revolved around the hegemony of the Gandhi family, which extracted more political (and financial) capital from states than it provided. It will take years before it is able to start cultivating local leaders again. But does it have the time?

Key Lessons from these Polls

There are four key takeaways for political parties from these state elections (and those before).

  1. Politics is a long term game. BJP didn’t get Assam just like that. It was in the works for years. Mamata’s dominance in Bengal was built over decades.
  1. Credible local leadership is the most basic ingredient for victory. All the recent state assembly elections are testament to this fact. You ignore this principle at your own peril – compare the Delhi and Bihar duds for BJP with that in Assam. Or Mamata versus Who? in Bengal.
  1. Alliances matter. But only when the alliances have credible faces backing it. The JD(U)-RJD-Congress alliance in Bihar had strong personalities like Nitish and Lalu to manage the inherent contradictions; the Left-Congress alliance in Bengal had none.
  1. The secularism game spawns a counter-minority mobilisation. Its fine as long as the game yields rich dividends as it did for the Congress, the Left and some regional parties for decades; but if overdone it can be debilitating. UP in 2014, Assam in 2016 reflect a reverse Hindu polarisation – overt and extreme minority appeasement results in majoritarian consolidation. Second, the number of players in this secularism sector is growing but the vote base is not. The standard torchbearers like the Congress and the Left have to contend with the likes of Mamata, AAP, Owaisi and others. The Hindu vote is getting consolidated and the Muslim vote disaggregated. More is certainly not the merrier for the secularism game!

Post Script

The battle lines are gradually taking shape for the 2019 general elections. Punjab and UP elections next year will most probably make these battle lines more distinct and sharper. As things stand today, it’s BJP versus some kind of a third front, with Congress trailing.

But things could change. The existential threat to the grand old party is real and imminent. Not that I am a betting man, but Sonia’s last throw of the dice can completely change the game. And that will be Priyanka Gandhi. For the party (and the dynasty) to survive politically there is no choice but to unleash Priyanka. She has mystic, she has charisma and she has a political mind. But does she have the gumption and desire to fight from the trenches? Whether that will work is a million dollar question, but it will certainly make elections 2019 more interesting than elections 2014! Imagine!

My next blog will ponder on this aspect. Why the Congress will be forced to bring in Priyanka, what will then happen to Rahul, how she will make the grand entry, and how it will impact the Indian political landscape.

Can’t wait? Neither can I!

Politically Yours,

Vivek Misra

 

 

Modi and his Mistakes

Narendra Modi continues to be the under the spotlight. Before Bihar, during Bihar and after. But Bihar proved to be a key political pit-stop in contemporary Indian politics. One that should force Modi to take stock – of things that have gone well and those that haven’t in these 18 months. Modi’s mistakes so far have come either from political hubris or from political misjudgment. The clock is ticking…  

Indian elections are fascinating. Beyond the political rhetoric, the rallies (or `relaas’ as Modi put it), the intensive campaigning and the exuberant celebrations, elections in India leave a sweet after-taste in the mouth. Be a supporter for a winner or that of a losing combine, none can disagree with the final word of the voter. Grudgingly or otherwise, you accept the collective wisdom of the people. Not that this is unique to India. But what certainly is, is how this collective wisdom surprises the best of political players and pundits alike. Barring some instances, the Indian voter has always made prudent choices; and Bihar was just another one.

I don’t want to delve on the immediate and proximate causes of the Bihar assembly election results or what it portends for the future of BJP and Indian politics; the print and electronic media is abuzz with one analysis after another. I have a different take in the aftermath of the Bihar elections, one that is focussed squarely on Narendra Modi. Why? Because, he continues to be the most intriguing political leader of his time; drawing either unconditional affection from his `bhakts’ or unqualified derision from his opponents – or for that matter both from the media. That he also happens to be the Prime Minister of India as well as the unquestioned authority in his party is but an added qualification.

I am neither a Modi Bhakt who fawns over him nor one from the `secular’ brigade who despises anything Modi-isque. Me and my ilk exist! In case the Modi Bhakts and the Modi-Haters think we don’t. Thank God I don’t have a twitter handle!

Anyway, without taking away anything from the subject of my analysis, I must add that Modi has to his credit several things. (a) Nobody can deny that he exercises strong leadership of his government, quite unlike his predecessor; (b) his thrust on foreign policy has been a refreshing change and which has enhanced India’s position in regional and international geo-politics (c) overall fiscal management (including inflation) is prudent and emphasis on public investment will be growth inducing and (d) there is no stench of corruption in the Central Government (as yet).

Does this seem like I am eulogising his tenure? Well, can’t help it given what we saw the UPA do.

But appreciation should learn to live with criticism; and encomiums with brickbats.

So here’s my take on some of the key mistakes that Modi has made thus far. I count six key mistakes, 3 of which stem from his personal prejudices and 3 from political miscalculations. One must understand there is no neat separation between the two – politics and personal prejudices feed on each other, both as causes and consequences.

Modi has his Political Prejudices

To say that Modi has a strong ego would be to state the obvious. It is perhaps expected that any successful political leader who has grinded through the lowly ranks to be at the helm of the top echelons of party leadership would develop and exhibit a strong belief in oneself. But when during this personal journey the self-belief turns into ego, no one knows. Perhaps, with yes-sir bureaucrats and fawning sycophants all around, the slide is faster. It’s rather inevitable. Indira lost it and so did Rajiv. Lalu felt he was unbeatable till Nitish came along; and Nitish became overambitious and overplayed his cards in the 2014 elections. Jaya and Karunanidhi, Mulayam and Mayawati, Mamata and the left; for that matter, Morarji Desai & Charan Singh or Nehru & Rajendra Prasad. Politics is as much about ideologies as about personal battles and prejudices.

But it’s not the ego or prejudices per se that’s the problem, that’s natural. It’s when political ego or prejudice clouds political judgement that it matters.

Mistake 1: Modi went for Nitish’s jugular too soon.

If you thought that the Bihar election was a political contest, you are either naïve or a sucker. (Now that’s reeking of intellectual egotism, but I will stick by it) Politics is not only a contest of ideologies, but also of personalities. And personalities involve political egos. After the dinner snatch and the subsequent breaking of the JDU-BJP alliance, Nitish was Modi’s bete noire for sure. It was no longer a political battle between the two, it became a personal one. Having hammered Nitish in the Lok Sabha election, one would have thought that Modi’s personal ego would have been satiated to some extent. Instead, he went for the maximum – to try and finish Nitish politically in Bihar. After the Lok Sabha defeat, Nitish licked his wounds, swallowed his pride and called Lalu – the rest is history. Modi’s ego dragged him to the dragon’s den and he lost handsomely. Nitish, and thereby Lalu and Congress, got a new lease of life. The fact that Modi did not even acknowledge the 8 years of togetherness of BJP and JD(U) in Bihar was strange (who advised him??). Modi lost a significant amount of political capital he invested in the battle; and, in the process, helped imbue a similar amount in Nitish, who today has emerged as a credible alternative with, possibly, equally attractive but anti-podal attributes. The next battle will be the 2019 national elections and let’s see who has the last laugh.

Mistake 2: Modi’s visceral hate for the Gandhi dynasty (and vice-versa) has made it into a zero-sum game

There’s of course no love lost between Modi and the Gandhi dynasty. His political upbringing may have been steeped in anti-congressism but it was in the aftermath of the Gujarat riots that their relationship got real personal. Both employed all possible means, fair and foul, to further their respective cases – Sonia to nail Modi and the latter to survive. Survive he did, and the shoe is now on the other foot. `Madam Sonia & Shehzade’ and `Maut ka Saudagar’ are just mirror images of the visceral hate feeling that each harbours for the other. It is this personal revulsion for the Gandhi family that holds back Modi from reaching out to the Gandhis as Prime Minister to further his policy agenda. Instead, he has never resisted from rubbing their noses on the ground after the Congress’ election debacle. Can Modi go beyond his desire to quench his personal thirst and can the Gandhis see beyond their narrow agenda for vengeance after electoral defeat? Your guess is as good as mine. Recent developments suggest a recalibration by Modi, but will Rahul relent?

Mistake 3: What suits me doesn’t suit everyone!

Perhaps the most casual yet the most catastrophic mistake by Modi was wearing the monogrammed suit with his name embroidered on it. I sometimes wonder what it takes for someone to wear his name on his shirt and pant! Rahul wants poverty written on it, but that’s a different point altogether!

This mistake was, perhaps, the clearest exbitionism of Modi’s ego; one that reverberated every time Rahul made the suit-boot barb. It demonstrated the clear disconnect between Modi’s idea of himself and the prevailing people’s idea of Modi. The most ardent supporter of Modi would have winced at this blatant expression of personal ego. Although Modi quickly corrected his mistake, the image of him wearing the suit sticks. He has to do more to undo the damage.

Modi and his politics

Modi’s politics has witnessed a remarkable run at the national box office ever since he was announced as the Prime Ministerial candidate of the NDA in the autumn of 2013. With his advent, BJP’s approach to politics took a distinct muscular turn. The agenda of development had a strong nationalistic streak; the campaigns were personality-centric; the optics huge and high profile; and allies were conspicuously sidelined. Calculated polarisation was tactically used to counter caste combinations or reverse Muslim polarisation. Till Bihar happened, this formula worked well, albeit a blip in Delhi, and the BJP’s footprint grew significantly. The loss in Bihar puts Modi’s doctrine of muscular electoral politics in question.

Mistake 4: Modi’s muscular centrist politics weakens his party in the states.

Modi himself is a beneficiary of an accommodative BJP central leadership that actively nurtured regional leadership like his compatriots in Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Karnataka, Goa, Rajasthan etc. 2014 was certainly a wave election but the Modi wave rode on the goodwill cultivated by his regional counterparts. From the evidence so far, the new BJP under Modi-Shah has effectively relegated regional leaders to the background. To a certain extent, consolidation of his position in the party is justified – after all, he couldn’t have allowed alternate power centres to evolve within his own party. That stated, he might have overdone it to his own detriment. A smarter Modi would have invested political capital in Harshvardhan in Delhi or in Sushil Modi in Bihar. The outcomes may not have been different, but certainly his political standing would have.

Mistake 5: Modi’s Land Bill was right, but the process of pushing it through was not.

I don’t know who advised Modi to go for an ordinance on the Land Bill (or if anyone advise against it), but it was an immense political miscalculation. That he had to finally withdraw it after two promulgations is testament to the fact that this was a critical error. While it helped galvanise the opposition, especially the moribund Congress, searching for an issue, it, perhaps, left a lasting impact on people’s perception about the government, especially the farmers and the rural poor. Modi erred in failing to understand what works through executive diktat and what through the legislative process; adopting the legislative route, and failing, would have been better received (like the GST Bill) than trying to ram through via the ordinance route.

Mistake 6: Last but not least, Modi failed to understand that `exploiting’ communal dissent is different from `manufacturing’ communal dissent.

The electoral template of Modi-Shah is now a well-known one. Development agenda as long as it delivers. When the going gets tough, Hindutva comes in handy. The loony right wing, ably supported by BJP MPs, and the opportunistic opposition ever waiting to reap minority votes, then jump in to create ruckus. It worked well as long as the opposition, particularly the Congress and the regional parties like SP, played the minority card. But `exploiting’ dissent is different from `manufacturing’ dissent. Public sab jaanta hai! If BJP gained from the Muzzafarpur riots, it lost from the Dadri incident. It exploited the former, it manufactured the latter. Where the opposition provides an opportunity for the BJP to exploit, it will do so and succeed. Like in UP. Where the BJP manufactures dissent and is perceived as doing so, it will fail. Like in Bihar. Communal politics is a double-edged sword, PM Modi – play it at your own peril. If it works, the media will call the opposition’s bluff. If it fails, it makes your development agenda that much more susceptible. The choice is yours – development only or development with cow!

So what should Modi do?

Narendra Modi is a phenomenon. He is, perhaps, the only pan-Indian leader now in the Indian political firmament. In his party, he remains the unquestioned authority, the muted rebellions notwithstanding; and he has, to his credit, many achievements. With a weak Congress and a fragmented opposition, he rides like a colossus. He has kept the bureaucracy on a tight lease and freed the corridors of power from corporate dalals. He has used his foreign visits smartly to beef up his image as larger than life.

However, the Bihar electoral debacle brings out some harsh truths for Modi. Had the BJP won, the political pundits would have glossed over these issues. Bihar was a welcome reality check. The political animal that he is, perhaps Modi understands its significance more than anyone else.

  1. Ego inspires as well as blinds – he should harness the ego carefully and not let personal prejudice cloud his political judgement.
  2. The tragedy of the Congress was that personal and dynastic preservation came at the cost of the party – Modi should strike a balance between his effort to consolidate power at the centre and nurturing leadership at the regional level.
  3. Communal politics is T-20 cricket, development politics is Test cricket. Modi should understand that losing a battle or two is no big deal; winning the war is more important. And that means only and only the development agenda.
  4. With BJP replacing the Congress as new normal in Indian politics, the opportunistic agenda of the opposition of trying to stitch together convenient alliances can only be negated by similar convenient alliances. Coalitions kill coalitions. BJP + BSP? Any takers?

Afterword

Politics in India, after 2014, has undergone a significant change. And Modi was, and is, at the centre of it – no longer the usual coalitional accommodative politics between a ruling national party cosying up to regional parties and vice-versa to protect one another’s turfs and interests. No wonder the future of many political dynasties are at stake and the likes of Lalu, Mulayam, Pawar, Karunanidhi etc. are sorely missing the Gandhi dynasty at the helm!

And strangely, everyone has become intolerant, or it seems so. The intolerant right was always so; but even the tolerant left brigade has gone ballistic. Similar emotional outbursts, the frothing at the mouths – both these groups are just mirror images of each other. If the right failed to condemn a Mahesh Sharma or Sakshi Maharaj, the left fails to condemn Irfan Habib or for that matter Mani Aiyar. Made for each other! And now Shah Rukh and then Amir Khan. India is certainly in tatters! After all our favourite movie stars say so. I suspect that the intolerance debate is becoming a little too stretched; there’s more froth than soap. But this is the fault line that the opposition will exploit – with a little help from the usual BJP loudmouths.

Modi, as PM, stands today, at a crucially definitive point in Indian politics.  The choices he makes will make or unmake India. What matters is whether the choices he makes, political or otherwise, are in the national interest – that they are not coloured by (a) political expediency and (b) personal prejudice. Else, India will pay – dearly.

Politically Yours,

Vivek Misra

 

Rahul Gandhi: What to be, What not to be.

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Being Rahul Gandhi must be difficult.

He belongs to a lineage that boasts of three former Prime Ministers (and one de facto one), and yet considers power is poison. He lead the Congress party to its worst ever Lok Sabha performance of 44 seats, in stark contrast to the 415 seats that his father managed in 1984. He saw the country reject him at the hustings and, instead, embrace his worst rival. From being hailed as a youth icon when he entered politics in 2004 to being labelled `pappu’ in 2014. And yet against all odds, his supporters wish him to be what he has never ever been. Being Rahul Gandhi must be difficult.

The key dilemma for Rahul Gandhi is this – What to be. And what not to be.

This identity crisis did not stalk his dynastic elders. Nehru as Prime Minister firmly believed in making a modern and secular India and took the public sector to the “commanding heights of the economy”. Indira Gandhi established herself as a strong, even dictatorial, but nationalistic leader who was also seen as pro-poor. Rajiv Gandhi earned himself a modern and progressive image with his emphasis on IT. And mother Sonia Gandhi has established herself as a leader who’s seen to be mature, pro-poor and accepted across a wide political spectrum. In contrast, Rahul Gandhi is yet to be identified by any single narrative that resonates with the masses.

Things were, however, not this way before. Not so long ago, status quo coalitional politics prevailed which ensured that parties remained within the cosy confines of their respective vote banks. The BJP, as the main opposition party, remained mired in factional politics and for the Congress it was business as usual. Sonia and Rahul could afford to play Chidambaram against Digvijay, Mulayam against Mayawati. The UPA Sarkar could allocate coal mines arbitrarily and, at the same time, enact the Right to Food Act. Rahul could do a Bhatta Parsaul one day and a vanishing act the next.

The advent of Modi to the forefront changed all that. And more.

Modi’s rise to the top in BJP, although controversial, radically changed the political narrative. Modi brought with him a credible development and governance narrative that stood in sharp contrast with the UPA legacy of 10 years. Instead of offering a better development narrative, Congress took refuge in the oft-beaten track of secularism and socialism. It was not the discourse per se that mattered; it actually became a contest of personalities. Which Modi won hands down and Rahul lost feet up. The rest is history.

Had Sushma or Advani been the BJP’s PM candidate, you can bet that the political outcome would have been very different. No party would have got a majority; status quo politics would have resumed, even with BJP, perhaps, leading a winning coalition; and win or lose the Gandhi Durbar would have continued to be at the centre of Indian politics.

It was Modi who repositioned Rahul and the Gandhi family.

Politics is inherently dynamic. Situations change and events happen, which in turn, influence political personalities to change and adapt to sustain their relevance. In the normal course of a democratic nation’s political journey, the image of political personalities is usually detached from the respective party’s prospects – especially if you belong to a political dynasty. Win or lose – parties may suffer, leaders rarely do.

But sometimes the unthinkable happens. Along with the flagging prospects of a party, credibility of its political leaders also takes a severe beating. And more often than not, it is the presence of a strong and popular political opponent that makes it happen.  Indira Gandhi did it to the syndicate and repeated it with the Janata Party. And Modi did the same to the Nehru-Gandhi family, and Rahul in particular. His personality, record and rhetoric reshaped, redefined and repositioned Rahul Gandhi.

The strength of Modi’s personality contrasted sharply with Rahul’s effete temperament. Modi’s record as Gujarat CM rivalled Rahul’s lack of administrative experience. Modi’s earthy and eloquent spiel stood poles apart from Rahul’s urbane and faltering talk. From being the `first’ family of India, the Gandhi dynasty soon became to be seen by large sections of the population as the `worst’ family. Rahul, as inheritor and future protector of his family’s legacy, had to bear the brunt of the damage.

It took a 56 day sabbatical for Rahul to understand the impact of Modi for him, his family and his party.

It took all of 11 months since the Lok Sabha elections for realisation to dawn in the Gandhi parivar that it is not business as usual. Not only was the party facing an existential crisis, the Gandhi family was also facing the danger of being wiped out politically. After Modi came to the national forefront, the Congress has lost 10 states, 9 of which to BJP, and for the first time it has lesser number of MLAs than the BJP across all states. From 206, it was reduced to 44 in the General Elections; and its vote share fell below 20% for the first time. The loss in numbers of votes and seats has led to sharp divisions in the party on the suitability of Rahul to don the mantle of Congress President. No wonder he needed time off.

Rahul Gandhi has returned from his sabbatical in an all-new avatar. Since his comeback, he has positioned himself as a saviour of farmers, as a protector of net neutrality and as an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. He has now set out on yatras to different parts of India. He seems to have a blueprint to take on a more active role in Parliament and outside, to contest the prevailing development narrative and to project himself and his party in a different light. It is evident that he has realised that Modi is here to stay and can only be beaten by his own game. The mind space and the media space that Modi commands has no equal. It is for Rahul now to walk the extra mile to reclaim the space which he and his party have ceded.

What works in Rahul’s favour

The Nehru-Gandhi legacy is a strong one. It has withstood testing times earlier too and still retained its resonance with the masses. The fact that the Congress has never been out of power for long (six years under Vajyapee government being the maximum) has enabled the family to retain its aura as the first family in the Indian political firmament. Modi’s attempt to discredit the family and instead usurp other Congress icons of yore is a calculated one, aimed at neutralising the most strategic political asset of the family, one which is least affected by negative political outcomes. Rahul must realise that, notwithstanding several blips and blots, this legacy has enough strength. But the best compliment that Rahul can pay its legacy is by cultivating and exhibiting similar desirable traits which his dynastic elders displayed. Can he articulate a vision for India like his great-grandfather did? Will he display a dominant fighting spirit and stand up to be counted like his grandmother did? Will he don the image of a modern and progressive politician like that of his father? And can Rahul learn a thing or two from her mother – her political maturity, her tenacity of purpose, her conduct and demeanour? And definitely a better set of speech writers!

He has virtually no competition from within his party. The tendency of the party to smother any emerging regional or national leadership by factionalising regional competition has ensured no challenge to the Gandhi family. While this may have hurt party prospects in the long term as is evident, this has also meant that the party is forced to coalesce around the family. The prospects of party leaders have an umbilical cord with that of the family. This gives Rahul Gandhi the comfort to effect changes in the organisation as he deems fit, to define the direction and vision for his party that he believes in. This freedom, however, is not without, encumbrances. He has to be acutely aware of dissidence in state units and between the old guard and the new. How he overcomes these challenges will, perhaps, define his own position in the party.

Rahul will get ample opportunities from the mistakes of the Modi government and the Hindutva brigade. Like any government, the Modi government has made several mistakes; and will continue to do so. The decision to go the ordinance route on the Land Bill was a key mistake. So was the decision to wear a name-embroidered suit. And there has been no potent signal so far to curb the overt hindutva agenda. Rahul has these opportunities to latch on to, which by the look of things he has started to. It’s not rocket science to guess that the Congress has identified the Land Bill and the communal agenda as the key entry points. Rahul has to focus on the articulation of the narrative to make an impact. The chants of crony capitalism sound hollow when you dispensed spectrum and mines as if it was family silver. Painting the PM communal is not so easy when you earlier hobnobbed with Maulvis and Imams.

What goes against Rahul

The Congress is a shadow of its former self. It has lost significant vote share during both to the run up of the General Elections and afterwards. It has been decimated by the BJP in bipolar contested states and reduced to being a marginal player in states with multi-cornered contests. Recent entrants like AAP and MIM have seized considerable vote share from the Congress in states like Delhi, Punjab and Maharashtra. In states where there are strong regional parties like UP, Bihar or West Bengal, the Congress is unlikely to get political space even if it stitches alliances. Many strong local leaders have left the party before the general elections and the subsequent assembly ones. Dissidence is coming out in the open in states like Assam, Punjab, Kerala, TN. A stronger and consistent Rahul Gandhi will not be enough to revive the Congress. But if he can mop up one big success in a key state, it could go a long way in reviving the party prospects. Unfortunately, in the upcoming state elections (Bihar, Assam), Congress will find it difficult to score big.

Modi is a smart, grounded and tough-to-the core politician. He will give no quarters and ask for none either.  By now, it would have been clear to the Gandhi family that in Modi, it is facing its biggest challenge. He has intent – this man not only believes that the family has ruined the country, he has set out remove its last vestiges from Indian policy. He has motive – Modi was hounded by the UPA government for 12 years for the Godhra riots. He has power – now he controls the reins of all the national investigative bodies. He has immense popularity – Modi continues to tower above all political personalities in India. He has sharp political acumen – when to play victim, when to be the aggressor; he is a master politician. And he certainly has the gift of the gab.

Himself. He is his own weakness. Modi did hurt Rahul the most, but it was Rahul himself who lent a helping hand. He dabbled in politics like it was a hobby. He flirted with and flitted from issues like a butterfly. His denial to take any kind of administrative responsibility posed many questions marks on his intent and ability.     His abstract conceptions on development and poverty seemed too disconnected from earthy reality. By establishing a new clique around him that challenged the one around Sonia he actually facilitated two competing power centres within the party. And his articulation replete with one faux pas after another made him a legendary twitter poster boy. Credibility is the most important asset for any politician and Rahul seems to have lost that. But now he seems to have turned the corner. Its early days but it’s evident he has done serious soul searching. Consistency, tenacity and steely determination can make him gain lost ground and more, importantly, his credibility in the eyes of the people.

In conclusion…

Rahul Gandhi in this new avatar is actually undergoing a process of self-rediscovery. He is fighting the demons that hobbled him and his mind and so far he has shown a new zeal and commitment that was always missing. He will only make a difference if he can win this personal fight – a fight to live down his past and to define himself anew for the future. He has both challenges and opportunities. But I believe that, ultimately, success or failure for Rahul Gandhi will be determined by two personalities. Modi and/or Rahul himself.

Politically Yours

Vivek Misra

Vivek Misra

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