The Congress’ absenteeism, Narendra Modi’s omnipresence: That, in short, is the story of the one-horse campaign for the recently-concluded polls.
No matter what transpires on May 16, the fundamentals of this narrative are unlikely to change. The BJP fought to win. The Congress had a death wish.
By the time the Congress got into the act, Modi had stated his lines and scripted for himself and the BJP a spectacular reversal of fortunes. His campaign was expensive. But it was worth the money spent; clogging airwaves, manipulating the cyber space, putting him in every frame of the moving picture. Talkies on four-wheels, the holograms, the Modi masks, the vests and T-shirts built a publicity avalanche that buried his rivals. And in some ways, his own party that stood subsumed in his digitally devised larger-than-life persona.
Modi’s hamper for development was so packaged as to kindle aspirations with fear; his promise of prosperity predicated on a deliberately exclusive sense of national pride and security. The ploy worked in areas with sizeable minority presence.
The result: The BJP, aka Modi, was in contest in most of the UP seats where it struggled at third and fourth spots in the previous Lok Sabha elections. A huge leap it was for a party that had its epitaph ready till Modi staked claim to the PM’s office.
Quite revealing in this context were the comments of a Congress leader hopeful of retaining his seat in east UP. He said: “I’m made to contest hard despite my good work and a helpful caste mix. Had I been on Modi’s side, I would’ve won the seat by 3 lakh votes without setting foot on the ground.”
Had he been reporting back the ground realities to his party bosses? Not really, for he had scant respect for the political savvy of people running the show in Delhi.
The Congress’ poll managers had indeed watched in bewilderment as Modi went about his task with clockwork precision. They had power but not the will to make a fight of it. Or so it seemed.
Never before did the Congress come across as so comatose. Not even in 1977 when the fledgling Janata Party had sent it packing. Anti-Congressism then was at its peak, fuelled by excesses of the Emergency, including Sanjay Gandhi’s forced sterilisation programme that had the likes of Vijayaraje Scindia deride his mother Indira as “loop pracharini”.
That makes all the more inexplicable the inertia that crippled the party; the man sought to be politically barricaded being Modi, not as much the Congress that was on the same page as regional satraps bent upon blocking the BJP leader in his tracks.
A better comparison therefore of elections to the 16th Lok Sabha would be with the 1999 mid-term polls that returned AB Vajpayee. The Congress brought down the NDA regime by one vote but earned all-round opprobrium for failing to prop an alternative in the same House.
Then came the Kargil war caused by massive security lapses on the NDA’s watch along the Line of Control. But the saffron party turned the failure into an opportunity to market its brand of hardcore military nationalism. Funerals of jawans martyred in the hill battle were telecast live across India with saturation coverage in the regional and national media. It simulated a fervour that swept the BJP back to power.
That time, the Congress had failed to provide an alternative. In these elections, it let Modi have a free run of the turf, showing him as the only player in the game.
One can quibble over the numbers coming out of the various exit polls. But unlike in 2004 or 2009, the Congress isn’t winning this time. The suspense is over how badly it will perform. Or by what margin will it be trounced by Modi’s troops.