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HindustanTimes Thu,17 Apr 2014

A look at politicians who will set the agenda for 2014 Lok Sabha polls

Varghese K George , Hindustan Times  New Delhi, August 17, 2013
First Published: 23:47 IST(17/8/2013) | Last Updated: 17:18 IST(18/8/2013)

Who is proactive and who is reactive can be a matter of debate, but both BJP and the Congress would want to, and seek polarisation in 2014.

The BJP and the Congress would like 2014 to be a contest between them with regional parties edged out. Take a look at the key issues and the people who will drive politics.

Narendra Modi, in 2014, will be to aspirational India what Manmohan Singh was to them in 2009," says Dharmendra Pradhan, general secretary of the BJP.

The BJP believes it was the middle class - not the rural voters impressed by welfare spending - that voted the Congress in 2009. That class is frustrated with the Congress.

And it is his unwavering focus on the middle class that won Gujarat for Modi repeatedly. Yes, BJP's 2004 slogan 'India Shining' also appealed to the middle class and failed - but the times have changed.

The middle class is much more evolved, unhappy, and Modi is their leader. BJP's primary focus will be them.

The divergence in the approaches of Congress and the BJP towards various classes is evident in the debate on the food security. While the Congress is determined to make that its winning card for 2014, Modi is critical.

The Congress acknowledges middle class anger - Sonia Gandhi's speech at the Jaipur conclave in January flagged it - but its emphasis remains the poor.  Food bill and improving the delivery of welfare through Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT) will be party's campaign points.

Knowing that the middle class anger is not easy to douse, the party would focus on the brighter side. While the overall economy has slowed down, the spread of the growth has been weighted in favour of the rural economy - where higher wages and agricultural incomes have been recorded.

As a result, rural consumption has been on the rise and the discontent among the middle class can be upset by this rural dynamism. The Congress campaign will focus on harnessing it.

While the BJP and Congress have dissimilar approaches to the middle class, they both find a common interest in weakening caste politics and consequently, regional parties.

Caste-based regional parties in UP and Bihar accelerated the collapse of the Congress and decelerated the ascent of the BJP in the nineties; now they are coming in the way of the ambitions of the both parties.

For instance, Sudanshu Trivedi, BJP spokesperson points out.

"We have to revive the earlier social coalition of lower and upper castes that existed in 1990s."

The Congress will use its slogan of "inclusive development" and the leadership of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi to mop up segments of all castes, who may have detached their aspirations from the models offered by Mulayam-Lalu-Mayawati brand.

The approach will combine targeted welfare measures and increased sharing of power with excluded caste groups.

"We are taking efforts to ensure representation of all sections of the society at all levels in the party," says Prakash Joshi, Congress secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh, a state where stakes are high for both parties.

BJP's - more specifically Modi's -approach to overcoming caste is different. Refusing to pay even lip service to "inclusiveness," Modi has decided to play on his strength - which is his image as a HIndutva icon. 

"Three statements from him are clear indication - 'I am a Hindu nationalist, the 'kutte ka bacchcha', and the 'burqa of secularism," says a key BJP functionary who did not want to be named.

"We wanted this election to be on governance issues, but the Congress and other parties are trying to scare Muslims. If there is an anti-BJP polarisation, we have to seek a polarisation in our favour too."

That the scope for rainbow coalitions exists is proven by the victories of Nitish Kumar in Bihar, who is himself from a tiny caste group. But the fragility of such a coalition too is demonstrated by the challenges that he is currently facing.

(With Aurangzeb Naqshbandi and Vikas Pathak)

Who scores, where?


CONGRESS LEADERSHIP

Sonia Gandhi, 66
Having completed an unprecedented 15 years as Congress president, she continues to be the driving force behind the ruling party. Apart from helping her party regain power at the Centre in 2004 and then retain it in 2009, she is credited for taking the party to the left-of-the-centre position. Critics have blamed her welfare politics for the lack of emphasis on economic growth, but her focus remains ‘Aam Admi’.

Rahul Gandhi, 43
After his anointment as Congress vice-president, he is busy in strengthening the party. He has introduced a corporate style of functioning where leaders have to do self-appraisal and prepare in advance their three-month work schedule. At the end of three months, he takes a performance review meeting. A strong votary of involving grassroot workers in decision making, he also favours seeking people's views in formulating the Congress party's manifesto for next Lok Sabha elections.

P Chidambaram, 68
Widely considered a prime ministerial candidate, he himself is dismissive of such suggestions. But the Harvard-educated finance minister has said that he knows his limitations. Known as a reformer, Chidambaram, however, has just few friends in the Congress party.

Ahmed Patel, 64
After the Gandhis, he is the most influential leader in the party. Known to be a master strategist and a political spin doctor, the party looks towards him whenever there is a crisis. He has friends across political divide. A key backroom operator, he prefers to remain away from the limelight.

Digvijaya Singh, 66
Many a time his statements are contradicted by his own party. But that doesn’t dither this outspoken Congress general secretary to record his views on any controversial subject. His recent statement that the dual power centre model in the UPA
hasn’t worked well left many red faces in the Party.

AK Antony, 73
Rahul Gandhi calls him his political guru and Sonia Gandhi has immense trust in him. After the elevation of Pranab Mukherjee as President of India, he is the official number two in the cabinet and heads a large number of government and Congress organisational panels. Known as Mr Clean.

BJP LEADERSHIP

Narendra Modi, 62
The favourite for most BJP workers; powerful orator, often bordering on shrillness. He wants the campaign to go right to the booth level, uses both his “development” record and  Hindutva credentials to good tactical advantage. His polarising image might drive away allies unless he is able to dramatically lift the BJP’s tally. Some say he is peaking too early; others say his rhetoric is a gamble.

Rajnath Singh, 62
Elected BJP chief six months ago, Singh has worked to a new strategy after being elected chief this time: he has tried to take everyone along while taking decisions, and has not just improved his relations with Modi but actively promoted his elevation. His approach may make him a compromise PM candidate if the BJP has a chance to form the government but allies don’t support Modi. Rivals, however, may still pull the rug from under his feet.

Sushma Swaraj, 61
Swaraj has a key position in the campaign committee and heads the publicity sub-committee alongside Jaitley, but isn’t perceived to be as crucial in core decision making as she was months back. She is however still the key figure in the BJP’s Parliamentary strategy as Leader of the Opposition.

Arun Jaitley, 60
His terms with Nitin Gadkari – and the RSS – weren’t too good at the time of Gadkari’s exit as party chief. But Jaitley has sprung back, and has been the strongest voice of support for Modi in the last few months. He will be a key strategist and communication manager for BJP in the run up to the elections.

Nitin Gadkari, 56
He rose dramatically through the ranks to become the president on RSS backing, but his almost certain second term was blocked at the last moment by charges of irregularities against his Purti group. As Advani was denying him a second term, Gadkari’s terms with him soured.

Venkaiah Naidu, 64
He supervises the work of many party sub-committees for the campaign. He is likely to remain Modi’s eyes and ears in these sub-committees. The Andhra leader, who was party chief years back, seemed to have fallen out of the party’s top leadership in the last few years, but bounced back.

Nothing to be defensive about, says Digvijaya Singh
"In spite of a world-wide recession we have been able to have a much higher growth rate than the NDA. We have been able to deliver most of the election promises made in 2004 and 2009. Modi is not an issue for us. He is an issue, which BJP has to tackle." Read more from the interview as Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh speaks to HT.

Will overcome negative perceptions: Rajnath Singh
"There is no reason to fear the BJP or it politics. BJP’s political thought is not guided by considerations of caste, creed or religion. Our ideology does not discriminate between people. Inflation, corruption and governance are the main issues. Security- both internal and external - will also be taken up in our campaign." Read more from the interview as BJP national president Rajnath Singh speaks to HT.

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