Unless you are Rip Van Winkle, it shouldn’t be a surprise that three weeks before the elections, the BJP and its prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, are on a roll. Whether it is in the outcome of pre-election opinion polls, in the public mood, or in the media’s coverage, the signs are clear: The buzz is all about the BJP and its indefatigable chief campaigner, Modi, and about how they have the edge. It’s only the degree of that advantage that varies, depending on who you talk to.
Last week, an articulate young BJP MP and TV-savvy spokesperson gave me a staggeringly high number of seats that he expects the BJP and its allies to win and predicted that this time it would be an election the likes of which the media has never seen. His exuberance is understandable but even people at the other end of the political spectrum, in the Congress, proffer predictions for the BJP that seem astonishingly good, particularly as forecasts for a bitter rival.
Things have been largely good for the Modi-led campaign. The surveys have been favourable; rallies have been well attended; important alliances have been forged; and, I’m told, financial support has been generously forthcoming. There is another factor that has worked in its favour: The absence of same-side goals, the kind that overzealous defenders in soccer score by kicking the ball into the net on their own side of the field. Interestingly, the same-side goals that have come are by the other side: By both, the Congress as well as the fledgling AAP. One Congress leader derided Modi by calling him a chaiwalla; another senior Cabinet minister muddied up things by referring to him as being impotent, which, in Hindi (the language that he used) left little room for ambiguity about what he meant; and their boss, Rahul Gandhi, compared Modi to Hitler and accused the RSS of assassinating Mahatma Gandhi.
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All of these are gaffes that could have been avoided by the Congress leaders, particularly as they’ve probably helped the BJP instead of harming it. The chaiwalla comment, for instance, could well have given the BJP the idea of launching Modi’s rather innovative chai pe charchas across the country and fuelled his subsequent speeches where he targeted the upper class’ discrimination against people like him who’ve risen from the very bottom.
AAP’s same-side goals have been equally inexplicable: Its workers attacked the BJP headquarters and widely generated ill-will even among some of its backers; more recently, AAP boss Arvind Kejriwal’s visit created a mess at a busy Mumbai railway station during rush-hour commutes, leaving citizens not exactly cock-a-hoop about his means and methods. Compared to the Congress and AAP, the BJP’s conduct in the campaigns, albeit marked by Modi’s impassioned speeches that are replete with critiques aimed at his opponents, has been that of the best boy in class.
BJP chief Rajnath Singh, PM candidate Narendra Modi, LK Advani and Sushma Swaraj during party's central election committee meeting in New Delhi. (PTI photo)
What then could go wrong for the saffron party as the elections approach? I asked that of a veteran BJP leader (not the gung-ho MP who gave me win predictions that can knock you off your chair). The senior man candidly listed four things that posed a threat. First, if any of the BJP’s alliances, both pre- and post-poll, came unstuck; second, if like its opponents, any of the BJP’s leaders said or did something to upset large sections of voters; third, if the widely reported dissensions at the top, especially among the four elder leaders of the party, blew up into a major crisis; and, fourth, which is also partly related to the third, if the party doesn’t get its ticket distribution right — clearly, an issue that it has had to struggle with.
I could think of a fifth: The number of seats the Congress wins. Everybody predicts a debacle for the Congress and they may be right. But let’s say the Congress suffers a huge defeat but gets around half of the 206 it won last time. Could the Congress with 100-plus seats be a threat to the BJP’s grand ambitions? As they say, in politics, as in cricket, anything can happen.
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