Congress could use Manmohan Singh’s message to good effect
The challenge, however, for the Congress is that its message is often lost in the echo chambers of its existing supporters.Updated: May 02, 2019, 11:09 IST
One of the gaps in the Congress’s campaign so far has been its inability to confront Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on three issues. All surveys and anecdotal evidence suggest that Mr Modi’s popularity is high — and this arises from faith in his integrity, which, in turn, stems from his humble roots and a sense of the purity of his intent. The second issue is national security. After the Balakot strikes in particular, the BJP has been able to project its muscular response to Pakistan as testament of its decisive leadership, compared to what it calls the feeble responses of the past. And the third broader issue is of credibility. The BJP has, for instance, been able to question a scheme like Nyuntam Aay Yojana (Nyay) by saying that it is not only economically unfeasible but also that the Congress’s track record on poverty offers little hope that it can lift people to respectable standards of living.
In an interview to this newspaper, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has taken on the BJP on precisely these issues. Despite the dip in his reputation because of the record of the United Progressive Alliance 2 (UPA 2) government, Mr Singh is a credible and respected voice. He has first taken on Mr Modi directly, and spoke of both how a range of national leaders have come from humble roots, yet never made it an electoral card. Working hard has to be taken for granted, not sold as a virtue, a point that does deserve consideration. Mr Singh has also sought to challenge the national security narrative by pointing to both the successes of the UPA in building India’s case on terror, and the NDA’s intelligence failures which have led to attacks. And finally, Mr Singh has reiterated his unequivocal support to Nyay as both a fiscally feasible scheme and one which can kickstart the economy.
These are important interventions, and the Congress would do well to use Mr Singh more effectively. The challenge, however, for the Congress is that its message is often lost in the echo chambers of its existing supporters. Unless the party is able to take on Mr Modi and the BJP on precisely these issues on the ground, its narrative will not have the desired impact. The fact remains that a large section of the electorate continues to believe in Mr Modi; that it sees the BJP’s response on terror as stronger; and that it has doubts on Nyay. Mr Singh has made a start. The party must use his message in the remaining phases of the polls if it wants to challenge Mr Modi.