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BJP is clearly ahead of the Congress in Gujarat in terms of performance and perception

In terms of its performance, while the Congress government in Himachal was seen as a corrupt and inefficient one, the BJP government in Gujarat has many things to its credit in terms of good governance and delivery. Over 40 months of excellent performance by the central government in various sectors too will go in favour of the BJP

opinion Updated: Nov 15, 2017 22:23 IST
Ram Madhav,BJP Gujarat,Gujarat Polls
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with BJP President Amit Shah at the “Gujarat Gaurav Mahasammelan” in Ahmedabad(PTI)

Indian elections are a psephologist’s nightmare. With the deep penetration of digital media and social media, the access to information that an average voter has is much more today than in the past. That has led to greater maturity in the electorate.

There used to be a time when pundits would assume that politics is a group activity. It was easier to analyse voter behaviour then. All that the person had to do was to try and analyse the behaviour of the group and predict the outcome. This is no longer the case. Elections are no longer a group activity. The old school electoral analysis that a particular caste or group would vote in a predictable manner no longer holds water.

The voter today is an enlightened citizen. Voting happens on the people’s assessment of the leader, his policies and, most importantly, his connect and traction with the masses. In other words the voters today look for performance or the ability to deliver.

When performance becomes the benchmark, perception becomes the battleground. Performance doesn’t lie in the figures that one doles out or the publicity material that is put out. It boils down to how people perceive your performance.

The ongoing assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat need to be seen from this perspective. The BJP hopes to perform well in both states. It enjoys a distinct advantage over its main rival – the Congress – on both counts viz. performance and perception. Prime Minister Modi continues to be massively popular across the country. He is one leader who has defied the conventional political logic of incumbency. After almost three-and-a-half years, his popularity doesn’t seem to have dipped at all. He has acquired a cult status among the masses, which will certainly help BJP at the hustings.

In terms of its performance, while the Congress government in Himachal was seen as a corrupt and inefficient one, the BJP government in Gujarat has many things to its credit in terms of good governance and delivery. Over 40 months of excellent performance by the central government in various sectors too will favour of the BJP.

The two parties are locked in a perception battle. Yet the immaturity of the Congress leadership, that comes out pronouncedly on many occasions, leaves it way behind in this battle too. Take the example of GST. It was a tax regime that had been brokered by the central government through absolute consensus. It is in fact a classic example of cooperative federalism in action. The Congress’ sustained attack on the government on GST is no doubt aimed at winning a perception advantage. Yet one fails to understand Rahul Gandhi’s one tax slab solution of 18% GST on all goods.

Perceptions are created through the media – mainstream and social. The BJP is way ahead of Congress in this regard. While the mainstream media remains fiercely independent, it is on social media that battlelines are drawn in politics. Although infused with a new team and technique, the Congress is no match for BJP’s well-oiled machine.

The Congress is certainly failing on two fronts. Its efforts to ridicule development through slogans like ‘vikas pagal ho gaya’ will boomerang on it in states like Gujarat where the fruits of the state’s development are being enjoyed by a large section of the people. Rahul Gandhi himself, after criticising the BJP for lack of development in Gujarat, had to praise the skill and industrial progress in Surat and elsewhere. Second, their reliance on smaller caste group leaders in the hope that they will provide bulk votes betrays the Congress’ inability to understand the changed face of India’s polity.

The BJP has not yet launched its carpet-bombing exercise through the extensive visits of the prime minister himself and dozens of our star campaigners. Once that begins, the Congress will be no match as it clearly lacks charismatic and inspiring leadership at both the national and state levels.

We take every election – small or big – seriously. We are doing the same in Gujarat as well. The only sense of satisfaction that the Congress may perhaps draw is in the fact that it has succeeded, largely with the help of the mainstream media, in creating an impression that a battle royal is on in Gujarat; whereas it is far from reality. In military parlance it is said that the generals shouldn’t be in trenches. The Congress can draw some satisfaction from the fact that it has been able to send some of the BJP’s generals into the trenches.

Otherwise the results of this round of assembly polls are clear.

Ram Madhav is national general secretary, BJP

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Nov 15, 2017 17:18 IST