New Delhi -°C
Today in New Delhi, India

Sep 23, 2019-Monday



Select city

Metro cities - Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata

Other cities - Noida, Gurgaon, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Bhopal , Chandigarh , Dehradun, Indore, Jaipur, Lucknow, Patna, Ranchi

Monday, Sep 23, 2019

Rahul Gandhi is playing checkers in Gujarat, but it’s chess for Modi and Amit Shah

It is true Rahul Gandhi appears more dynamic in Gujarat, but his moves appear like a little game of Chinese checkers, while Narendra Modi and Amit Shah play out the grand strategies of chess

opinion Updated: Nov 17, 2017 21:58 IST
Shiv Visvanathan
Shiv Visvanathan
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi at a political rally, Chilloda, 40 km from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, November 11
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi at a political rally, Chilloda, 40 km from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, November 11(AFP)

Sometimes the very nature of political narrative reveals a lot about the art and state of politics. The stories you hear, the editorials you read, convey a sense of the artificial. It is as if the elections on the ground are not real, the excitement seems simulated. The press appears to make a concerted effort to convey excitement, but the excitement seems staged. Even cameo characters like Hardik Patel hardly dent the BJP prospects. This does not mean that these are not potential threats, but in their present state appear like mere irritants.

The Gujarat elections otherwise appears like a thought experiment, a simulation conducted by Amit Shah to test out the prospects for 2019, a symbolic act of testing future waters. The narratives from the ground and those from an overall perspective appear starkly different. Cameos of Patel or even Rahul Gandhi make them appear like part-time actors, as distractions. Next to these storms in a small teacup, Shah is presented as urbane, in command, a grandmaster of political chess who has already worked out the vital combinations. One then realises that numbers in the Gujarat election have a symbolic function.

Shah’s grasp of politics, his knowledge of Gujarat is not in doubt. What is in doubt is the dramatic power of these contests. Another fact which adds to the symbolic power of Modi is the support he is receiving from spiritual gurus like Murari Bapu, and the head of the Swami Narayan sect. These men wield tremendous influence, know the impact of their power and have mastered the subtlety of its use. It conveys a command of the whole, even if the behaviour of some parts is embarrassing. The media expands bit roles into future prospects but it knows the realism that eventually haunts political choices. As an observer added, “The RSS at the ground level is as real as you can get.”

Shah has another advantage here. The Congress has not been in power for decades. In fact the younger generation may have few memories of the Congress. The interesting aspect to this demographic fact is that this generation celebrates the power of social media. Gujarat is displaying the dynamic role of digital democracy. In fact the digital politics of Gujarat maybe more dynamic, quarrelsome than the conventional dramas.

Election time, especially midterm elections, is a time for feedback, to test how the BJP’s policies on demonetisation and the GST have worked. The tweaking of these reforms allows the BJP to set its future course. The GST in particular is a major issue in a state with preponderance of the trading class. It is here that Gandhi’s attack and the Congress propaganda have hit home and it is such damage that Shah seeks to rectify.

The Gujarat elections in fact reveal the orchestrated power of the BJP electoral politics. With Shah in control, and myriads of the RSS workers in every sector, the ground is literally cleared for the entry of Modi.

The Congress needs to rethink its long-term strategy. The immediate task it is engaging in, to balance the demands of Patel, Alpesh Thakore and Jignesh Mevani, is more the immediacy of balancing tickets and interests. These are crucial and piecemeal issues. However, what one senses is a reactive politics, with Gandhi questioning every BJP move but not being able to dent the electoral imagination.

Today the Congress does not appear a holistic party, autonomous in its decision-making. It is content to play a hyphen, an auxiliary even to two-bit players in every region. It is true Gandhi appears more dynamic but his moves appear like a game of Chinese checkers, while Modi and Shah play out the grand strategies of chess. The differences in style and inevitability of results makes one almost pity the Opposition, saying promising things about every hiccup raised by Patel and Gandhi. These almost appear like distracting antics before the cinematic interval. After the interval, in the final lap, one senses the BJP juggernaut taking over. It is such inevitability that makes Gujarat politics eventually distressing and less hopeful for the Congress.

Shiv Visvanathan is professor, Jindal Global Law School and director, Centre for Study of Knowledge Systems, OP Jindal Global University

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Nov 17, 2017 18:37 IST