The Congress party suffered a crushing defeat in the last parliamentary elections, and this despite vigorous and aggressive campaigning by the mother-son duo Sonia Gandhi & Rahul Gandhi – the nucleus around which the grand old party revolves. For appearances’ sake, both owned up the responsibility for the unprecedented debacle and offered to resign. But as expected, they decided to stay on in deference to the wishes of the Congress leaders and workers. The whole political farce looked astutely stage-managed; none believed they really meant to quit.
One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out why the Congress lost so badly. It was coming; everyone could see it except the Congress leadership, fed on the staple diet of unadulterated sycophancy. They couldn’t see as they were suffering from the ostrich syndrome! They still do.
In spite of the much-hyped policy and governance paralysis, the Congress would have fared far better only if scams after scams weren’t tumbling out from it’s cupboard; successive CAG reports relentlessly claimed massive presumptive losses to the nation on account of the government’s decision-making process. Thanks to these reports, Anna Hazare & Arvind Kejriwal’s movement, frequent strictures from the Supreme Court and persistent propaganda by the BJP, the Manmohan Singh government was perceived by millions of voters as sickeningly corrupt. It was so preoccupied with its day-to-day survival and saving the skin of the party leaders that it ceased to govern. The real power was supposedly exercised by the Congress president – New Delhi’s worst-kept secret was amplified in great deal in the bestselling book by Sanjay Baru, a former aide to then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The Congress’ credibility had touched a nadir; people tended to believe all allegations against the government but disdainfully dismissed all arguments in its defence. Suffering from rampant corruption, misgovernance, arrogance of officials and soaring prices of basic necessities, millions of ordinary people were bitter, angry, frustrated and exasperated with the government; they wanted to punish the grand old party gone astray at the first available opportunity. So they voted overwhelmingly against the Congress. According to RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, it was people’s desire for a change more than any other factor which gave the BJP a clear mandate. Of course, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narender Modi, played the pivotal role.
Why Modi mantra worked
With 15 years of administrative experience and an enviable record of economic development in Gujarat, he appeared a credible leader capable of addressing the prevailing chaos and offering an effective and people-friendly government. Reading people’s pulse right, he asked for votes for himself: Abki Bar, Modi Sarkar slogan electrified the electorate. He led a meticulously planned, professionally-run, presidential-style campaign, cleverly splashed by an imaginative advertising agency and enthusiastically assisted by thousands of young BJP supporters and lakhs of hard-working RSS pracharaks. He succeeded in creating a Modi wave which all political parties refused to see. Modi’s oratorical skills and leadership qualities were, no doubt, a great asset. Displaying inexhaustible energy; he alone addressed more election rallies than Rahul and Sonia put together. Unfortunately for the Congress, their best wasn’t good enough to stop the Modi chariot. They failed to energise and enthuse their party workers. Much before the results were out, they had given up the fight. No wonder, many heavyweight stalwarts chose not to contest. Sonia and Rahul were leading an Army that has no heart to fight.
In Denial Mode
Smarting from its worst ever defeat, the Congress leadership continues to be in a state of disarray; it’s still in a denial mode. It’s not courageous to accept ground realities as they exist, the party can’t do a dispassionate analysis nor carry out unpleasant but unavoidable surgery. The party clearly lacks bold and inspiring leadership, a clear-cut vision and a well-thought strategy.
Instead of sincere introspection, the party’s leaders are trying to run down Modi and his government. Their whole game plan is to find fault in whatever he does, accuse him of stealing their ideas an coopting their leaders including Gandhi & Nehru and just wait for the public to get disillusioned with his government and chant for Congress’s triumphant return! How naïve they can be? They are day-dreaming. They have no new, believable, doable, people friendly practical ideas to offer nor can they clearly spell out why people should want them back. How will it benefit them? Are they doing anything concrete to win back the trust of the people and convince them that the Congress can be a credible alternative of the Modi government in near future?
Who will believe them if they don’t come clean on the corruption issue? Proven or not, the allegations of use of corrupt practices by Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra won’t vanish. Will simply picking faults with Modi help? Sonia Gandni called him Maut ka Saudagar (merchant of death) and accused him of spewing posion during the election campaign. Did such negative campaigning get her votes?
Similar tactics won’t work. Why should Modi supporters desert him and vote for the Sonia-Rahul duo? Can’t the Congress just forget about regaining power for five years and focus on people’s priorities? Those who lost deposit in the parliamentary election or chickened out from the contest are still trying to set the agenda. Harvard & Wharton educated aides of Rahul have no clue how to counter a former RSS pracharak and chaiwala (tea-seller) who can charm the hardnosed diplomats at the UNGA and well-heeled NRIs in New York, the US president in the oval office and millions of Indians from the Red fort! Can the Congress reinvent itself and create a new brand equity? Can it emulate Indira Gandhi and rise from the ashes?
No alternative to Modi?
Modi is the shrewdest and most ambitious politician India has seen since independence. Unless the political parties wake up, he will make them totally irrelevant. While undertaking a blitzkrieg in foreign affairs and synergizing foreign investments for meeting India’s infrastructure needs and generating massive employment, he is grabbing other parties’ agendas. By reaching out to the last on the social ladder with his ‘Swachh Bharat’ campaign (clean India campaign), promising a toilette in each and pitching for the girl’s education, he is taking the wind out of the Congress and AAP’s sails. Fighting for food security in the WTO, he is projecting himself as the champion of the people, especially the farmers. Stressing repeatedly in India and abroad the significance of the youth and promising them jobs and skills, he wants to keep the young voter on his side. He has always been the darling of the corporate sector; he is promising them faster, clearer and stable business friendly decisions ie a red carpet instead of red tape.
While keeping his core base of Hindu votes intact, he is trying to soothe the hurt feelings of the Muslim. His comments — Indian Muslim will live for India & die for India and not dance to Al Qaeda’s tunes — have been welcomed widely. And, with his ‘Man Ki Baat’ (heart-to-heart talks) radio sermon, he is reaching out to the masses and projecting himself as people’s PM. Which constituency is left for other parties?
India Shining, again…
With billionaire CEOs making a beeline to meet him, investments flowing in, business confidence rising and the World Bank and IMF projecting a GDP rate of 6.3% in 2015, the Modi juggernaut seems unstoppable unless derailed by loose cannons like Yogi Aditya Nath and his ilk who can disrupt social harmony. Modi, however, must guard against wearing too many hats; he should learn to trust his colleagues and delegate authority. The excessive centralization of decision- making leads to unforeseen negative consequences.
Faced with such a formidable adversary, the Congress seems enmeshed in trivialities. What crime has Shashi Tharoor committed by hailing Modi’s UN speech and agreeing to be a Brand Ambassador Swachh Bharat Abhiyan? Every sensible Indian would do that. Kerala Congress was being silly in asking for action against Tharoor! And the Congress High command has simply harmed itself by sacking him as a spokesman. A party, whose president and vice president can’t speak for five minutes without a written script, badly needs an intelligent, articulate and forceful spokesman like Shashi Tharoor. But who can stop those who are suffering from an irresistible death wish? Unless the Congress rids itself of sycophancy, changes its mindset, shuns anxiety to regain power, embraces new thinking and takes up the causes of the masses at the grass root level, it can’t face Modi’s innovative brand of politics.
(Surendra Kumar is a former diplomat and author of many books, including Beyond Diplomatic Dilemmas. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author.)
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