Narendra Modi’s managers, backed by huge corporates, have mastered the technique of “manufacturing consent” through a media anxious to tell a story, minus its complexities, by focussing on one personality. It is therefore quite possible that the just concluded assembly elections in five states—being projected as primaries to a presidential contest with only one candidate—will deliver a result echoing the exit polls that predict a big win for the BJP. A stronger validation for Narendra Modi can’t be imagined.
Equally, there is a possibility that Chhattisgarh could still go the Congress way if voting in the Bastar area works to their advantage, and the BJP win in Madhya Pradesh turns out to be modest. But at best, these would be small face-savers for the Congress. For, even if the debacle is not as thorough as the exit polls suggest, Congress spokespersons would be clutching at straws to deny that the party could be headed for a historic defeat in the 2014 general election. There is enough anecdotal evidence and sound analysis from the ground to suggest that many certitudes are being turned upside down.
By the time the hurly burly is over and the battle won or lost, could the Congress at best hope to give outside support to a regional formation? Could the party hit its lowest ever tally yet in Parliament and slide under 100 MPs? It’s certainly possible, if we factor in the long drawn out hara-kiri in Andhra Pradesh (that gave the party 33 MPs), and the ongoing downslide in Uttar Pradesh (22 Congress MPs) even as the Modi-led BJP seems headed for an excellent show in the now communally polarised state.
The Congress, after all, is a party that depends on ‘hawa’—meaning something between ‘wind’ and ‘wave’. Lacking in cadre or organisational structure, they often delude themselves into a smugness because they have cultivated many loyalists over generations. During elections they wait for the opposition to defeat itself (as in Karnataka earlier this year) and/or charisma to pull them through.
Structurally, it’s a party full of traditional ruling elites, scions of notables who pay lip service to secularism and liberal values and hand out doles. It’s a feudal model of democracy the Congress excels at. It may stumble upon the changing, yet-to-be-quantified demographics in India where people aspire for something beyond political royalty and sanctimony. Good intentions aren’t enough when the system is being hollowed out by greed, corruption and corporate agendas.
Entree Arvind Kejriwal with AAP supporters before the Delhi assembly elections. (Photograph by Tribhuvan Tiwari)
At the beating heart of the schizophrenia seizing the Congress is the fact that it has been offering doles even while dismantling government investment in health and education. Its stable of articulate ministers often hark to Nehru’s vision. But then, socialism was long abandoned, while secularism remains an expedient tactic to be moulded and used as the situation demands.
Besides systemic flaws, there is the gargantuan issue of price rise—possibly the single most important factor to anger and alienate voters. No cash scheme or promise of sacks of grain can compensate for the fact that vegetables are out of reach of millions. India never shone for the NDA in 2004, and there is growing evidence to suggest that it will not believe the lofty promises of the UPA in 2014.
Only if they had strong, charismatic state leaders with a stake in the Centre, the Congress would perhaps have had the reserves to charge the opposition in a counter-attack. But then, such leaders are systematically hung out to dry in the fine Congress tradition of loyalty to one family. The manner in which three-time Delhi CM Shiela Dixit was left to fight by herself, even as a Congress faction worked against her, also offers an insight into power dynamics within the party.
Granted that the verdict in five states is no guarantee of future performance. But 2014 is not 2004. There are different imponderables in the era of unitary, image-managed, media-saturated, presidential style of campaigning, where even the states may be making choices not merely on local issues but with an eye on the national future. Regardless of the BJP’s return to power in Rajasthan or its retention of control in Madhya Pradesh, the Aam Admi Party’s spunky audacious campaign must also carry a message. Quite clearly, in a head-to-head face-off, the BJP is coming off well against the Congress. But where there are other players, is similar success guaranteed? With most opinion polls predicting that over 200 of the 543 seats may end up in non-Congress, non-BJP kitties, the writing on the wall is less clear than what the BJP might want us to think.
The Congress is structured as a crowd around a family with heavyweights competing for gate-keepers’ posts. In the months that possibly mark the last days of the Manmohan Singh government, the PM himself is not much of a player. He can only watch every last initiative of his regime getting blocked in a bleak winter session in Parliament. Even the few regional players who occasionally play footsie with the UPA may come to regard any truck with it as a liability. A few months back it was being said that Nitish Kumar wanted an alliance with the Congress. Would he still want that? At the same time, Chandrababu Naidu is said to be seeking an understanding with the BJP. A sign of changing political realities?
Even if the Congress fares better than exit poll predictions, a despondent mood prevails in the party. Many leaders candidly say that they should plan for some months in the opposition. As things stand, there are many regional parties in the fray, and the successful launch of another entrant. Then there is that one persona looming large, bursting with ambition, gaining momentum every day and backed by an RSS cadre come to life suddenly. Conversely, the Congress barely inspires confidence within itself. How will it convince voters?
A deep sickness afflicts the Congress, as Saba Naqvi points out in At the End of the Grand Line (Dec 16). It does not encourage the growth of real leaders in the party. After all the breast-beating over the losses in the recent assembly elections, the party will do no more than appoint another surrogate prime minister with no power and all the responsibilities, while the old firm of Sonia Gandhi enjoys all power with no responsibilities.
Ravi Jain, Hyderabad
As someone who cares deeply for democratic ideals, I am pained to come to the conclusion that our political system is geared not to improve the lot of the common man but to allow politicians to aggrandise and enrich themselves. Even those who started out as leaders of the underclasses have in the end succumbed to the lure of power and easy money. What we need is the American system, where the people elect a president who chooses the best managers to run the country in the direction he sets for it.
The Congress has failed (and will fail again) because it no longer connects with the common man and woman, it continues to take the ostrich attitude to corruption, it presents the very picture of a weak government that lacks a strong, charismatic leader.
Rajiv Mukherjee, Delhi
The Congress will remain in the doldrums unless it stops kow-towing to dynasty.
J.K. Kuriyan, Bangalore
Outlook and its writers have campaigned for ten long years against Narendra Modi. The assembly election results are the outcome of that.
In 2009, the Congress fooled the people of India with its prime minister, a man of integrity. What he has displayed is utter failure to check corruption all around him.
P.B. Joshipura, Suffolk, Virginia, US
19 D Rajesh
These netas loot, only because they do not fear the justice system
It is the justice system that needs sprucing up. Not for the faint-hearted. And that is what AAP ( and the Lok Pal Bill ) is about.
Saba Naqvi >> Narendra Modi’s managers, backed by huge corporates, have mastered the technique of “manufacturing consent” through a media anxious to tell a story, minus its complexities, by focussing on one personality.
This is coming from a journalist, who tirelessly works as a Spokesperson of CON party and more importantly is in the payroll of a BILLIONAIRE BUSINESSMAN, with business interests as diverse as car Batteries, Ceramic Tiles , Insurance, Plastics, infrastructure, Cable TV, Hospitality, Real estate and more.. And this businessman is for one sure to benefit from the policies and programs of UPA's 9 and half year regime..
Saba Naqvi, journalistic ethics demand that you mention this as well. Will you?
THE BEGINNING OF END OF SAINT SONIA CULT RULE IS HERE...
CON party is now a Train Wreck in SLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOW MOTION...
When Congress loses, it is usually to communalism. BJP has all the ills of the Congress, +1.
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