The outcome of the 2018 assembly elections in the Hindi heartland reinforces one major aspect of the electoral journey of BJP under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah: the duo has not been able to retain a single state, with Gujarat as a reluctant exception and Goa was not exactly a victory.
Did Modi’s Charisma Work This Time?
We were warned by sympathisers about the charisma of Narendra Modi and the management skills of Amit Shah. But several myths have been blown away. The myth of the invincibility of the so-called brand Modi lies in tatters. That elections can be delivered solely through management and machinery, is another urban legend that has come crashing down.
We forget, BJP in every avatar, has always been a cadre-based party.
It has traditionally been a cash-rich party, that has often ended up fanning majoritarian passions, using polarising propaganda. We were warned by political pundits of the electoral potential of a hyper-active BJP volunteer force through their ‘WhatsApp Pramukhs’ and ‘Panna Pramukhs’.
We were told that the prime minister weaves a fabulous narrative, and that his speeches can turn a waning tide.
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In Rajasthan’s Sikar for example, he spoke eloquently against the four generations of the Gandhi family, without once mentioning the delay in relining the canal or the farmers’ agitation, that is, the protests against the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna in Hanumangarh. Incidentally, the BJP tally in Sikar is 0-8.
Risk of Political ‘Imagination’
For a party that has been credited even by its critics for having ably used social media to its advantage in 2014, BJP is fast becoming a victim of its own WhatsApp narrative. The rank and file of the party has actually started living full time in a make-believe universe of social media, WhatsApp in particular.
If UPA took the television too seriously, NDA under Modi can be blamed for taking WhatsApp forwards by his own IT brigade as gospel truths.
Political managers, as against leaders, often run the risk of imagining what goes on in the minds of readers, and then building a narrative based on the imagined fables. Whether it is strident Hindutva nationalism or the hate-spewing ‘Ali vs Bajrangbali’ narrative of Uttar Pradesh CM Ajay Singh Bisht, the universe of WhatsApp forwards cannot give a false sense of relief to the agrarian distress on the ground.
On the eve of polling, we saw the Sangh Parivar fighting a quixotic war for the Ram Mandir.
With their own pracharak sitting as prime minister in 7, Lok Kalyan Marg, where was the need to build pressure in Ayodhya, Bangalore or Nagpur?
Congress’s New Innings
Event management and headline management can only bring you to power once, if your events and your headlines stay completely disconnected to ground reality, your resources cannot come to your rescue.
For the Congress, this is a beginning. In Madhya Pradesh, we have covered good ground from 36.38 percent in 2013 to 40.9 percent in 2018. In Rajasthan, we were at 33.07 percent in 2013 and we are now at 39.3 percent. Likewise, in Chhattisgarh, in 2013 we were at 40.3 percent and are now at 43 percent, and have brought the BJP down to 33 percent.
The Congress needs to build on its reinvented booth management mechanism which got tested in these elections. Our story is more grounded in reality on the ground. We need to have faith in the story.
The traps laid by the rival are meant to shift the narrative to polarising issues. We will do well in continuing to be steadfast in our agenda. Farmers, small traders, unemployed and restless youth are looking at us with cautious hope. How our governments deliver on promises made, will determine whether they stay cautious or invest all their hope in us in 2019.
(The writer is former political secretary to Sheila Dikshit, and is with the Congress party. He tweets @Pawankhera. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)