Five Takeaways as Modi-Rahul Face Off at 2019 Polls’ ‘Interval’

Five Takeaways as Modi-Rahul Face Off at 2019 Polls’ ‘Interval’

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We have now hit the “interval” (like in Bollywood films!) in the 12-week-long electoral theatre of 2019. So, it’s time to exchange gossip, hedge bets, and take stock of “the trends so far.” Here, then, are my five takeaways at half- time.

Also Read : 2019 Polls: Five Takeaways as Modi-Rahul Square Off at ‘Interval’

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PM Modi – Strong, Muscular, Hindutva Icon & Anti-Intellectual

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has transformed from the vikas purush (development man) of 2014 to the strongman of 2019. His campaign pitch is all about bashing Pakistan and exterminating terrorists.

He has clearly lost those centrists/liberals who had vocally campaigned for him in 2014. That could lop off almost five percentage points from the BJP’s 31 percent vote share in the previous election.

On the other hand, he has created a deeper, more fanatical engagement with bhakts (religious/political fans), increasing the decibel level but not adding much to the vote share.

While he has gained followers among the poor, who have benefited from some of his welfare schemes, he has shrunk among unemployed youth, Dalits, Muslims and other minorities. He is clearly the favourite of first-time urban voters.

Once you do all the additions and subtractions, I reckon his vote share could stay the same, or perhaps increase by a couple of percentage points, to about 33 percent, in these polls.

Also Read : Hindutva’s Cow Misadventure Can Likely Cost Rs 1.5 Lakh Crore

Rahul Gandhi Has Come of Political Age

Once seen as diffident and aloof, Rahul Gandhi is now relishing the thrust and parry of realpolitik. He is the stark opposite of Modi, a leader who seems to respect diversity, even dissent.

While Modi enjoys micro-managing and spewing statistics, Rahul seems to focus on the big picture, evident from the Manifesto that his team has authored.

But he still appears a bit reticent about dealing with potential allies and peers from other parties. I reckon he needs to work on those “back channel skills” that are critical in politics, that allow you to build a pick-up-the-phone-and-talk chemistry with frenemies. He clearly comes into his own during informal interactions in English – witness his charming exchange with women students at Stella Maris College in Chennai.

Also Read : Hesitant to Confident – a Look at Rahul Gandhi’s Political Journey

BJP Wrapped Around a Cult Personality

Once upon a time, the BJP used to be a party driven by a broad-based/collective leadership and wedded to RSS’s ideology. Today, it’s astonishingly Modi-centric, dominated totally by his personality cult.

Nobody dares to challenge Modi, even indirectly. Not one murmur was heard when the founders of the party – from LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi to Sumitra Mahajan – were visibly snubbed. The party has also lost its sense of Vajpayee-esque humour. But these days, under Modi, the BJP is always angry, morose, mocking, smirking.

Wherever its two-tier centre-cum-state rule has been exposed to people – ie, except for West Bengal and Odisha, everywhere else where it’s facing “double anti-incumbency” – it’s buffeted by mounting disenchantment.

The party’s anti-dote to that is a deeper regress into inflammatory Hindutva, exemplified so sharply by the nomination of Pragya Thakur in Bhopal and an unrestrained diatribe from Adityanath.

Also Read : Dear Modi Bhakts, Balakot Isn’t Kargil 2.0 Re-Election Strategy

Congress to Reclaim the 25/25/100 Political Watermark

With a smart pullback in half a dozen states and several bye-elections, the party has shown its will to fight. It’s also winning back its core support base of secular Hindus and disenfranchised minorities, including Dalits.

Here’s my wager for May 2019: Congress should reclaim the 25/25/100 “politically relevant watermark” that it held through 1996-2014 – ie, 25+ percent of the national vote, 25 percent of the MLAs across state assemblies, and 100+ seats in Lok Sabha.

While this “political minima” will ensure its survival, it may not catapult it to Raisina Hill in these elections. Nonetheless, the Congress will have the momentum to take a shot at power in 2024, almost equal to the 200+ mandate it won in 2009.

Also Read : Congress Surge & Alliance Could Reduce BJP By Half in Jharkhand

Regional Juggernaut

Regional parties are giving stiff resistance to Modi in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, West Bengal and Odisha. They are set to win large majorities here. So, how could it all end?

Well, as we stand at half-time, the Congress has a clear edge in attracting post-poll regional allies, provided the Congress itself is in the hunt with about 135-150 seats. But if the BJP goes above 180, it shall find a magical “recalibration” of several regional parties’ hostility towards itself.

Also Read : Is Congress Tacitly Helping Mahagathbandhan in Uttar Pradesh?

Khair, picture abhi toh kaafi baaki hai, merey dost (quite a bit of the film is yet to be screened, my friend) – so, stay glued!

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