It is doubtful if voters will ever get to vote for a party that gives them a balance sheet of their performance.
In a fight-to-finish election, polling for Rajasthan assembly is underway. The peaceful polling by voters is in stark contrast to the high-decibel trading of barbs, charges and counter-charges and below-the-belt attacks by all parties. The 2018 assembly elections have become a test case for the ensuing 2019 Lok Sabha elections, not just for the numbers, but also the way campaigning will be done.
Elections are increasingly turning out to be more of a strategic action plan to trounce the opponent than convincing the voter about how best one would serve the electorate. The 2019 Lok Sabha elections are likely to witness greater mudslinging and could be extremely spiteful if the rising acrimonious pitch in the assembly elections is any indication.
The campaigning threw up a number of national-level issues such as corruption during the UPA regime, the National Herald case, the Rafale deal, demonetisation, GST, dynastic politics, parentage details of Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, and to top it all, AgustaWestland ‘kickback’. The extradition of Christian Michel, and the subsequent grilling by the CBI under full media glare, provided ample optics to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take pot shots at the Congress ‘first family’. It was a bad day for the Congress, which put up a brave face in the midst of screaming breaking news headlines like “Noose tightens on family” and “It is clear family got kickbacks”.
The truth about the AgustaWestland scandal would be known only after the entire case goes through the court proceedings spanning over a few months, if not years. None of the earlier high-volume kickback charges has been proved so far nor has anyone been convicted for corruption.
During the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP made a convincing campaign out of spectrum allocation (2G-3G) case and Adarsh Housing scam. But strangely, those involved in both cases were let off the hook. The Bofors case is buried deep in the dusty labyrinths of power corridors. But the fact that these allegations stuck to then governments resulting in their unceremonious exits cannot be denied.
Corruption charges of late have become easy tools in the hands of politicians to discredit opponents. More importantly, it allows the accuser to occupy a high moral ground. The Modi government has successfully entered a number of high-value international arms deals and other commercial contracts without attracting even one single corruption or kickback charge. This perception has helped Modi and BJP president Amit Shah level kickback charges on the Congress. With Rahul Gandhi being the only star campaigner on the Congress side, the entire responsibility of answering the acts of commission and omission of the UPA-II lies on him, ironically, without having been part of it.
The BJP has a very strong cadre base and the party has put in place a closely knit network of booth-level workers who ensure that the committed party sympathisers come out and vote. While this section of voters can be counted on, the Modi-Amit Shah campaign adds grist to the strategy by targeting the fence sitters who expect corruption-free governance.
It is beyond one’s comprehension as to why the Congress has not been able to effectively bring the issue of governance and performance of the three BJP governments to the centre stage of electioneering. Initially, it was expected that the Congress would effectively put the BJP on the mat by raising the issue of lack of performance by the three BJP-led governments. But unfortunately, Rahul Gandhi’s gotra and his parents’ religion became the dominant narratives.
To add to the Congress party’s trouble, a video of Madhya Pradesh Congress leader Kamal Nath addressing select Muslim leaders for votes also went viral during the last phase of electioneering. The BJP effectively used the video to counter their “Islam khatrey mein hai (Islam in danger)” narrative to its advantage in addressing the Hindu vote bank. The Congress probably walked into the trap laid by BJP’s poll strategists.
The Modi-Shah duo has established one thing clearly that they are the best vote vending-machines in the last 70 years, probably outshining Indira Gandhi’s ‘Garibi Hatao‘ slogan. Since 2014, after winning 282 seats in Lok Sabha and stunting the Congress to a mere 44, the duo has won more than 21 states and countless state assembly elections. The winning spree was made easier also due to the woefully bad electoral strategy of the Congress and near absence of the seasonal third force, which invariably mushrooms after election announcements. The only electoral combination that rattled the BJP was the SP-BSP tie-up in UP to defeat the BJP candidate who contested in the prestigious parliamentary seat vacated by Yogi Adityanath after becoming chief minister of UP.
The political re-grouping and war room strategies of parties will be known only after the assembly poll results are out on 11 December. But what looks certain is the acrimony that is likely to dominate the poll narrative and the campaign in 2019. It is doubtful if the voters will ever get to vote for a party that gives them a balance sheet of their performance.
The author is former editor of ‘Organiser’.
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