After the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Rahul Gandhi made his resignation from the post of Congress president sound like an act of principled resistance against the party’s old guard. He seemed to have a tough time even saying the obligatory words about taking responsibility for the defeat.
Perhaps, the real reason Rahul Gandhi stepped down is that he sensed continuing defeat in imminent state elections. Resigning would be a good way of letting the old guard take responsibility for those defeats. The stupendous victory of the BJP with 303 seats made it look like a foregone conclusion that the Narendra Modi and Amit Shah-led party would sweep Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand assembly elections that were to be held in the following months. The Congress was never going to be a factor in the Delhi assembly election.
In fact, a state election victory that Rahul Gandhi can jump in to take credit for, and use that to return as party president, is nowhere in sight even now. It was this sort of calculation that took him many years to go from vice-president to president in 2017.
As it happened, the Congress as a junior ally of the Hemant Soren-led Jharkhand Mukti Morcha got the treasury benches in Ranchi. Sharad Pawar stitched an unlikely coalition with the Congress and the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, which should have caused Rahul Gandhi much heartburn. The party won more seats in Haryana than anyone had anticipated, making it clear that if they had sacked Rahul Gandhi’s chosen leader much earlier, they could even have won the state election. Had Rahul Gandhi not resigned as party president, he could have taken credit for these results and suggested that he can rise from the ashes.
These ups and downs of state elections will continue. And they are an annoyance for Prime Minister Narendra Modi too, who has, in his typical undemocratic way, suggested ‘one nation, one election’.
Narendra Modi has separated his narrative from that of the BJP at the state level. Remember how the BJP campaigns in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in 2018 were not centred around Modi? In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, voters judged Modi in a national sense, and gave very different verdicts in many states just before and after the Lok Sabha polls.
Separating national and state politics is how Modi has decimated coalition politics at the national level. Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party, and the opposition sentiment at large, continue to make the mistake of seeing the Lok Sabha election as the big final that the state elections lead up to. The Congress made this mistake in 2017, for example, with Rahul Gandhi putting all his eggs in the Karnataka election basket. Presuming victory in the Karnataka assembly election, the Congress thought it would go from strength to strength leading up to the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
Rahul Gandhi — or anyone desirous of defeating Narendra Modi — must forget state elections.
A 3–year plan
Instead, a national opposition should look at planing a series of campaigns for the next three years: 2021, 2022 and 2023. The keyword here is planning.
Modi plans his campaigns way in advance. One campaign leads to another, making for Modi’s permanent campaign. That is what the Congress needs to do as well. Give up ad-hocism. To set the agenda, plan your own campaigns. From 1 January 2021 to 31 December 2023. The Congress should know by now what campaigns it is going to take to the people in these three years.
That is what Rahul Gandhi should be dedicating himself to. Let Ahmed Patel take care of state politics. Let Priyanka Gandhi take care of factional fighting. You know that unemployment, poor growth and stagnant wages are going to remain a big issue for some time. Plan a year-long campaign around them. No matter who wins the next state assembly election, these issues aren’t going away. In fact, inflation might be added to them.
Don’t be impatient and expect to be rewarded in the form of state elections. Be an intelligent investor: invest for the long run and have patience. Only three years.
How to plan for 3 years
The question, then, is how do you plan a series of campaigns for three years?
Very simple. Make a bullet list of all your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. List all your SWOT analysis points. Even the smallest of them. You may not be able to see all of them, or their scale, which is why you need a survey.
Having made this list, create a campaign around each point. If you closely observe Modi’s endless campaigns, this is what he does. Each campaign has a specific objective. Hindutva is his strength so he campaigns around it. Nationalism is his strength so he campaigns around it. Falling GDP growth and unemployment are a threat to him, so he pre-empts the threat with campaigns like ‘New India 2022’ or ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’.
Before 2014, Modi had a weakness. He wasn’t very well known in rural north India. So he did a campaign just to address that. He got farmers from across India to participate in giving an iron instrument, such as sickles or spades, for the Statue of Unity. Be it farmers or Dalits or upper castes, Modi systematically lists his weaknesses and obviates them through campaign or policy (they’re the same for him).
A SWOT analysis of Rahul Gandhi
What are Rahul Gandhi’s strengths? The legacy of the Congress party, the rights-based laws of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), his popularity in parts of south India, and having a few state governments. Rahul Gandhi should be devising and campaigning around each of these.
What are his weaknesses? He is a poor orator, makes too many gaffes, is seen as a serial loser, disappears for days on end and appears inconsistent. He can devise campaigns to obviate each of these. Don’t give extempore speeches and instead use recorded video. Take up one issue and march from one end of India to another for it. People call you a loser? Play the underdog. Own the ‘Pappu’ insult and turn it on its head. The only way to make these happen is to devise long-running campaigns around them.
What are the opportunities before Rahul Gandhi? Far too many to count. Modi’s unkept promises, the bullet trains in the air, the black money not recovered from abroad, poor economic growth, unemployment, Dalit angst… none of these will become electorally relevant unless the Congress party campaigns to make the most of them. With every passing day, the ‘anti-incumbency’ against the Modi government keeps rising, but because no opposition party exploits it, Modi is able to prevent an anti-incumbency sentiment from crystalising. If you want to see how an opposition leader should exploit rising multi-term anti-incumbency, just study how Modi-Shah do their anti-incumbency campaigns.
What are the threats to Rahul Gandhi? They are Hindutva, fake news, Modi’s personality cult, corruption cases against Congress leaders, and so on. Once again, pre-emptive campaigns can be designed. If Rahul Gandhi does a campaign around Truth for a month, for example, his own Satyagraha, he could drill into people’s heads that a lot of ‘Pappu’ stories they hear about him are fake news.
Execution is everything
Lastly, making a plan is useless unless you stick to it. Opposition leaders are always found postponing their campaigns while Modi’s campaigns never stop. Sticking to the campaign plan is so important for Modi that he doesn’t let a pandemic come in the way of activating the Ram Mandir construction campaign, a campaign that will no doubt continue consistently until early 2024, each step of which Modi would have planned out on an Excel sheet already.
That’s a simple four-point guide to defeating Modi in 2024. 1) Forget state elections. 2) Do a SWOT analysis. 3) Make a campaign around each of your SWOT points. 4) Stick to this plan for the next 3 years, no matter what.
The author is contributing editor, ThePrint. Views are personal.
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