The CM face is the critical X-factor in winning elections. Why doesn’t Rahul Gandhi get it?
Rajasthan is a foregone conclusion. A Congress victory in the state will not necessarily mean the BJP will do poorly in the Lok Sabha elections in Rajasthan. The Rajasthani voter’s verdict now and in May 2019 is likely to be very different.
Rajasthan’s elections are always somewhat boring because voters have internalised the idea that they must change their state government every five years. Like some law of nature. Even a taxi driver in Jaipur will tell you how they like to turn the roti around every now and then lest it burns.
The Rajasthan results will be better analysed for the scale of the Congress victory. What’s the big deal winning Rajasthan with just a few seats above the majority mark when it’s your turn to rule the state anyway?
What’s likely to prevent a clean sweep in the state is the Congress party’s inability to decide who the chief minister will be. The tussle between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot is such that the election seems to be between them. If the Congress had declared a CM candidate well in advance and done the campaign around him, we would have been looking at a clean sweep.
Again, the reason why the BJP’s defeat in Rajasthan is certain is because Vasundhara Raja Scindia has become unpopular, as have her MLAs. But for all the disenchantment with the local faces, people actually like the BJP and Narendra Modi.
Shivraj versus Rahul
If the BJP is all set to lose Rajasthan because its local face has become unpopular, it could retain Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh because the local faces in these two states are still popular. Raman Singh has been the Chhattisgarh CM since 2003 and Shivraj Singh Chouhan has been the Madhya Pradesh CM since 2005.
The anti-incumbency sentiment has been piling up in both the states but voters largely don’t target the CMs. They abuse the local BJP, their MLAs, the system, the bureaucracy – but the CMs themselves are not the target of anger. It’s the same with other long-term CMs, be it Nitish Kumar in Bihar or Naveen Patnaik in Odisha or Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal.
A popular CM face is the critical X-factor in winning elections but Rahul Gandhi just doesn’t seem to get it. He made Kamal Nath the Madhya Pradesh Congress chief just six months before the election. What is six months to go around mounting a campaign in a large state?
Not that Kamal Nath has been declared the CM candidate. “I am not a chief ministerial candidate. I will do whatever Congress president Rahul Gandhi decides,” he told ABP News Monday. Voters will think even if he becomes CM will he be answerable to us, or to Rahul Gandhi? This is how the Congress undermines its own local leaders.
The BJP also likes to fight elections in the name of Narendra Modi rather than the local CM face, but at least when the sitting CM is popular, they don’t undermine him. It’s not a Modi but a Raman Singh campaign in Chhattisgarh. It’s not a Modi but a Shivraj Singh Chouhan campaign in Madhya Pradesh. In Karnataka, the Congress cut to size its own sitting CM Siddaramaiah earlier this year. He wasn’t declared CM candidate and Rahul Gandhi’s campaign overshadowed Siddaramaiah, taking away whatever campaign space other leaders had left.
Happy to lose
It’s a bogus argument that declaring a CM face leads to factionalism in the party. Did the Congress not declare a CM face in Punjab despite factionalism? The dissidents have to be given incentives and disincentives for a united campaign. Not declaring a CM candidate actually increases factionalism because it leads to endless undermining of one leader by another in the party campaign.
A CM face could have made the difference between victory and defeat for the Congress in the Gujarat assembly election. A personality campaign could have made Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh fall into the Congress’ lap. So why doesn’t Rahul Gandhi get it?
He doesn’t, because if a state is won in the name of the local leader, how will Rahul Gandhi get any credit?
The only state where the Congress party has formed government (on its own) since 2014 is Punjab. Ever heard anyone give credit to Rahul or Sonia Gandhi for that? Credit has gone only to Captain Amarinder Singh and, if any was still left, to the Captain’s private campaign consultant, Prashant Kishor.
In fact, it’s no secret that Rahul and Captain haven’t been on the best of terms. Rahul Gandhi was reluctant to declare Captain as the official CM candidate of the party until the fag end of the campaign.
If the Congress had used the formula of a CM face with a personality campaign, it would not be losing one election after another. Sure, many elections have been won without a pre-declared CM candidate, but just look at the number of elections that have been lost for the want of one.
This is the old problem of the Congress party’s family feudal model – they want every election fought or lost on their name alone. The central reason why they have let the party come down to 44 seats in 2014 elections is because they have undermined their own local leaders. If any election can’t be won in the name of the Nehru-Gandhi family, the Congress, it seems, is happy to lose it.
Check out My543, our comprehensive report card of all Lok Sabha MPs.