When it comes to elections, trust the Bharatiya Janata Party strategists to establish connections that may not strike ordinary mortals. Think of a Gujarat-Assam link – the largest producer of milk and tea in India? “Gujarat ka doodh aur Assam ka chai milaa ke, sabse badhiya chai banaane waale desh ke Pradhan Mantri Narendra Modi ji hain (One who makes the best tea by blending Gujarat’s milk with Assam’s tea is the country’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji) ….That’s how he is making Nav Bharat,” Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said at an election meeting at Anjar in Gujarat’s Kutch district Friday.
The audience applauded with “Bharat Mata ki Jai”. In another election rally the next day, Sarma called the alleged killing of Shraddha Walker by her live-in partner, Aftab Amin Poonawalla, in Delhi an instance of ‘love jihad’. “If India doesn’t have a strong leader like Modi, ‘an Aaftab will be born in every city’,” said the Assam CM.
In two days, he captured the whole gamut – from Assam tea and Gujarat milk to Bharat Mata, ‘love jihad’, and the chaiwala – as a strong leader. Forget the rights and wrongs here. Just enjoy the art of politics.
Now think of a link between Gujarat and Arunachal Pradesh. PM Modi was in the Northeastern state on Saturday, 2,000 miles away from poll-bound Gujarat, to inaugurate projects. All his visits don’t have to be political or election-related, no matter how cynical his detractors and admirers might be. “The sun rises first in Arunachal and sets last in Gujarat,” Modi had said earlier. Lord Krishna was from Gujarat’s Dwarka who married Rukmini from Arunachal, Modi would say.
He didn’t have to repeat these messages during his visit, though. Even residents of Madhavur village in Gujarat’s Porbandar district wouldn’t miss it. They organise the famous Madhavpur Fair every year to celebrate the marriage of Krishna and Rukmini. It draws a large crowd, with chief ministers from the Northeast attending it.
With an estimated 13,000 to 15,000 voters, Madhavpur is the biggest village in the Kutiyana constituency, which was won by the late ‘godmother’ Santokben Jadeja’s son, Kandhal Jadeja, in the last two elections. He quit the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) this year and is now contesting on a Samajwadi Party ticket. It would sound preposterous to suggest that PM Modi went to Arunachal to send a message to Madhavpur residents. He wouldn’t probably be bothered about Jadeja, the former NCP legislator who voted for BJP candidates in the Rajya Sabha and presidential elections. But his message, intended or not, does hit home – in Gujarat.
From Arunachal Pradesh, PM Modi flew down to Varanasi to inaugurate the Kashi Tamil Sangamam, a month-long programme to celebrate and rediscover the links between Tamil Nadu and Kashi. Modi was effusive in his praise for the Tamil language, calling upon 130 crore Indians to preserve its legacy. Days before his visit, Union Home Minister Amit Shah was in Chennai recommending Tamil as the medium of instruction in medical and technical education. They were obviously seeking to address apprehensions about the BJP’s linguistic politics in the Dravidian land where the party is seeking to expand its footprints. But Shah and Modi’s gestures would also be very reassuring to the Tamils in Gujarat – Around 1.5 lakh in Ahmedabad, especially in ‘mini-Tamil Nadu’ in Maninagar, Modi’s former Assembly constituency.
Be it his pictures with world leaders at the G20 summit in Bali or his tough talk at the 3rd ‘No Money for Terror’ ministerial conference in New Delhi, Prime Minister Modi’s messages were unmistakable – in Gujarat and the rest of the country.
BJP and the opposition
This brings us to celebrated poll strategist Prashant Kishor’s 4M formula that he once devised for the Congress – Message, Messenger, Machinery and Mechanics – to take on the BJP.
One may feel compelled to trust PK’s formula because he experimented with and executed it for the BJP before successfully building on it for opposition parties. Look at how it’s working out in Gujarat. Look at the Message the BJP is conveying in Gujarat – Modi, the Vishwa Guru, the strong man to lead India (including Gujarat, obviously), the protector of Hinduism and Hindutva (no matter what distinction Rahul Gandhi makes between the two), the leader who brings about a confluence of ideas and cultures, and the proletariat, a chaiwala, that has disempowered the bourgeoisie (no matter the Ambani-Adani jibes by detractors).
As for the Messenger, it’s Modi all the way, but there are Shahs, Sarmas, and many others to make him look larger than life. The strength of the third component, the BJP’s Machinery, is undisputed. As for the fourth one, Mechanics, which, by dictionary definition, is concerned with motion and the forces producing it, it is understood better by the BJP than any of its rivals. The BJP keeps it very well-oiled, constantly keeping its cadre in motion through 24x7x365 programme cycles and constantly upgrading its parts – from booths to panna pramukhs to panna samitis.
Even denying tickets to one-fourth of its MLAs and experimenting with fresh faces is as much about the Message as about Mechanics. Now look at how the opposition, the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) come across. When it comes to the last two – Machinery and Mechanics – they are nowhere a match to the BJP.
An AAP leader in Gujarat told this writer that there were 6.5 lakh “missed calls” to support the party. There were “10 to 100” people constituting a samiti in every village, and there were 10 “circle in-charges” covering five villages each. Then there were four leaders in every block in every constituency. Overall, he said that the AAP has drafted 7.5 lakh karyakartas (workers), including 2.81 lakh full-time volunteers, in Gujarat. All in a span of a year! Congress leaders were more conservative: “We are not a cadre-based party but we have workers in every booth.” Even if one were to accept these claims, it would be a leap of faith to compare them with an army of BJP workers who are kept in ‘motion’ by the party that keeps devising programmes for them all year round.
Therefore, for the opposition in Gujarat, it’s all about Message and Messenger. The AAP has Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal as the principal messenger proclaiming himself as an epitome of honest politics who can give 300 units of free electricity, Rs 1,000 per month to adult women and Rs 3,000 per month to the unemployed youth, among others. There is, of course, the so-called Delhi model of education and health. He has drafted Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann as a testimony to his sincerity – no matter how the AAP government has failed to implement that promise to women in Punjab.
The bigger question
The bigger question is: Can Kejriwal move the minds and hearts of Gujaratis as Narendra Modi does? The AAP’s CM candidate, Isudan Gadhvi, is a popular figure who does make people curious but he has a long way to go before the Gujaratis see him as Modi’s alternative. Travel around in Gujarat. It’s still the Modi government in the state. As for the Congress, there is no Messenger. Change is the message both the Congress and the AAP are relying on. The BJP first came to power in 1990, with Janata Dal’s Chimanbhai Patel as the CM and BJP’s Keshubhai Patel as his deputy. But the change for the sake of it isn’t very convincing.
I was talking to a street vendor outside a university campus in Ahmedabad. A few weeks ago, someone had stolen her goods at night. She identified him and, with help from friends, caught him and took him to the police station. She was scolded for her ‘wrong accusations’. When I asked her if she wanted a change in the government that could set things right, she looked at me, almost reproachingly, “What will happen with the change? Sab waise hi hain (all are the same).” When I said that some parties were promising Rs 1,000 a month to her, she quipped: “Everybody promises, nobody delivers.”
A few hours later, I met Congressman-turned-BJP leader Alpesh Thakor. He said in the course of the conversation: “Yes, there are problems…there is unemployment…youth, farmers, women, all have problems…but if the BJP can’t solve it, who else can do it?” In the next 10 days before the first phase of assembly elections in Gujarat, the opposition needs to answer this question and convince voters that they can (solve it). If they do, they will obviously have the fifth M that Prashant Kishor hasn’t thought of. PK may not be losing his sleep yet.
DK Singh is Political Editor, ThePrint. He tweets @dksingh73. Views are personal.
(Edited by Tarannum Khan)