RIGHT Foot Forward
Modi gets direct, Congress fights right back. Why Madhya Pradesh polls promises to be a nail-biting finish
As campaigning ended and the troops moved to the polling stations, the nation is holding its breath perhaps even more than the voters of Madhya Pradesh.
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech at Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh on Monday, November 27, in the closing overs of BJP’s campaign in the state was, perhaps, the most definitive.
Some may argue it came a little late in the day. But Modi always works on a strategy. So, this too must have been as per plan.
Yet as per popular projections, BJP is unlikely to win Vidisha notwithstanding the captain’s knock by Modi. Still a message was transmitted to the larger electorate probably targeted at the fence sitters on the eve of polling.
Modi was as direct as he could get. “I have come to tally accounts,” he thundered. Compare the work done by my government in the last four years, Shivraj Singh’s in 15 years and Congress over 55 years before that. He reminded people of the condition of roads during the Congress regime and kilometres of highways constructed in the last four years.
Modi mocked Congress for not fielding Digvijaya Singh in the campaign given his poor record as chief minister. He poked fun at Rahul Gandhi for promising mobile phone factories wherever he went without knowing how many mobile phone factories have actually come up in India over the last four years. It was vintage Modi at his best.
Modi had a word for Congress’ cheerleaders as well. He pointed out — picking state after state from Uttar Pradesh to West Bengal, Bihar and Odisha – how Congress after being booted out of power has seldom made a comeback if a viable alternative existed. In a somewhat unkind dig, typical of Modi, he said Bihar preferred even a Lalu over Congress.
This last statement was a telling comment on national politics that the astute observer will not miss. Now, with Congress beginning to look more and more like the ‘B team’ of BJP with its new-found love for Hinduism, Brahmanical chauvinism and temples, the future alternatives will necessarily come from a third direction. While that might be premature to discuss in the context of the coming Madhya Pradesh elections, it has great significance for the Lok Sabha polls in 2019.
While BJP and Modi carefully calibrated the narrative as the campaign progressed, Rahul Gandhi finished the last lap on the same stroke — freestyle attack on Modi. The only thing that changed was the size of the red tika on his forehead. Other than that Rahul would deserve a prize for consistency.
As a devotee of Lord Shiva, Rahul Gandhi visited Pitambara Peeth in Datia with senior party leaders.
Rahul’s speeches were so Modi centric it would appear that he was campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections. Shivraj Singh and the performance of the Madhya Pradesh government were almost incidental in Gandhi’s scheme of things. Having exhausted all his ammunition against Modi, one wonders if Rahul will have any new material to speak against Modi in 2019.
However, on another plane, ‘Team Rahul’ has been very impressive. It has displayed rare discipline and unity of command that has been missing in Congress for a long time. Much credit for this must go to Kamal Nath, who has been working tirelessly bringing in remarkable strategic inputs and maturity to the campaign.
Jyotiraditya Scindia has to be complimented for playing in tandem with Kamal Nath without trying to upstage him as Congress scions are wont to do. Finally, Rahul too deserves to be congratulated for keeping Digvijaya Singh under control ever since the latter returned from his self-imposed exile along the holy trail of the Narmada river.
Kamal Nath’s real contribution lies in reviving a near defunct Congress organisational machinery in the state that had almost gone into coma. To retrieve it to a working condition overcoming the multiple power axes of Madhya Pradesh Congress was no mean task.
Kamal Nath managed the backend. A man of detail, an experienced administrator and hands-on politician and administrator, he took care of the nuts and bolts of the campaign. As some of the leaked videos revealed he was the man working on the arithmetic of electioneering and behind the scene machinations.
On the other side, Scindia took upon himself the task of arranging the public appearances of Rahul, especially the photo-ops at temples. His own royal aura helped mobilise the crowds for Rahul, especially in the Malwa, Gwalior and Guna belt and other parts of north and east Madhya Pradesh such as Chitrakoot and Rewa.
Overall, it was refreshing teamwork on display that one had stopped expecting from the Congress.
The BJP, on its part, never underestimated its challenge of anti-incumbency. It was acutely aware of the shortcomings of Shivraj Singh’s rule, especially in the last five years. Therefore, it had the twin task of damage control as well as recovering lost ground.
Starting as an underdog in some ways, BJP went into a mission mode almost a year ahead of the elections. Like a well-oiled army, BJP launched its campaign in waves.
First, central government programmes like PMGAY were stepped up into top gear. Secondly, sops were granted in terms of higher MSPs, cap on electricity charges, rapid disbursement of crop insurance to assuage farmer disenchantment. This was followed by massive outreach at the ground level in the rural areas by party cadres and RSS volunteers.
Modi and Shivraj too complemented each other in style. They understood that both need to win and, therefore, have to join forces without holding anything back. This chemistry was visible through the campaign much more than what has been seen in Chhattisgarh or Rajasthan so far.
Modi and Shivraj too complemented each other in style. (Source: PTI)
Modi’s direct contact with booth workers via video-conferencing is also believed to have had a positive impact on the sagging morale of party workers. Unlike Karnataka and even UP, where Modi had gone on a campaign blitzkrieg, in Madhya Pradesh, Modi addressed only 10 election rallies. Here, BJP appeared to have focused more on micro-management at the ground level keeping the carpet bombing for the last phase.
So far the battle seems to be evenly poised. Views are divided on how BSP and SP going alone would impact the outcome. Some feel BSP would nullify some of the advantage BJP was hoping to get from the SC/ST legislation. Others are not so sure it will benefit the Congress.
Will SP take away some of Congress’ minority votes?
Unlikely, given that SP drew a blank in the 2013 elections. Congress is hoping that rebel candidates and the Sapaks (Samanya, Pichhda, Alpsankhyak) party may play spoilsport for BJP by cutting into its traditional upper caste vote bank. But, that is something the BJP would leave for Amit Shah to handle.
Finally, as campaigning ended and the troops moved to the polling stations, the nation is holding its breath perhaps even more than the voters of Madhya Pradesh.
In recent memory no other state elections has generated so much suspense and anticipation. But, all indications suggest it will be a nail-biting finish.