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Exit Polls 2019: Are Rahul Gandhi and the Congress trying a 'dismantling strategy'? This could hurt Indian democracy
Instead of raising doubts over EVMs, exit polls and even the EC, Rahul Gandhi and the Congress must reinvent their own party. Fear-mongering about India's democracy may end up harming only them.
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As campaigning for the seventh phase got over on Friday, both the BJP and Congress presidents held customary end-of-election season press conferences. This is a conventional thanksgiving of sorts for the press corps who covered the beat during the polls. As per practice, the pressers are convened for interactions with the party presidents — that is, Amit Shah and Rahul Gandhi, respectively, for the BJP and the Congress.
In the case of the BJP, the Prime Minister also made an appearance and delivered a short address to the journalists. Perhaps the expectation was he would also take questions. But citing protocol, he left the Q&A session for the president to handle.
On the other side, Rahul Gandhi held an impressive show at the Congress headquarters. Though he answered most of the questions with a reference to the Prime Minister, he was refreshingly candid in his responses. He exuded confidence and his answers were laced heavily with digs at his bête noire Narendra Modi.
Purely from optics and an entertainment standpoint, the Congress event was far more fun.
More fun than the BJP's meet! But was this also part of the Congress' 'dismantling strategy'? (Source: PTI)
At the end, Rahul Gandhi asked the audience with a cherubic smile, “Haven’t I improved?” — and they all replied in a chorus — “Yes”.
The BJP engagement, more staid in contrast, raised more questions than it answered. First, there was palpable disappointment at the PM’s silence. This was immediately followed by intense attacks about how Modi had 'avoided' questions. However, the real ‘masala’ came in the 'expert analyses' of the expressions and body language to interpret the likely results.
From what they saw as a rather tired and serious look on Narendra Modi’s face, many arrived at the conclusion that the BJP was headed for a disaster — in contrast, the peppy Rahul, with his snide asides about the Prime Minister, was viewed as a tacit declaration of victory.
Rahul Gandhi himself dwelt at length on the high points of his campaign. He was charmingly self-congratulatory about how he had dismantled Modi’s image and the run-away success of the “Chowkidar Chor Hai” slogan.
Two days down the road, we had the exit poll results.
Though far from being the last word, the remarkable convergence of all the surveys indicate an alternate reality quite far from Rahul’s world.
Rahul Gandhi’s words and actions have often caused facepalm moments for his ardent admirers — but this variance between fact and fantasy left many election strategists flummoxed.
It is widely known that the Congress had a well-equipped war room for these elections, backed with cutting-edge technology and analytics capabilities. Therefore, it is unlikely that the party’s own internal research would not have revealed what was in store. Besides, with its strong political intelligence, it would have certainly had some inkling of the exit polls. So, what could have been the logic of such posturing at the eleventh hour?
One plausible explanation could be that it is an extension of the 'dismantling' strategy.
Rahul Gandhi’s tweet, after the exit polls were announced, may have a clue to offer:
From Electoral Bonds & EVMs to manipulating the election schedule, NaMo TV, “Modi’s Army” & now the drama in Kedarnath; the Election Commission’s capitulation before Mr Modi & his gang is obvious to all Indians. The EC used to be feared & respected. Not anymore.— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) May 19, 2019
In a broad swipe, Rahul Gandhi attacked EVMs and the Election Commission in the same breath.
This is ominous as it tends to undermine the sanctity of the mandate — if it were to go against the Congress.
It does not sound like the rant of a sour loser but it does betray an intent to take the battle further by raising doubts about the results among the public and, perhaps, even challenging it in court. In doing so, it might find willing associates from among other aggrieved parties. In any case, activists will be only too willing to join the battle.
However, it would not bode well for the reputation of our democracy if the election results get mired in controversy to settle political scores.
Some leaders have started making rather alarming statements, such as the following:
I don’t trust Exit Poll gossip. The game plan is to manipulate or replace thousands of EVMs through this gossip. I appeal to all Opposition parties to be united, strong and bold. We will fight this battle together— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) May 19, 2019
Former Chief Election Commissioners of India, Sri Navin Chawla & Sri S. Y. Quraishi also support the demands put forth by us regarding VVPAT verification.Those who respect democracy are disappointed with how the EC conducted elections. Our fight to save democracy will continue.— N Chandrababu Naidu (@ncbn) May 20, 2019
Such apprehensions should not be expressed in a cavalier manner by responsible leaders — these can be contagious and easily snowball into a scandal, with far-reaching consequences.
However, for many of the older leaders, these elections may certainly be the end of the road. Therefore, they may be more reckless in their accusations.
But the Congress, as the 'grand old party' of India, should not take such a myopic view. Rahul Gandhi is still relatively young by the standard of Indian politicians and these elections are certainly not going to be his last.
Discrediting Indian democracy will only hurt him in the long run.
Trying to paint these elections as rigged will not wash, as the world knows India is not another third world banana republic and will not turn into a tinpot dictatorship. Modi cannot become a Donald Trump or be compared with a Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Instead, this is a golden opportunity for Rahul Gandhi to demonstrate that he has truly matured as a politician, to show statesmanship and to go back to the drawing board to reinvent the Congress as being relevant for a “new India”. There is little reason for him to feel despondent and behave like there is no tomorrow, even if the exit polls were to hold.
Finally, all parties who have been treating Narendra Modi as a political undesirable must accept, however reluctantly, that he has changed the paradigm of Indian politics. He is here to stay and with this election, most likely, he has further cemented his position within the BJP and RSS.
Those who were day-dreaming of replacing or sidelining him within the party have to get real and learn to deal with him.
For Rahul Gandhi, it is time to walk the talk and embrace Modi with the true love he has been professing in public.