So the Congress has been given a resounding slap. It will be generally agreed that the electoral slap was a well-deserved one, considering its record. The results were mostly expected, but as always, there have been many surprises. Take the pre-poll results, for instance. There were four of them: ABP-AC Nielsen, Times Now-C-Voter, Today’s Chanakya and CNN IBN-CSDS. All of them proved wrong. In Delhi, for example, one poll gave Congress 16 seats, another 20 seats. One gave AAP 15 seats and another also, 15 seats. Today’s Chanakya was partly right about Rajasthan. It had pretty accurately given BJP 161 seats and the Congress 39. The Congress just made it to 29. There must be a lot of red faces among the pre-election pollsters.
There is no need to give the reasons for the enormous defeat of the Congress in all four elections. Everyone knows them only too well. Corruption for one thing. Poor leadership, for another. The arrogance of some leaders was notable and there was over-confidence, at least in public. Was Rahul Gandhi the right person to lead the fight? Could he really stand a chance against the dynamism of Narendra Modi? But who else was there in the Congress with a popular face? Manmohan Singh? Digvijay Singh? Poor Sonia Gandhi was too ill to take over the job. So it was assigned to Rahul, who did what he was told to do, with no effect. He was no match for Modi. There is some loose talk about his sister, Priyanka Vadra, being drawn in to fight the finals. She will only make matters worse. It is claimed that anti-incumbency was a factor. Yes, that did hurt Sheila Dixit, but how come that in Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan proved charismatic for a second time? His success is attributed to development schemes and welfare projects that he successfully initiated. The BJP’s sweeping victory in Rajasthan is attributed to “double anti-incumbency”, one being the change in the Jat vote, which deserted the Congress, and secondly, inflation. And then, of course, there was the Modi factor. He had, in many ways won the hearts of the people.
The Congress now says that it has learnt its lessons. The lessons were all there before the elections took place. Rahul showed no signs that he had read them. The Congress attack was more on Modi’s personality, rather than on relevant issues. With the results now out, the Congress must ask itself whether dynasticism is any longer valid or relevant. Indeed, it is for the Congressmen to look into the issue more seriously. Whoever had heard of Arvind Kejriwal five years ago? This man has now made a sparkling debut in Delhi. His tremendous success was certainly not expected even by the most logical of thinkers.
But as of now the most important thing so far as the Congress is concerned is not only the party’s future, but the future of dynasticism. If a ‘nobody’ like Kejriwal can enthuse the people to vote for him, can’t the Congress find a similar Kejriwal to take over its leadership? Why are Congressmen so afraid of Sonia Gandhi? Sonia did the right thing when, following the assassination of her husband, she was offered the party leadership. She was most reluctant to accept the offer; but then the party had no one else to look up to. And what followed is history. Much the same thing has happened now. Congress leadership has failed; but an effort should be made to discover likely Kejriwals within the party to replace Rahul. That they will never do.
Meanwhile a warning should be issued to the BJP. It should not take success in March 2014 for granted. It has to remember that in the general elections, it has not only to fight against the Congress but against regional leaders as well. The situation is vastly different in say, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and West Bengal. In Karnataka, it cannot afford to continue alienating Yeddyurappa, who is still a force to reckon with. A reconciliation with him would be quite in order. Many will ask whether much of the current successes should not be attributed to Narendra Modi’s charisma. He has been drawing mass audiences wherever he spoke, whether in Jaipur, Delhi or elsewhere. But will that charisma hold good in Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore or Travancore?
Modi made much of his social background and it was a clever gimmick. Let alone the poor voter: even the middle class would surely have been affected by his steady rise. Modi was wise in many ways. He did not always deal with Hindutva or even be overtly critical of the minorities. The stress always was on development, development and development – it was so evident in his address in Srinagar, which had a great appeal to the young who now have a substantial stake in the future.
The Congress did very poorly because of its personal attacks against Modi, which were not only in poor taste, but were factually untenable. It has also been very poorly served by its public relations department. One thing is clear: the Congress is on its way out. It is most unlikely Rahul would be marginalised . It is even more unlikely that there will be a revolt within the Congress to shunt him out. From what is so far evident, the party will limp along headless, brainless and visionless. If it does not discover a modern Kejriwal and continues to put all its money on dynasticism, it is likely to pay a heavy price.
It sometimes pays to go down an untrodden road. Princess Scindia has notched a stream-roller victory. But we have another India to take note of: Kejriwal’s India and that India, one must remember, is the predominant one. The poor do not always look up to Maharajahs for succour. In the final analysis, what the poor look for is a man with a vision: and this is where Narendra Modi becomes the icon. The BJP has the right man for the right job.
M. V. Kamath