The massive defeat of the Congress party in the Assembly elections is another piece of proof that the party has mastered the science of how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Most of the pollsters had predicted that the Congress could easily win Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Telangana and that it was caught in a tough fight in Rajasthan. The results tell a different story. If the Congress defeat in MP is stunning then Chhattisgarh was a big shock. In MP where the Congress took its victory for granted, lost by unprecedented numbers. The vote percentage gap between the two parties is almost 8% which in the first-past-the-post system is huge and often leads to a landslide win. In Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan the vote gap is less. So how did this happen? Was it because of overconfidence, complacency that failed the Congress or something else?
There is no denying the fact that the local Congress leadership in Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh took victory for granted and turned lazy in the last overs. But the real story lies with the BJP, in their “never lose till the last ball is bowled” attitude. They have perfected the science of contesting elections. Madhya Pradesh is a classic example of how to turn defeat into victory.
It is paradoxical that the BJP, despite being the upholder of a conservative and orthodox thought process that always looks to the past, uses ultra-modern techniques during elections. Whereas, the Congress which takes pride in being the harbinger of the modern world, propagates a progressive value system, is deeply rooted in an old mindset. The world has moved to the 21st century but the electoral tools that the Congress uses are of a different era; it has not evolved. It has failed to understand that under Narendra Modi, the BJP has realised the importance of the latest technology in elections, much before any other party, and through technology it has developed a mammoth system to directly connect with the voters. On the other hand, the Congress not only lacks in technological innovation but is also greatly handicapped in organisational muscle power.
Till 2014, the Congress believed that it was the default option of the Indian electorate. But now the politics of the country has changed. BJP has acquired pole position and now it has become the default option for voters. A visionary Congress leadership would have identified its weaknesses and would have moved the party on the path of course correction. The day VP Singh implemented the Mandal Commission recommendation of 27% reservation for OBCs in government jobs, was when the decline of the party began. Now Hindutva is proving to be the death knell. The party failed to readjust its social base and now it is paying the price. Under Modi, the BJP was smart enough to re-engineer its Hindutva vis-a-vis the challenges of Mandal and Dalit politics. It is no accident that the BJP now boasts about giving due representation to OBCs and Dalits, not only in the governments but also in the party organisations.
The BJP is blessed that it has two leaders in its system who have an infinite hunger to win elections and for that matter are always willing to walk the extra mile. Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are indefatigable. Politics is their staple diet. They enter the colosseum of politics like gladiators. For them every fight is a matter of life and death. It is this fighter instinct which made them realise, long before the election process began in Madhya Pradesh, that 18 years is a long enough time for anti-incumbency to set in against the BJP government in the state. Where the Congress took its electoral victory for granted, the BJP moved with alacrity, pushed the panic button, and the election machine started in top gear. The grafting of its senior central cabinet ministers and MPs including Narendra Singh Tomar to contest was a realisation that the party could not afford to sit idle; it had to move fast and cover its weakness. The non-projection of any face as a CM candidate was another attempt to mitigate the anti-incumbency; it was a different debate if it was a good strategy but it shows that the party was seized of the matter and was ready to take risks to win elections. But the real exercise was the movement of its electoral leviathan of 40 lakh party workers as claimed by the party in the state.
MP is Hindutva’s real laboratory. Under the legendary Kushabhau Thakre the BJP had created a massive organisation in every nook and corner of the state much before Modi became the Prime Minister. MP was one among the four states where BJP formed the government in 1990-91. It’s a different story that after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the BJP govt was sacked along with its other governments in HP, Rajasthan, and UP. But it has always had very strong roots on the ground. In 2003, the party led by Uma Bharti defeated the Congress, and since then the BJP has had three terms of five years each. In 2018 it faced defeat only to come back again in less than one and a half years.
After 18 years of rule, lethargy did settle in the organisation, and its booth committees went dormant. Under Amit Shah the party took the initiative to rejuvenate its booth-level organisations. MP has 64,523 booths in total. The party fixed the target to reach out to more than 90% booths and every booth committee was asked to ensure 51% votes for the party of those polled in that polling booth. It was a big target. These booths were digitised and directly connected with the mother organisation. Each booth committee was given specific tasks which it had to deliver within a definite time framework. Every booth worker had to WhatsApp their picture and details of the work done to the organisation.
The party also tried to reach out to SC and ST communities along with those who were direct beneficiaries of the BJP government’s welfare schemes. As reported in the print media, 42,000 WhatsApp groups were created in the state. This had a twin purpose. One was inner coordination and the other was for the circulation of propaganda material to the workers who could take it directly to the voters in their respective areas. According to the report, three more in-charges — social media incharge, beneficiary incharge and Shakti Kendra incharge — were appointed. Shakti Kendra was a novel idea and consisted in making a group of 6 to 8 booth level volunteers for better coordination and effective circulation of messages.
Even Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan was on the move since January 2023. Till the last day of campaigning he had attended more than a thousand public programmes, big or small, and three to four such meetings every day. As reported by the media, Chouhan was out in the field till midnight and slept for hardly four to five hours. In comparison, Kamal Nath was a pale shadow of Chouhan. The Congress which over the years has shrunk nationally as an organisation, was further depleted due to being away from power for almost two decades in the state. There was not much focus on beefing up the booth-level workers.
In the Congress party, the central leader hardly had any role to play in the state organisation functioning whereas Amit Shah was personally involved in the booth management. He not only held meetings of booth workers but also got printed booklets of 15 strategies to win voters at the booth level. In one of the meetings even prime minister Modi was present and talked to booth volunteers, which underlines how important this mammoth exercise was for the party. Even a karyakarta Mahakumbh was organised where state leaders participated to instil the seriousness of the exercise.
Unfortunately for the Congress, its leaders did not show any inclination to strategise vis-a-vis such a mammoth exercise of the BJP. They believed that like earlier days people would choose them as they were unhappy with the BJP government. It did not happen, as voters also have an elephantine ego that has to be pampered. The BJP reached out to them in a scientific manner, monitored whether the benefits of welfare schemes were reaching the targeted people, and in contrast, Congress lived in the Stone Age of electioneering. The outcome is stark. The party with the conservative outlook but with modern tools defied every odds and won, and those who claim to be modern in outlook but are technologically challenged are again out of power. The paradox is deadly and infectious.
(The writer is Editor, SatyaHindi.com, and author of Hindu Rashtra. He tweets at @ashutosh83B)