Sunday, December 8, 2013

Congress gets drubbing. But Modi magic fails too….

Has the Congress got a drubbing? Without doubt. Even a die-hard supporter of the party will admit that much. But has the party been “demolished” and “decimated”, and has India become “Congress mukt” as BJP leaders were gushing to say yesterday? Hardly. Every political party goes through ups and downs and this is just one more of those moments. Give it time, and the Congress will bounce back. Provided it learns its lessons.

For the lessons are aplenty. There is a serious communication gap for starters. This communication gap has created the impression that the Congress is the most corrupt party. It made a mess of the 2G and Coal issues by failing to communicate better. Both those “scams” started and/or continued under several dispensations including the BJP, but the people held only the Congress responsible. When the party finally spoke up in the Birla matter, it was able to control the fall-out quickly. Had it shown the same gusto in defending its 2G “low license fee” policy (mobile penetration increased from 250 million in 2004 to 900 million now primarily because of this), or put up the same fight in the coal matter (it was the Congress that switched to auctions; the BJP had continued with the flawed screening committee system), it would not have seen this day.

Why is it that the Congress’s leaders do not communicate with the public? Why don’t Rahul and Sonia speak more? And what about the senior ministers – Chidambaram (who can cut Modi to size), or Salman Khursheed (who polished off the arbitrary scam charges against his NGO) or Kapil Sibal (who first, and correctly, propounded the zero-loss line of defence in 2G) or Antony  (of impeccable honesty) or Jayanthi Natarajan (who combines grace with an ability to mount spirited attacks) and so many more heavyweights? Why is it light-weights like Manish Tewari and Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Shashi Tharoor or the backroom boys like Sanjay Jha and Rajeev Gowda who speak on behalf of the party? The Congress has simply not understood the importance of the media….and PR.

The Congress also needs to learn that more than its socialist policies, it is inflation that matters the most to people. For sad as the reality is, people count their rising bills more carefully than their rising incomes. No one has been as well off ever as today, and yet everyone complains about rising bills. I look at well-to-do professionals and they too complain, even though their incomes have been rising faster! The Congress has to control inflation immediately.

The Congress has NOT been decimated anywhere except in Delhi (and even here it will bounce back in time). For a party to be decimated, it’s vote share should come down dramatically, but what do we find? The Congress’s vote share has actually increased in MP by 4% (32.4 to 36.4%) and 1.7% in Chhatisgarh (38.6 to 40.3). In Rajasthan, its vote share has dropped by just about 4% (though its seats loss has been massive) which is hardly dramatic. It is only in Delhi where the Congress has been “decimated”, with its vote share dropping by some 15% or more.

The BJP has obviously done extremely well, especially in terms of the margins of victory in MP and Rajasthan. But Modi has failed. If Modi had swung votes for his party, we would have seen a rise in its vote share in Chhatisgarh far higher than the 0.7% it managed (40.3 to 41%). And in Delhi, the party would have fared much better. In reality, the BJP’s vote share actually dropped in Delhi. How strange that so many “lacs” came out to hear Modi, but then went out and voted for the AAP! The BJP was counting so heavily on Modi that its poll-day ads featured Modi most prominently. And yet he couldn’t swing it for the party. Modi’s impact was felt only in Rajasthan, where the BJP won an unprecedented 82% of all seats. Even in MP, Modi’s impact is not visible…..BJP’s vote share increase of 7% odd was largely Uma Bharati’s votes coming back to the parent party (she fought independently last time). The most extreme Hindus who had migrated to her went back to the slightly-less-rabid BJP.

If Modi’s magic was less than impressive in the BJP’s strongest states, what can he be happy about? His presence in Karnataka just six months back hadn’t done anything for his party either. Modi’s been as much of a damp squib as Rahul Gandhi has been. Only because his party has done well in this round, he will survive drawing major attention to his failure. This is again symptomatic of the strength of the BJP and the weakness of the Congress – its ability to communicate.

What’s the prognosis for the national elections. Well, the Congress is certainly on its way out, unless it does something drastic. The first thing it must do is recognize that this is a vote against the central government, not the states. Both Delhi and Rajasthan governments had done well, and they still lost. The people wanted to punish Sonia and Rahul, not Gehlot and Dixit. Once it recognizes this, it must start to fix its leadership issue. Clearly, Rahul needs more time. Sonia needs to take command for at least 5 more years. She should prop Chidambaram up as the PM candidate. He is competent, and decisive, and can take on the BJP any time. The only glitch is that he doesn’t speak much Hindi. The Congress could also announce a Rahul-Chidambaram combination with Chidambaram being projected as the PM and Rahul becoming party chief. Contrary to what many think, I don’t believe the dual-power-center model has failed. If it had failed, UPA-2 would never have happened.

The real truth is that the Congress has got a drubbing alright, but it has been “decimated” only in Delhi. The BJP has done on expected lines in MP, Chhatisgarh and Rajasthan. Its huge win in Rajasthan will be a morale booster. But the BJP has squandered its opportunity in Delhi. Worse, Modi’s hollow bluster has been exposed…..

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