The heads may belong to different Caesars, but the Congress and BJP are two sides of the same mintage. That is, at least, the perception if not the reality. The ascendants and descendants of the electoral zodiac have erased the amorphous line that divides both national parties. Personality cults and sycophancy have always constituted the Congress party’s political charter. Its generalissimos are unfailingly unapologetic about expressing their unflinching loyalty to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. They remain convinced that while the Family’s Charisma seizes the laurels, losses in the battle of the ballots are entirely caused by the infirmities of the local leadership. This contagion of belief has now affected the BJP. With votes yet to be counted in the five states, leaders of both parties have, in advance, started apportioning the credit and blame for expected losses and wins. Leaders chased by TV channels for sound bytes are obsessed with offering morsels of banal opinion even if they have to dine on their words later. Last week, journalists quizzed senior BJP leaders about the possible consequences of the electoral verdicts in the party. While asked about whom the credit to victory or shame in defeat in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh should go to, a saffron luminary was emphatic in his response—it would be a victory of both national and local sentiments. The second rung leadership echoed his views, making it obvious that a section of the central leadership is unwilling to give full credit to the BJP’s chief ministerial candidates like Vasundhara Raje Scindia and Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Disremembering that the party has been projecting Chouhan as a model chief minister along with Narendra Modi, its wannabe leaders are competing with each other to give credit to the efficacy of the Modi as the Ace of Trumps. Modi acolytes have taken over the reins of the party, and have ensured that he gets more exposure in poll-bound states than local leaders. In Delhi, all posters, hoardings and TV promos carry much bigger visuals of Modi compared to CM candidate Harsh Vardhan’s. In contrast, the Congress, for the first time, has refrained from projecting the Gandhis or the Prime Minister as the face of their election offensive.
A divided and ambitious BJP leadership is playing a Sun Tzu-ian game of posturing and positioning. Diehard Modi followers feel that thanks to his magic, the party would win all the four states where the Gujarat Chief Minister has addressed over 50 meetings. Though the party had given a list of over 30 star campaigners to the Election Commission for these states, Modi topped the charts, followed by Sushma Swaraj, Rajnath Singh and Smriti Irani. In case the BJP storms home in all the four, the spoils of war would go to Modi and not the chief ministers. He would be declared the sole hero of the 2014 electoral semi-finals. Statistics would spell the numerical narrative on crowds drawn by Modi and his fiery speeches, as having generated a massive wave in the BJP’s favour to throw out incumbent Congress chief ministers. In case the BJP retains Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh while snatching Rajasthan away from its foe, the credit would go to Modi because it would be projected as a mandate for him for leading from the front. Internal opinion polls will be pulled out of the party’s escritoires to show that it was Modi who converted a lost cause in Chhattisgarh into an emphatic victory. If local party scuttlebutt is to be believed, the BJP plans to organise a special victory procession in Delhi, with Modi as the monarch. If the BJP is trounced in Delhi, however, the absence of a charismatic local leadership and a divided party leadership would be blamed. In case of a tie where the Congress and BJP win two states each, party logicians would dissemble that the absence of local organisational skills and the selection of unpopular candidates were the main reasons for defeat. Meanwhile, another section of the BJP feels that if the party fails to win Delhi and Chhattisgarh, Modi would be held responsible for the electoral Waterloo blaming his aggressive style and personality for polarising voters and scaring off fence-sitters. Since Modi is omnipresent on the battlefields of all the states, his acceptability and political allure are under greater scrutiny than that of his immediate rival, Rahul Gandhi.
The BJP has taken victory for granted while the Congress has confined itself to projecting the state elections as a mandate for the local leadership. Both Rahul and Sonia Gandhi have addressed less than half the number of Modi’s public rallies. They have realised that the Family may keep the party together, but is in no position to ensure victory, doomed by the pathetic performance of the UPA government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The Congress High Command’s singular objective is to ensure that the Modi Mantra is extensively erased with the use of massive election funding and by bringing together all warring factions together. The Gandhis and their guild of loyalists feel that if the Congress wins two of the four states (excluding Mizoram), it would paralyse the Modi juggernaut and pave the way for UPA III. In the endgame, a score of 4-all would make Modi the invincible captain, but a 2-2 would be advantage Congress. Hence, as the die is perched at the edge of the precipice of prediction, the BJP has much more to lose than the Gandhis by making Modi its commander-in-chief. Elections verdicts will not decide the fate of local governments. But they will make and mar the destinies of national leaders like Modi.
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