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2014 is not 1998

With Priyanka Gandhi jumping out in the open into the Congress campaign programme, feeble hopes have rekindled in the Grand Old Party. She smiles, waves, hugs, makes pithy remarks about Narendra Modi without naming him, recalls her martyred father, her family links with Amethi and Rae Bareli and then disappears for a day.

To return, after a break. But PGV (as she is known in the Rahul Gandhi war room) will not campaign beyond her mother and brother’s constituencies. Her speeches there are telecast live and has made a marginal impact in the mood of the Congress workers. At least now it appears like somebody is fighting back the Modi wave.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra during an election campaign for her mother, Congress president Sonia Gandhi in Rae Bareli on Friday. Pic/PTI
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra during an election campaign for her mother, Congress president Sonia Gandhi in Rae Bareli on Friday. Pic/PTI

And wave there is, whether engineered or natural. The momentum has been created for a 272 plus figure by May 16 and it is up to the Congress to break it, not pretend it does not exist. With 347 seats already polled, there is not much time left to stem the BJP tide. And that could only happen if the BJP gets complacent, starts believing in all the hype that it has created about a ‘tsunami’.

If PGV is the Congress party’s trump card, then she has been pulled out too late and with a caveat that she is not going to campaign in other constituencies, the impact has been blunted further. The national campaigners for the Congress remain the mother-son duo. After two successful elections, their magic has waned. The two seem incapable of breaking the Modi machine, which has its path charted out.

But the Indian electorate has proved to be most unpredictable in every election since 1998. What if the NDA is not able to reach the magic figure of 272? The old guard in the Congress is depending on this slender possibility now. It has started discussions on possible permutations and combinations with potential allies in order to cobble together a non-NDA unit.

The old guard which has been side-lined in decision making by the Rahul-and-Priyanka-led war room are working out scenarios where they will be called in to open channels of communication with old regional allies. The smaller parties’ feedback is that the Modi-wave is a media creation and inaccurate opinion polls findings.

The party is hoping that if NDA stops anywhere less than 230, then the Congress would be able to rally together smaller parties to form a ‘secular front’ to keep out the BJP, rather Modi, from power. All eyes then will be on the president. Pranab Mukherjee would certainly be aware that this is not 1998 and nobody in the country wants a repeat of that decade.

In the period from 1989-1998, we had eight prime ministers and ten governments. The president will have to call the party with the largest number: 272. And if the NDA, with its 25 pre-poll partners, is unable to reach that number then it has a choice of either staking the claim and then going in for a confidence vote with more allies in its kitty or else allowing the probable ‘secular front’ to stake its claim and then pull it down.

The old guard in the Congress has begun working on the possibilities that a hung parliament could throw up. That is probably why months ago they forced the decision of not declaring Rahul Gandhi as a Prime Ministerial candidate for the campaign of 2014. It could be another Manmohan Singh like candidate, acceptable to allies, maybe even from the allies’ parties. This kind of a scheme fuels fears of policy paralysis due to political instability that might ensue.

A coalition of ‘like-minded parties’ whose single point agenda is to keep the BJP out of power will bring forth a backlash from the Modi-bhakts who have already started making a shadow cabinet. The Camelot of their dreams has begun taking shape in the karyakarta offices all across the country. The energy in the BJP offices is unmatched. The disappointment, if it does come, will also be unmatched.

The sane minds in the party have kept that small window open for post poll alliances in the event of a non - 272 structure. That is why the manifesto has put in the back burner issues such as Ayodhya and article 370. The BJP/NDA know how to win allies, despite its sharp poll rhetoric. A lot of the mud-slinging one is witnessing these days seems to be part of a fixed match with regional players.

Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash

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