Aditya Sinha: BJP is too clever for its own good
Modi and Co. had hoped that delayed polls would give them time to woo sullen voters, but all they've done is give Rahul more exposure
From party president Amit Shah to Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, the BJP spent the weekend taunting Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi for his party's inability to win the election to the Gauriganj or Jais municipal corporation councils, or the Amethi Nagar panchayat. All fall in Rahul's parliamentary constituency. "Maybe if he had spent more time campaigning there instead of in Gujarat, his party would have won," is the BJP's polite refrain.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is greeted by supporters at a rally in Bhavnagar, Gujarat on Thursday. Pic/PTI
This sounds like a plaintive plea to Rahul to not campaign in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state, where an Assembly election is in progress. It also glosses over the fact that the Congress defeated itself in Amethi, in an internal war of attrition between Amethi old guard Sanjay Singh, to whom the party grudgingly gave a Rajya Sabha seat (from Assam) in 2014 after he threatened to bolt to the BJP, and Deepak Singh, a UP MLC who has been Rahul's lieutenant in Amethi since 2009. The past few years have marked a transition in the Congress, where Rahul has had to accept decisions that party elders pressed upon his mother Sonia Gandhi. Soon Rahul will take over from Sonia as party president and many internal party struggles will be resolved. This will be evident in next year's Assembly elections in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
Yet, it's not as if Rahul was the only one who came up short in UP. In Varanasi, represented by Modi, the BJP fielded a dynast, Mridula Jaiswal, daughter-in-law of three-time BJP MP Shankar Prasad Jaiswal. Though she is now Varanasi mayor, her party won only 36 of 90 wards. Similarly in Gorakhpur, the CM's bastion, the BJP won only 28 of 70 wards. And in deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya's home Kaushambi, the BJP lost all six wards. Modi usually campaigns for even local body elections, but not in UP this time, since he has anxiously been running around Gujarat, trying to remind voters of all the bad governance the Congress did in the state decades ago. Rahul has deliberately focused his energy in Gujarat; even the Himachal Pradesh Assembly campaign got barely a look-in. It is safe to say that in the 2019 parliamentary election Rahul will comfortably retain his Amethi seat, even if the Election Commission only uses electronic voting machines (EVMs) there.
Indeed, Rahul looks happy campaigning in Gujarat. For the first time, everyone has noticed how he is relishing the political battle. This might not have always been evident in past elections (possibly because of the party's transition phase mentioned earlier). Each of Modi and his gang's personalised attacks seem to bounce off Rahul harmlessly. Even Chief Election Commissioner AK Joti's brazen attempt to favour the BJP by delaying the Assembly election notification on the spurious (and disproven) claim that the state government was busy with flood relief work, has backfired.
Modi and company had perhaps hoped a prolonged campaign period would allow them to woo the sullen electorate with a barrage of sops and a galaxy of star campaigners. All that the extra time has done is given Rahul more exposure. He has used this opportunity to the maximum, proving to Amit Shah that being too clever by half often backfires. It helps that no one expects the BJP to lose in Gujarat; as a result, Rahul has nothing to lose. And so, he is campaigning with visible abandon. Modi, on the other hand, has been put on the mat by his "good friend" (and former US President) Barack Obama, who revealed that when he visited India as head of state, he had advised Modi to not alienate Muslims but rather cherish them. Perhaps Obama was irritated by Modi's tight hugs to his successor, Donald Trump. Modi was also embarrassed by his predecessor, Dr Manmohan Singh, who politely advised Modi to stop stooping to personalised attacks against the Congress. The former prime minister also pointed out that unlike Modi, he never made a big deal of his humble background. He then once again rubbished demonetisation and the dumb implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
This was heavy firepower that Modi had to face. All he can muster in retaliation is the mumblings of the Ravi Shankar Prasads, the Arun Jaitleys and other equally unremarkable pygmies. Modi cannot roll out a former PM because AB Vajpayee is incapacitated by illness and it is doubtful that the old man would have obliged the same Modi who ignored his advice on Rajdharma. Modi could possibly have asked the Gandhinagar MP, LK Advani, who is also a former deputy PM, for help had he not short-sightedly retired the party elder to the margdarshak mandal. It's hard to see Advani obliging either Modi or Shah, and proves again that sooner or later, being too clever by half always backfires.
Aditya Sinha's crime novel, The CEO Who Lost His Head, is available now. He tweets @autumnshade Send your feedback to email@example.com