In his 1897 travelogue Following the Equator - A journey around the world, Mark Twain wrote about his visit to Varanasi at some length. He said that religion was the business of Varanasi “just as gold-production is the business of Johannesburg”. He saw a temple in “every individual drop of water” in the Ganges.
But Mark Twain wasn’t contesting a Lok Sabha election from Varanasi. Narendra Modi is. So when Modi went to Varanasi last week he made politics his business, and he saw a vote in every drop of the Ganges. Whatever he did there was not just to win Varanasi but the whole country. He wanted to make sure that Rahul Gandhi would lose the election narrative. Modi must be a contented man.
At the end of four of the seven phases of the Lok Sabha election, Rahul has not only lost the narrative but also the very plot itself. This may not guarantee a victory for Modi, because Rahul is not his only enemy. Before he seized control of Varanasi in the 11th century, king Chandradeva had to vanquish local lords Narapati, Gajapati, Giripati and Trishankupati. Modi too has to contend with a bunch of regional satraps across India. But for now, he has silenced, well nearly, Rahul Gandhi.
The only image missing from the banks of the Ganges last week was that of Modi squeezing himself into a howdah on top of an elephant and leading the procession before filing his nomination. The rest of the trappings were there.
In the place of a huffing pachyderm with a saffron caparison on it was an SUV through the roof of which Modi popped up to wave at crowds. Forget the comedy of SPG men abandoning their job of looking for potential assassins and instead wiping constantly flower petals off the windscreen. First came the very mother of all road-shows and then the filing of nomination by Modi the next day, a bunch of alliance leaders in tow.
The images lingered on TV screens for two whole days, maybe longer than necessary. Before this was the hugely entertaining, even if much maligned by Modi-baiters, interview of the prime minister by actor Akshay Kumar. Modi wasn’t interested in the Left thinkers and Congress admirers who dissected the interview with more diligence than the Theory of Relativity had ever been. Modi was interested in the millions of voters who would watch the interview on TV and on Whatsapp.
So what’s Rahul raving mad about?
Nobody stopped him from leading a procession as long as the Ganges itself. Wasn’t it Congress which had originally invented the convenient concept of ferrying crowds to rallies? There is no need for Rahul or his PR team to be coy about it. But there is one problem: Rahul has a PR team which can only think up ideas that usually end up achieving the opposite of what they intend to achieve.
The announcement about Priyanka Gandhi not contesting against Modi in Varanasi is only the latest example. It looked as if the dynasty’s Princess Charming was chickening out or as if there was some quiet rivalry between brother and sister. More importantly, all hopes that she would be a brahmastra against Modi were conclusively dashed.
Nobody also stopped Rahul from taking along with him, like Modi did, an entire gamut of his own alliance leaders when he filed his nomination in Wayanad and Amethi. But again there is a problem: The Congress chief has no gamut of alliance leaders to go with him anywhere, leave alone to returning officers.
Again, did anybody stop Rahul from getting—or from trying to get—an actor of his choice to do a cosy Q&A with him? Getting a Daniel Craig or a Pamela Anderson to do it might be like asking for the moon and Venus together, but a lesser mortal of Bollywood could do the needful. The Indian channels would have been only too glad to lap it up.
Consider two other things that contributed to the political black hole that Rahul finds himself in today. One was what he or his advisors thought was the century’s smartest thing in politics by coming up with the phrase chowkidar-chor-hai. What this did is not hard to imagine. First, look at the groups of people we are talking about:
- Group-A: People who knew from the start about Modi calling himself a chowkidar and are mighty pleased with it because they love him.
- Group-B: Those who hate Modi’s claim of being a chowkidar because they hate him.
- Group-C: Those who can’t care less because they neither love nor hate Modi.
- Group-D: Those who had never heard of Modi honouring himself with the title of chowkidar.
This is what the chor-hai jibe did. It made Group-A even more determined to love Modi. It tickled Group-B to death and nothing more. It earned some sympathy for Modi from some in Group-C because they thought Rahul’s reason for calling him a chor was silly, which it was. Some in Group-D came to know of the whole chowkidar business from the chor wisecrack and began to give Modi the benefit of doubt. It’s unlikely that any significant number of people in Groups C and D turned Modi-haters. If a mere turn of phrase could set them against Modi, they should hate Modi a lot and would have been in Group B.
If this is too complicated for Team Rahul, nothing can ever be simple for them in India’s byzantine politics.
Nyay? What’s that?
If Rafale failed to cut ice with voters, Nyay was a non-starter. One could travel a thousand kilometres anywhere in India today and find a dozen life-size cut-outs of Modi, one or two of Rahul but not even an A-4 size pamphlet on Nyay. This has nothing to do with BJP’s superior financial resources. It has everything to do with the utter failure of the Congress to create a buzz about itself.
Evidently, the voice of Modi has drowned all other noises in the current election so far. What Modi must worry about, however, is whether he is being too loud. His constant references to Pakistan and the claim on Monday that 40 Trinamool Congress MLAs were in touch with him can be seen as too much of talking.
But Modi apparently believes that the chances of losing an election because of talking too much are fewer than because of talking too little.
The author tweets @sprasadindia
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Updated Date: Apr 30, 2019 16:44:55 IST