Assembly Election Results: Congress' temple visits may finally be bearing fruit, but BJP may have Plan B in place

We Indians love festivals. In months when there are no religious festivals, we have festivals of elections. The Election Commission has obliged by making polls a prolonged affair of one or two months to fill up the lean months.

When everyone is complaining about slow rate of job creation, elections have created a mega industry of pollsters. The business model of news television revolves around the festival of elections, much like the business models of jewellers and companies manufacturing consumer goods revolve around Diwali, Durga Puja and Onam.

Channels start with pre-election opinion polls. Then move on to “mood of the nation” surveys. After that come exit polls. This is followed by extrapolation of exit poll results to predict the outcome of future national elections.

In this extended celebration of democracy, it is the interregnum between the exit polls and the final results — the twilight zone as it were — that is most nerve-racking. To beat the suspense, news channels are introducing new innovations. Apart from “poll of polls”, one channel has started a poll of journalists on what they think would be the seat tally.

Far from being sneak previews, exit polls have gone horribly wrong in the past. But who cares? We have become a nation of political voyeurs. So, we love to indulge in the vicarious excitement of political battles sitting on the ring-side of television sets.

File images of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

File images of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

Punting is a risky option. So, with less than twenty-four hours to go for the results, it would be foolhardy to get into the prediction game. However, it might be interesting to observe how people are already taking postures based on their reading of the weather vane.

While some are clearly sharpening knives, others are seen to be polishing spoons. Fortune tellers are preparing for brisk business as spin-masters are getting their spiel ready. Political obituary writers are going through old copy and checking the thesaurus. TV gurus are rehearsing their lines for alternate scenarios.

Congress and its supporters can barely contain their excitement. They have reasons to. This is because several temple-visits later, their prayers are showing signs of fruition. However, at the same time, they are unable to hide their arrogance. Perhaps, they are not trying very hard either.

This was evident in the press conference of one of Congress’ senior leaders cautioning bureaucrats of the transient nature of political masters and signalling an imminent change. The message seems to be – prime ministers may come and prime ministers may go, but the Congress will be there forever.

This confidence is echoed by other leaders and spokespersons, who are linking every action and statement of the government and BJP with the fear of impending defeat in the state elections. There is a visible change in the body language of Congress panelists on TV. Rahul Gandhi’s tweets mocking the prime minister have become cheekier.

Of course, Kamal Nath has jumped the gun and declared victory. He has even named prospective ministers congratulating them on party banners and bill boards. Whether it is bravado or premature celebrations, we shall only know tomorrow. However, one does hope Congress will not do a Siddaramaiah on Nath after the results.

More nuanced is the subtle shift among certain media outlets that were unabashedly pro-BJP until 7 December. They seem to have pressed the reset button all of a sudden. This can be sensed in the tone and tenor of questioning BJP representatives coming on their channel. Also not to be missed are the free passes being given to Congress for “full toss” deliveries that would have earlier been hit for a six during in prime time debates.

Another well known anchor tweeted that Amit Shah "came out of hiding” to address a press conference. No one would have expected such a comment from him even a couple of days back.

The Opposition had planned a meeting for the formation of a mahagathbandhan on 10 December. This meeting was planned even before the results of the exit polls were aired. Whether they had any prior inkling of the possible outcome is difficult to tell. However, there certainly is palpable excitement among the visiting stalwarts from the south of the Vindhyas.

Meanwhile, some sitting on the edge — like the RLSP's Upendra Kushwaha — have started jumping off the NDA ship. The scenario is beginning to look similar to that in 1977, when politicians and parties buried hatchets to align against the Congress and Indira Gandhi.

The BJP has shown remarkable restraint. Though detractors might say they have much to be quiet about, it would be naive to think that Amit Shah and Narendra Modi do not have a Plan B in place.

BJP’s ardent supporters were hoping against hope that the Modi magic will once again carry the day for party. However, Shah and Modi are too seasoned and sharp not to have read the writings on the wall. After Gujarat and Karnataka, they would have surely realised that an election strategy dependent heavily on Modi’s charisma was beginning to yield diminishing returns.

In Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, it was clear long ago that the bacteria of anti-incumbency were beginning to develop resistance to the generic Modi brand of antibiotics. Ideally, therefore, Modi and Shah would have liked to take these state Assemblies for polls along with the Lok Sabha. Apart from the technical difficulties of holding simultaneous elections, the political situation would not have allowed the Modi-Shah duo to advance the Lok Sabha polls.

So, even if this was not their most preferred option, Modi and Shah would not have gone to the battle of the states without a strategy that takes into account all possible scenarios. There is a lot at stake for the two of them both vis-a-vis the opposition and also within their own party and the NDA coalition partners — both present and prospective.

Come tomorrow morning, we shall be drowned in a deluge of post-truths and pre-truths analyses. But, even the sharpest political commentator may not like to speculate on what is in the minds of Modi and Shah.

So, no matter which way tomorrow’s verdict goes, be prepared to be surprised at every turn in the next four months running up to the 2019 elections.

One such shocker has come in the form of the resignation of Urjit Patel from his post as the Reserve Bank of India governor. Though it may be entirely unrelated to the political developments and may have been in the works for some time, commentators would be quick to link it to the change of season in Delhi.

We are entering into an interesting phase. The festive season has just begun.

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Updated Date: Dec 10, 2018 22:00:08 IST

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