Congress' indecision may make BJP's return 'possible' as national security replaces cow, Hindutva as key poll issue

The Congress, the only party that could have actually stopped the BJP, is playing dead, except for occasional outbursts on Rafale

Sandipan Sharma March 11, 2019 16:25:40 IST
Congress' indecision may make BJP's return 'possible' as national security replaces cow, Hindutva as key poll issue
  • The Congress, the only party that could have actually stopped the BJP, is playing dead, except for occasional outbursts on Rafale

  • That BJP has moved on to a new narrative of national security and counter-terrorism, has also left the Congress confused

  • Even Priyanka Gandhi, who entered politics to help the Congress in Uttar Pradesh, has gone missing

  • Even Rafale is being ignored by voters who have bitten the BJP line that by raising the issue, Congress harms the nation, and serves the enemy’s interests

  • The Congress also doesn’t know what to do with its soft Hindutva and cow vigilantism

Every morning these days, people in north India wake up to a new jingle on radio stations that ends with a simple message: Modi removed a from asambhav (not possible), he made it sambhav (possible).

There are many ways of making not possible, possible. One of them is popular among bureaucrats and politicians. It relies on the simple trick of changing not possible to, note: possible. But that’s not the point here.

Congress indecision may make BJPs return possible as national security replaces cow Hindutva as key poll issue

File image of Congress president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

Going by the prevalent narrative, the mood of the nation and the bad mood of the Opposition, the jingle should have ended with this message: Congress hai to sambhav hai. (Congress can make anything possible.) The BJP is starting the election with a huge advantage. For that, apart from its own realpolitik, it needs to credit the Congress.

Three months ago, when the Congress won Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the party seemed to have the force with it. Opinion polls were predicting a near rout for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh and impressive gains for the Congress in the three states it had won. Buoyed by the sentiment, the Congress felt achche din aane wale hain. All that is history now, highlighted by two things: the confusion within the Congress and the mysterious case of Priyanka Gandhi, who, to use another Rahul Gandhi potshot, gaayab ho gayee hai (has disappeared).

The Congress, the only party that could have actually stopped the BJP, is playing dead, except for occasional outbursts on Rafale. It doesn’t know whether to contest alone or look for partners. It can’t decide whether to compete with Arvind Kejriwal or to ally with him. It can’t decide whether to take a step forward in Uttar Pradesh or go running to Mayawati and Akhilesh. It is like a rabbit caught in the headlights.

In addition, the Congress made the strategic blunder of becoming Shabbir Kumar, Mohammad Aziz or Babla Mehta of Indian politics. Fans of Indian films would remember that these three gentlemen tried to make a career in Bollywood by becoming clones of singers Mohammad Rafi and Mukesh in the early 80s. But as soon as they established themselves as replacement singers, they realised Hindi playback singing had moved on, finding new voices and styles. A similar calamity has struck the Congress in its bid to become Congress plus janeu and cow.

The Congress spent most of the past two years playing catch up on Hindutva and bovine politics, convinced that these were the BJP’s pillars of support. But, like a crafty adversary, the BJP moved on to a new narrative — national security and counter-terrorism. Now that the country is talking about these issues, the Congress doesn’t know what to do with its soft Hindutva and cow vigilantism, a desire it evinced in Madhya Pradesh.

Even on Balakot, Congress couldn’t decide whether to neigh in support or bray in scepticism. First, it declared support for the armed forces, lauded its cross-LoC raids and then, as doubts began to surface over the efficacy of the strike, some of its leaders started questioning the government on the death toll, thus, confusing the Indian electorate.

Alongside, the Congress continued with the Rafale offensive. Since the issue helped the Congress dominate footage, the party kept pursuing it with zeal. But, in the changed milieu, even Rafale is being ignored by voters who have bitten the BJP line that by raising such contentious issues, the Congress harms the nation, and serves the enemy’s interests.

The BJP just can’t lose this election unless the Congress does well in its traditional strongholds. But, at the moment, in a direct fight between the two parties, the Congress appears to be a clear loser. In five years, it hasn’t given voters a single convincing reason to vote for it, or its chief Rahul Gandhi. Its entire campaign has been built on the claim of the prime minister being a failure. But, the Balakot strike has countered this narrative. As a Congress leader said privately, calling Modi weak and ineffective is like sipping poison, it would kill the Congress.

So, with the countdown for elections having begun, the Congress appears to be the weakest link in the Opposition narrative. It has not sealed seat-sharing pacts, doesn’t have anything to add to the narrative of nationalism that would dominate elections and has not projected a credible leader as Modi’s challenger. The BJP must be gung-ho about the prospects of a direct fight with the Congress in around 120 constituencies of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Haryana and the North East. At the moment the BJP appears headed for a resounding win in this fight. Why? Congress hai to sambhav hai.

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