In a recent interview to a TV channel, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi insisted that the elections are over, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has lost. One might be tempted to think that being the Congress president it is incumbent on him to boost the party’s morale and express conviction even when two phases are left. Rahul, however, seemed utterly convinced of his conclusion. He claimed that the prime minister has lost the country’s trust, is suffering from a time lag and failing to understand that the tide has turned against him. Yet, in the same breath Rahul claimed that Modi is angry, scared and that’s why he is going after the Gandhi family and sullying his dead father’s name.
The gaps that are apparent in Congress president’s logic seem to be affecting the party too. It is an indication of the way the entire Opposition campaign has gone awry. Increasingly, this nervousness is manifesting itself in myriad ways: most notably in the way BJP’s rivals are running to the courts at every drop of a hat.
It may have escaped Rahul while he was busy berating the prime minister, that if in his own words Modi is suffering from a “time lag” and “doesn’t understand yet” that he has “lost the country’s trust”, then it is natural for Modi to remain (falsely) confident. In that case, why would Modi run scared, become angry or target Gandhi family?
Such reactions are borne out of a lack of confidence.
This speaks of a fundamental confusion in Rahul’s mind. In a party that lacks inner democracy and runs on “High Command” culture, that confusion seeps through the rank and file.
For instance, the Congress suffered a setback at the Supreme Court on Wednesday after the apex court refused to entertain its plea against the Election Commission decision to give “clean chits” to Modi, precisely because it continues to suffer from a perplexing approach.
If the party — according to its chief — is confident that Modi’s time is up and he has “already lost” the election, why on earth is the Grand Old Party putting pressure on the poll panel to ban the prime minister from holding rallies? On Monday, a delegation of senior Congress leaders met the EC and demanded that Modi be banned from holding campaign rallies for sullying the name of Rajiv Gandhi. While addressing the crowd in Uttar Pradesh on Saturday, Modi had said that the former prime minister’s life ended as “Bhrashtachari No.1 (corrupt No.1) even though he was named as “Mr Clean” by his courtiers.”
The Congress delegation that met EC called Modi’s statement “very serious” and “violative of the law,” out of sync with Indian culture and tradition and “appealed to the EC to impose an immediate campaigning prohibition” on Modi and urged the poll panel to do so “within 48 hours.”
Modi laid the trap and Congress walked right into it. The furore generated by Congress and its extended ecosystem is enough to hand BJP’s star campaigner just the issue he needs to sustain attention in a long and tiring election campaign.
Modi did not need a second invitation.
He threw an open challenge at the Congress via Twitter daring it to “fight elections in the name of the former PM associated with Bofors in: Delhi and Punjab, where innocent Sikhs were butchered in his reign. Bhopal, where he helped Warren Anderson flee after the infamous Gas Tragedy. Challenge accepted?
Once again, Congress’ approach has been befuddling. First, it took great umbrage at Modi calling Rajiv “corrupt”. If that is such a derogatory remark (let us leave the debate over not speaking ill of the dead aside for now) then how does it justify repeatedly calling Modi a “chor” (thief) through memes and campaign slogans when the Rafale deal has received clean chits from the CAG and Supreme Court?
To be sure, Modi rubbed it in.
My one comment on the corruption of a former PM has riled the Congress eco-system so much but constant, below the belt remarks on a sitting PM, his family, his poverty have no effect on them!
Constant badmouthing of historical greats by one Dynasty doesn't affect them either! pic.twitter.com/mfMWZDJqRN
— Chowkidar Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) May 6, 2019
Second, by expressing indignant outrage over the issue and targeting the prime minister for it, Congress ended up playing Modi’s game. The BJP wants the election to be fought on the PM’s personality instead of quotidian issues and the Congress obliged it by seeking to ban Modi: ensuring that headlines and focus remain fixated on the PM. As Delhi University teachers write letters and counter-letters on Modi’s comments against Rajiv, BJP’s purpose is served.
This confusion is evident not just in Congress but the entire Opposition’s approach.
The electronic voting machines (EVMs) debate has been done and dusted, and now looks as the last refuge of the defeated. Each time the Opposition picks up the issue, it betrays a lack of conviction in own performance and a thinly disguised worry that Modi’s juggernaut is unstoppable. What’s ironic in this debate is that it is the Opposition that is raising a hue and cry against EVMs when studies show that post-EVM elections have, more often than not, thrown out the incumbents.
As pollster Yashwant Deshmukh pointed out on Twitter: “From 1952 to 1998, we had paper ballots. During this period more than 90% election verdicts were Pro-Incumbent. That means those in power remained in power. After the introduction of #EVM in 1999 till now, almost 90% verdicts have been Anti-Incumbent. Let that sink in.”
This debate essentially reflects a lack of confidence among the Opposition that it would be able to unseat the Modi-led NDA. In approaching the Supreme Court and demanding verification of 50 percent EVMs using voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) slips, 21 parties (including the Congress) failed to consider the flip side of this strategy: that such desperation reeks of defeatism.
A Supreme Court Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi took all of 60 seconds to throw out the petition and cook the goose of a combined Opposition. Undaunted, the Congress tried again: this time moving the Supreme Court against supposed inaction by the EC in acting against Modi and BJP president Amit Shah.
In her plea, Congress MP from Silchar, Sushmita Dev alleged that Modi and Shah are delivering hate speeches and using the army for “propaganda”. The plea accuses the EC of “inaction” on complaints against top BJP leaders and terms it a “a sign of invidious discrimination” and “arbitrary, capricious and impermissible” as it ostensibly has a deleterious effect on the integrity of electoral process.
The interesting thing is, while the Congress moved the SC against EC’s supposed “inaction,” the poll panel has already considered the complaints and has given Modi the “all clear.” The Supreme Court refusing to entertain the plea and to go into the merits of EC’s decision of the clean chits to Modi already made the plea infructuous.
“We don’t see how we can go into the orders of the Election Commission unless a specific challenge is made,” CJI Gogoi was quoted saying.
Two more points are worth noting from this episode. One, the Congress believes that elections can be won in the courts by filing pleas and review petitions. Two, the tendency to cry foul over Modi’s every campaign comment reflects the same lack of confidence that manifests itself in the debate over EVMs. Model Code of Conduct cannot overrule Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution that gives every citizen the Right to Free Speech subject to certain restrictions. Instead of seeking to silence Modi’s voice, Congress should try to counter his arguments. It is a little disappointing that the Grand Old Party seems to have already thrown in the towel with two phases still to go.
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Updated Date: May 08, 2019 17:57:48 IST