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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2640

Why Indian electorate snubbed Rahul Gandhi?

By Malladi Rama Rao in New Delhi

There was no dearth of jokers in the just concluded election to the Lok Sabha. And they are many claimants to the ‘Joker-In-Chief’ title as well. Three Telugu Biddas (sons) figure prominently in the race. They are Chandra Babu Naidu (Babu to his followers), K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR as he is known), and Sitaram Yechury (Sita to his friends).

Giving them a tough fight in the new honour’s sweepstakes are Mamata Bannerjee (Didi to everyone), the aging Maratha, Sharad Pawar (Saheb in the NCP circles), and the humble farmer from Karnataka – Devegowda. Both Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav are not far behind. So is Rahul Gandhi, who, unlike rest of the pack, fretted and fumed criss-crossing the country declaring his resolve to hug his tormentor with love. Giving them company are columnists, who saw ‘no wave’, and the pundits, who pontificated on the social media without leaving the cool confines of their air-conditioned rooms.

The message from their discomfiture is simple: You cannot win elections merely on slogans or ‘hawa’. Hate campaigns are passé. Credibility alone counts. Narendra Modi scored on this score to the dismay of his detractors and surprise of his acolytes. By no stretch of imagination, Modi can be credited with delivering on his 2014 agenda. Whether it was jobs or black money, he failed on a host of areas. Yet, people considered him a better option by judging his performance in small areas that had escaped the radar of the Khan Market gang. Like toilets, and gas stoves, for instance. Of course, the surgical strikes and the Balakot air strikes offered a big talking point.

What did Rahul Gandhi offer to challenge the Modi factor? His relentless “chowkidaar chor hai” campaign was negative at its core. It did not find traction not because Modi is identified with a frontal attack on corruption but because corruption has ceased to be an issue for ‘aam admi’ especially after Bofors became the widely accepted euphemism for kickbacks and bribes in all sectors. The Congress party’s taunts on the Balakot air strikes, particularly about the casualty figures gifted Modi a scoring point. Every Congress presser on Balakot went against the party, and shaped public opinion which, as the results have shown, proved disastrous at the ballot box. BJP score in three Hindi heartland states that Congress won five months ago is a clear give away to the ground reality.

Rahul Gandhi did not help his cause by entering the fray from Kerala. His preference for the Muslim- Christian dominated Waynad showed his feet of clay. Waynad is a Communist bastion. His decision, therefore, was a big let-down to Sitaram Yechury, the Marxist chief honcho, who loved his role as advisor of the dynasty. The result from Kerala validates the truism that Congress can never be an electoral ally for the Communists. The CPI paid the price during the Indira Gandhi days. Now it is the time for the CPI-M, going by the verdict in West Bengal and Kerala. Well, over the years, because of their association with the Congress, the Communists have been able to define and shape India narrative from the national capital. This achievement, as the turn of events show, has come at a high political price – near annihilation from the Indian political map.

For Rahul Gandhi the defeat in Amethi is a humiliation he probably did not deserve so early in his career; there is however, a natural justice in the final LS tally that falls short of the numbers to give the coveted post of LoP to the Congress. The Congress has drawn a blank in 18 states and Union Territories -- an indicator of its decimation – the second straight rout, the first being in the 2014 polls when the party ended up with a tally of 44 seats. The Congress has been completely routed in Andhra Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Lakshadweep, Delhi, Chandigarh, Dadar and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu. Clearly, the electorate does not think that either Rahul Gandhi or his party deserves the LoP post. The Congress egg heads will do well to ponder over the verdict instead of appointing another Antony Committee only to shield the high command from criticism and to shelve the findings once again.

The massive surge in BJP share in popular vote shows that the saffron party benefitted from the goodwill the Modi programmes and planks have generated across the board. Muslims, particularly youth and women were not repelled by the face of the Hindu Hrudaya Samrat with 56 inches chest. By its negative approach to the triple talaq, which matters the most for growing middle class amongst Muslims, the Congress has lost out in the social sweepstakes. This could be the probable reason for AIMIM supremo, Asaduddin Owaisi’s anxious moments during the vote count in Hyderabad, which his family has been nursing for the past seven decades. On his part, Owaisi says the verdict is a result of ‘rigged’ Hindu minds. No problem, he is not blaming the EVMs. “The Hindu minds have been rigged, not EVMs”, he said and celebrated the inroads his party has made in Maharashtra by winning the Aurangabad seat though with a paper-thin margin of 4,492 votes.

Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Admi Party (AAP) has been pushed to the margins, its rightful place. All because of its negative politics and the overarching ambitions of its supremo. The lone win in Punjab is a consolation prize by all means. But its rout in Delhi gives Rahul Congress some reason to sport a smile. The ‘no tie –up with AAP’ came after one too many flip-flops, as a grudging concession to the old guard, which knows the Delhi pulse. The reward is the runner-up status to the Congress (22.5% vote), pushing the AAP to the third slot (18.1% vote share). Reversing the electoral tide is not going to be a cakewalk for the anti-corruption crusader turned politician with the ambitions of hoisting the tri-colour from the ramparts of Red Fort. Kejriwal’s failure even after making statehood to Delhi his major plank offers a lesson on the limitations of negative politics and the anti-Modi campaign,

Both Mayawati and Akhilesh from Uttar Pradesh have more or less same message - experiments in gathbandhan have run out of shelf life. Same is true of the Bihari dynasty -Laloo Khandan. Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh and K Chandrasekhar Rao in Telangana have learnt the same painful lesson that their family politics have reached the expiry date. Both had ambitions to go national at least as a Dy PM of a coalition government but the voters punctured their balloons. Rao’s daughter Kavita lost badly in Nizamabad which she has been nursing well. And his TRS party has lost as many LS seats to the Congress leaders it had defeated in the assembly elections held last year. Naidu has won but his heir Lokesh was defeated; most of his ministers were trounced. The only saving grace to Naidu is that his TDP has garnered seats (24) enough to get him the status of Leader of the Opposition (LoP).

Like Naidu, Mamata too misread the pulse of the nation. Both competed in using foul language against Modi, often out of personal pique rather than any justifiable political reasoning. Their meltdown on home turf is a lesson on politics of credibility. So is their open contempt for exit polls and EVMs.

Whether the BJP landslide indicates some deep structural shifts in Indian politics is an issue for a deeper analysis. But what is unmistakable is that the Indian electorate knows what it wants; political parties must return to the basics to understand the mind of the electorate ….,by going out of their perch in Delhi, and by mixing with the aam admi for a first hand feel of ground reality, and new aspiration quotients. No single issue or assurance will help to sweep the polls like in the days of ‘hawa politics’.

Whirlwind tours like the ones Priyanka Gandhi Vadra undertook in Eastern Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh yield no votes in the absence of cadres who can enthuse people to go to the polling booth. Anyhow this election exposed the limits of Priyanka’s card. She made a stormy entry into active politics by becoming the General Secretary in-charge of Eastern UP. Her party fared poorly in most constituencies she visited. Rahul Gandhi also could not convert his charisma into votes for the Congress in the constituencies he had canvassed vigorously. He could have taken a lesson from his party veteran, Capt. Amarinder Singh instead of giving a free rein to a loose cannon, Navjot Singh Siddhu who has hurt the Congress image. It would have helped him to turn the tide nation-wide and recreate the Captain Saheb’s miracle across the nation.

Capt. Amarinder Singh insulated Punjab from the saffaronites’ nationalism tide. How could he do it even with Siddhu in his company?

Credibility he enjoys gave him that power – not the soft Hindutva the Congress has come to practice under Rahul Gandhi.

Whatever the Capt. Saheb said whether on the Kartarpur corridor or on the Balakot air strikes sounded credible. What a contrast it was with the low vitriolic and shrill rhetoric of Kapil Sibals, Shingvis and Anand Sharmas. Manmohan Singh invited ridicule by claiming on May 2 that his regime had conducted “multiple surgical strikes” but did not believe in using them to win votes.

Rahul Gandhi’s chowkidaar chor hai slogan failed to click at the hustings. Modi hijacked even that slogan to suit his politics in the way he exploited motor mouth Mani Shankar Aiyar’s jibe during 2014 election. Rahul’s Nyay scheme for a surgical strike on poverty had few takers – not because he came out with the offer very late in the day but because Indira Gandhi’s grandson was offering the same old ‘Garibi Hatavo’ – forty-eight years after it was articulated for excellent electoral dividends.

Congress and Rahul Gandhi can hope to survive and see a new dawn not by rebranding but by reinventing themselves. And by creating their own C-factor – credibility that Capt. Amarinder Singh has demonstrated as the virtue politicians need to survive in the electoral akharas.

NoteThis commentary first appeared in Delhi’s Power Politics magazine’s June issue.

- Asian Tribune -

Why Indian electorate snubbed Rahul Gandhi?
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