Curtain raiser of election 2014
This was the week of communication. The two contenders for the national gaddi in 2014 had their respective workers’ sessions to pep up their cadres in the national capital. The new kid on the block the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) continued its brand of politics to attract attention of the aam aadmi in centres other than the national capital Delhi – jumping from a municipal-sized Union Territory straight to the national election scene. The belligerent body language of Rahul Gandhi and the new darling of Delhi media AAP gave the Modi-baiting commentators some hope of countering the ‘marketing’ blitzkrieg of Modi-led BJP. The third week of January set the pace for the national election 2014.
BJP had the advantage of holding its national executive meet two days after the AICC session. Like in cricket the team batting first sets the target. Congress had the task of doing the same. Unfortunately the party was busy in protecting the heir apparent. The pliant media reported favourably but the only attack on BJP stood out was the ‘chaiwala’ comment of Mani Shankar Aiyar, thus providing ammunition to rival BJP. As far as election agenda is concerned Congress tried to announce a generational shift with Rahul Gandhi taking the lead but stopped short of naming him the prime ministerial aspirant.
This sent two clear messages. First Congress had shown that the party was certain that it would not be in a position to lead the next government. If by any chance there is a coalition of non-BJP parties managing the magic figure of 273 there is little probability of Congress leading the coalition. By accepting defeat in the curtain raiser meeting of the party Congress did a great injustice to itself. The second message Congress sent was that, come what may, the dynasty would be there. Anybody in Congress must pay ritualistic obeisance to the dynasty. Predictably the opposition BJP could derisively dismiss the Congress session as the one that gave its cadre three gas cylinders instead of a leader.
The growing leadership crisis in Congress helped Arvind Kejriwal, the new kid on the block, to scornfully say that Congress did not matter in the forthcoming 2014 election. He placed his AAP as the major rival of opposition BJP. Never in the history of Indian democracy Congress received such a disrespectful mention before an election. Kejriwal, whose Delhi government, is standing on the crutches provided by Congress, even challenged the grand old party to dare to withdraw its support. The message is clear: Congress is viewed as a political lightweight. The much-publicised AICC session harmed the party more than it helped its cadres to prepare for the electoral battle ahead.
Kejriwal has realised the weakness of Congress as well as his own predicament. His party, consisting of individuals who are at best street corner activists, are finding it difficult to match the newly thrust responsibility of governance. His law minister Bharti has emerged as the champion law breaker according to a section of the opinion leaders. His action, in the wee hours of the night, has even put the Ministry of External Affairs in an uncomfortable position. The nukkad activist in him failed to realise the diplomatic issues he would trigger by acting in the manner. Arvind Kejriwal had to use his friends in media to control the damage. In a desperate attempt he even tried to turn the table on the city’s police. But the shrewd communicator Kejriwal knows well that his team of activists did cross the Laxman Rekha. First the comment from his party leader, lawyer Prashant Bhushan’s comment of AFSPA in Jammu & Kashmir, then the overzealous law minister Bharti trying to call the judges for delivering sermon and next the mid-night drama, luck cannot always bail him out. While Kejriwal’s comment on Congress – it being an insignificant party in election 2014 – is an attempt to divert attention away from the intransigencies of his team, the threat to open CWG cases against Congress is a desperate request to Rahul Gandhi to commit the mistake of withdrawing support.
Kejriwal and his team members remind one of the ‘reign of Terror’ unleashed by Robespierre in 1793-94 in France. Those who can recall will quote Solzhenitsyn: ‘Ideology – that is what gives evil doing its long shot justification and gives the evil doer the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others’ eyes. That was how the agents of the inquisition fortified their wills by invoking Christianity, the conquerors of foreign lands by extolling the grandeur of their motherland, the colonisers by civilisation, the Nazis by race…’. And now the AAP is trying to invoke common man (aam admi) as its social theory. Like it or not that has been the key message so far coming out of AAP. BJP in contrast has so far played its cards well. Modi’s speech, though reminds one of Martin Luther King’s memorable ‘I have a dream’ speech, was sufficiently Indianised and adapted for the times we are passing through. Instead of Congress-bashing he chose to outline his future course should BJP come to power. By refusing to mention Kejriwal or his AAP, Modi has cleverly highlighted the insignificance of its challenge. And by asking his cadres to pay attention at the booth level he did not ignore the possible threats of activists eating into the BJP support base. The long speech was the mastery of political oratory. His forceful style has turned all other BJP leaders into seasoned orators. In all likelihood the inspired cadres of the party will try and copy their leaders at their local level campaigns.
Through careful planning BJP delivered the right message during the week where Congress failed and Kejriwal remained caught in his self-created trap. But perfect communication is just one element of election. More important is voting pattern on the polling day. For that we need to wait for four more months.
The author is a communication consultant