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Killing two birds with one stone

Killing two birds with one stone

Back in 2014, the Modi wave quashed Congress's attempt to a third successive term. It was a historic low for Congress which could barely manage 44 seats as BJP registered a thumping victory with 282. Congress' deplorable performance was such that it could not even get 10 per cent of the Lok Sabha seats (55) and hence India remained without an official opposition party in the 16th Lok Sabha. Modi was pivotal in BJP's victory as his mass appeal reflected in the poll results. His decision to contest from two seats – Vadodara and Varanasi – turned out to be beneficial for the party as BJP won 71 of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh. Easy to imply that Modi's move here to contest from an additional seat of Varanasi was a strategic one aimed at inflicting a multiplier effect, which was evident upon the poll outcome. Modi was not the first person to contest from two seats as this electoral provision has previously been utilised by Mulayam Singh Yadav (Azamgarh and Mainpuri, 2014), Lalu Prasad Yadav (Saran and Pataliputra, 2009), Sonia Gandhi (Bellary and Amethi,1999), Atal Bihari Vajpayee (Vidisha and Lucknow, 1991) and LK Advani (New Delhi and Gandhinagar, 1991). Under section 33 of the Representation of People Act, 1951, a person is allowed to contest polls, whether a general election, more than one by-elections or biennial elections, from a maximum of two seats. In a situation where a candidate wins both the seats, they must vacate one within 10 days, triggering a by-election, as stated under section 70 of the Representation of the People Act. Now, this is where criticism is the sharpest regarding such a provision. Giving up a seat by the candidate facilitates by-elections and compels people to participate in the forced electoral exercise. Many experts have cited this provision as a misuse of the electoral system. In a manner, it is also insurance gameplay besides being an opportunity for a party's stalwarts to make use of their mass appeal. Sonia Gandhi benefitted from it back in 1999 and so did Modi. This may be reason enough to convince Rahul Gandhi to contest from the Wayanad seat, extending the Congress stalwart's appeal to the southern states and utilising his presence on a rather safe seat to ensure a multiplier effect.

Wayanad, a constituency in north Kerala, was formed post delimitation in 2009. Having a large tribal population and touted to be a safe seat for the Congress, it serves as an apt seat for Rahul to ensure a win as well as serve the party's additional goals of stretching the Congress' shadow to the south by fielding a Gandhi heir. History sides with Congress as in the two Lok Sabha elections that the seat has seen so far, MI Shanavas, who passed away last year, won both times for the Congress. While CPI(M) cited this Congress move as a fight against Left, BJP mocked the Congress chief for choosing an additional seat apart from Amethi. Confident of a victory in Amethi owing to a strong family relationship with that seat, Wayanad may be where the waters get muddier for Rahul since his typical rhetorics targetted at Modi, and BJP, will not be suitable down south with Left being the main rival. In a comprehensive sense, Congress wants to utilise its resources in the best way and fielding Rahul at Wayanad, potentially identified as a trijunction for the three southern states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala.

While a plea is scheduled to be heard in the Supreme Court later on disallowing candidates from contesting on more than one seat, the provision currently stands tall for Rahul and Congress to make the most of it. Fighting from two seats and winning means one of the seats will have to be given up, enforcing by-elections – wasting time and public money – which can be remedied if a requisite amendment to prohibit this is brought in effect. The Left and the Right of the political spectrum, however, remained largely confused over Rahul's surprise announcement of Wayanad seat, and while the analysts drew conclusions based on diverse permutations and combinations, only Congress knows a trajectory of its surprise move based on its equally surprising strategic gameplan. Fighting from a seat down south also portrays Rahul as a Pan-Indian leader, one fit to be an opposing figure of considerable credibility, similar to Modi. While Rahul lacks the all-encompassing charisma that Modi boasts of, strategic strongholds in North and South might yield just enough to push the outcome in Congress's favour and as such induce two distinct multiplier effects in the two regions to capitalise on the support enjoyed by Rahul from all communities in India.

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