Shedding the macho image
Though the by-election results from Karnataka has some elements of surprise, it is mostly along expected lines. The Congress-JD (S) alliance has won two of the three Lok Sabha seats and the two Assembly seats for which polling was held last week. While the Congress-JD (S) combination will dub this as a big victory and a trend-setter for the upcoming Assembly elections in five states -- Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, and Mizoram -- and the Lok Sabha election mid-next year, the poll results are a vindication of the fact that BJP has not been able to win the confidence of the voters in the southern state in a decisive manner despite high optimism. In the Assembly elections held early this year when JD (S), BJP and Congress had contested the election independently, none could reach the majority mark. Following the Assembly election results in which BJP was left eight members short of a simple majority was unable to prove its majority when the Governor Vajubhai Vala offered the party the opportunity to form the government. BJP's BS Yeddyurappa who was sworn in as the CM, resigned even before facing a vote of confidence in the Assembly as he realised that he cannot manage the necessary support from non-BJP MLAs. In the high voltage political drama that ensued, Congress challenged the Governor's decision and moved the Supreme Court in the dead of night and sought a reprieve in the face of Governor's direction to the Yeddyurappa government to prove his majority in 15 days. The Supreme Court ruled that the Yeddyurappa government should face the floor test within 24 hours. That was a serious setback for BJP and it seems the party has still not overcome it as the latest by-election results prove that the Congress-JD(S) alliance has grown stronger in the last six months.
What makes it difficult for BJP to spread its wings in the southern states is a matter of serious deliberations in BJP circles now. As one of the largest parties with enormous organisational network and resources, BJP does not know how to avoid being seen overbearing and dominant. The southern states, which have a long history of fighting the Centre's dominance and north India's hegemony in national politics, do not seem to be impressed by BJP's nationalistic ideology, especially as being articulated by BJP President Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Going by the overconfident and high-pitch speeches that they deliver during the election campaigns, the two leaders come across as too invincible to be real. This is the problem that BJP faces when it tries to make inroads in the southern states. In the Hindi heartland, the same oratory engenders a sense of confidence and power among the voters while in the southern states it evokes a sense of fear that if given a chance, BJP will rule the state from the Centre through a dummy CM in the state. BJP has not tried to change its strategy for the southern states so that the party is viewed as a friend and sympathiser of the concerns and sensibilities of the region and that's a big mistake on part of the BJP poll managers. In other words, the problem that BJP is facing is the image of a macho party led by two strong-willed leaders.
Compared to BJP, Congress has a more amenable and acceptable image because of its long history of sharing power with regional parties. Coupled with this, the image of Rahul Gandhi as a young leader from an illustrious background ready to get involved in day-to-day politics is doing him a lot of good. His speeches are as passionate as those of Modi and Shah but he allows mistakes to creep in his script. He is able to make the seemingly arid business of politics somewhat interesting with his "Pappu" image. In a recent faux pas, he claimed that the son of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan was involved in Panama Papers scandal but when the Chouhan family retorted back with a defamation suit, Rahul Gandhi admitted he made a mistake as he was confused by the number of scams that the Chouhan regime has committed. Later, the CM also made the issue light by saying that Rahul Gandhi is so confused that instead of saying Mama (as MP CM is popularly called), he called Panama. Rahul is hell-bent on proving that if the nation wants to call him Pappu, he would prove himself to be the most endearing Pappu that the nation has ever seen. A notable aspect of his emergence as a leader of national stature is that he is learning a lot and diligently from Modi and the way he used to speak before and during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. There is nothing wrong if Modi-Shah takes a leaf out of Rahul's book. BJP must project a more friendly and persuasive image of its leaders and the party ahead of the crucial elections, and make its politics more aligned with the taste of the people.