Why the Congress campaign is doomed

Would you get a job if you left your resume at home and only spoke of how your competitor is a bad deal?

Photo: HT
Photo: HT

Doesn’t the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) have anything to showcase for its 10 years in power? I ask this question because in all that have I read or watched about the ongoing Lok Sabha election campaign, I find little mention in any of the UPA leaders’ speeches (which basically boils down to what Sonia and Rahul Gandhi are saying) of the achievements of a government that has run India for a decade.

All the rhetoric seems to be centred around Narendra Modi and secularism: if the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies come to power and Modi becomes prime minister, the secular fabric of the country will be shred to pieces, the spirit of India will be lost for ever. The message is: Modi is the bogeyman, don’t vote for him. It is a campaign built on inducing fear.

Let’s put it in mundane terms. When applying for a job, the candidate sends in his resume listing out—and usually exaggerating—his past achievements. Later, if called for an interview, he explains his career so far in more detail, tries to convince his prospective employers that he brings value to the table, and that he has a lot of ideas that the company could think worth considering. If the job at stake is a senior management position, he would also speak of strategic opportunities for the company and directions that the firm could move in.

But what if the candidate reveals nothing about what he has been doing so far and is vague about what his value could be to the company? What if he only speaks about how the company will go down the drain if it selects anyone else?

Any sane interviewing board would simply think that the man had no clue about how to go around getting a job. Also, by making his competitors the prime focus of his argument, the candidate has actually turned his interviewers’ attention to them.

Every time the Gandhis pour vitriol on Modi, they make Modi even more firmly the centrepiece of this election campaign. Every time Congressmen, in their speeches, deny a Modi wave, they make sure that there is actually talk of just such a thing. If a hundred days ago, a fisherman in the Lakshadweep Islands had never heard of Modi, the Congress has made sure that now he knows. Right from the beginning, Modi has been trying to turn the 2014 poll into a presidential-style election, and the Congress has walked right into his trap. Modi wanted a larger-than-life image, and by shouting bogeyman daily, the Congress has gifted him that.

All logic indicates that an incumbent government must extoll its accomplishments, what it has done for the country, and that the people should vote it back in power because it wishes to complete the incomplete tasks, and take the nation further forward. But this government is saying nothing about its own performance, merely warning voters that Modi will ruin India.

This is not new. In the two years leading up to this election, ever since Rahul Gandhi started addressing rallies all over the country, he kept harping on extensive economic and social inequity, disempowerment of women, lack of opportunities for the youth, the rottenness of the political system—in fact, every ill that India suffers from. This begged several questions; but let me mention only two: Are you in power or in the opposition? Who created and has been running the political system you are so fed up of for 56 of the 67 years since independence? These doubts were cleared in last year’s state elections, in which the Congress was trounced. But the party does not seem to have learnt any lesson from that.

Thus we are now seeing a Congress campaign that tells me nothing about what the party did for me in the last 10 years, only what it thinks Modi will do to me if he comes to power (though it is rather vague even about that). Add to that the desperate attempts to polarize votes on caste and religious lines. The trouble is: for the vast majority of the electorate, secularism (whatever definition you use) is not the principal issue currently. Opinion poll after opinion poll has been showing that the people are more concerned about price rise, income and unemployment. And very few—and these are already committed anti-Modi voters—would find it a likely possibility that one man could turn India into a fascist state.

The only time an Indian government went fascist was during the Emergency, and the times were vastly different then. The Congress had a big majority, no allies to deal with, regional parties were weak or non-existent, and India was still a young democracy, in its late twenties. Intellectuals comparing the rise of Modi with that of Hitler are also totally mixing up contexts. Hitler arrived at a time when Germany was economically crippled and internationally humiliated as a nation. No such situation exists in today’s India.

Modi cannot build a Ram temple at Ayodhya or bring in a uniform civil code or fiddle with Article 370 even if he craved to do so. That is why he has rarely mentioned anything about these issues in any of his speeches. He has simply been presenting his resume—exaggerated, of course, but that is par for the course for a candidate; promising economic growth and development; and mocking the UPA government and the Gandhis.

But the Congress has left its resume at home and can only try to scare voters about Modi. This is not how an incumbent government should go to the polls. The BJP must be very pleased.

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