By Ashutosh Roy
It may be called the greatest show on the earth. Try this. Six national parties, dozens of regional ones and thousands of candidates. All are vying for 670 million voters. There are over 70,000 polling stations with 1,075,000 electronic voting machines.
The show which starts on April 20 will culminate on May 10. Congress and BJP are once again up against each other to try and take over the nation. “It´s a foregone conclusion,” the BJP general secretary and spokesman, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said. “We are coming to power,” he sounded confident. “Wait and watch,” the Congress spokesman, Kapil Sibal says. Congress awaits the outcome of a “hidden impact.” However, with the first phase of voting slated for April 20, the first phase of campaigning is over. And from the campaign point of view, the first round goes to BJP.
Purely on the basis of election campaign, the BJP juggernaut rolled on like a well oiled machine. Leading from the front was Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. On the wheel of the BJP chariot was the Deputy Prime Minister, L.K.Advani. Commanding the team of generals was the BJP chief, M. Venkaiah Naidu. Pramod Mahajan, Arun Jaitley, Narendra Modi, Sushma Swaraj, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi had spread out the message of development, good governance and leadership. Over 10,000 volunteers worked at the grassroot level, silently and round the clock. This is not all.
If this was a traditional way of contesting elections, the BJP campaign also had a corporate touch. The campaign, designed by Mahajan, went hi-tech. In his so called ´war room´, a team of computer geeks, planned ´Operation Vijay´. Macro level internal survey was carried. Booth by booth, district by district and constituency by constituency, the Mahajan team combed. At the BJP headquarters, workers kept monitoring the news channels to get feedbacks. On the other side of the fence sat Sonia Gandhi, the Congress chief and her two children, Rahul and Priyanka. The Congress campaign began and ended there. It was Sonia here, Rahul there and Priyanka wherever. The trio ran the party´s first phase of the campaign, like the owners run a shop. Other leaders played the role of salesboys and girls. Nobody heard of other Congress leaders. They were in fact hardly of any consequence. If that was not enough, these salesmen, with nothing much to do, since the owners had decided to run the shop for a while, sat and squabbled with each other. Factionalism is rampant all over in all the states and the tremors are also felt in the national capital. The Youth Congress chief, Randeep Surjewala, in a truant display of unhappiness quit his post, after being denied a party ticket.
Sheila Dikshit, Delhi Chief Minister, has been having a harrowing time to get her son, Sandeep Dikshit a party nomination. She is believed to have told Sonia Gandhi that she was not happy with the present state of affairs and factionalism could harm the Congress. The CM is reportedly at loggerheads with AICC general secretary, in-charge for Delhi election, Ahmed Patel. The spokesman, Kapil Sibal, is licking his wounds after being denied a ticket from south Delhi constituency. Congress has been famous for its ´crab culture´, where one crab keeps pulling the other´s leg. The culture continues to plague the party, making the owners, ´Gandhi & Co.´, rule at peace.Even at the agenda front, the BJP put the Congress on the mat in the first round. Development, good governance, economic reforms, economic growth rate, the slogans-´India shining´, ´Feel good factor´, made BJP whiz past a stunned and limping Congress.
As per the surveys, 79 per cent of the voters related to BJP´s foreign origin issue. In short, 79 per cent of the voters, as per internal survey of the BJP were against a leader of foreign origin to lead the country.
As the first phase came to a close, the Bofors shells pounded the Congress once again. The Asian Age expose on the Bofors put the Congress on the backfoot. A quiet Sonia became quieter, as BJP and The Asian Age wanted her to talk about Bofors and her connections with Ottavio Quattrocchi, the recipient of the Bofors kickbacks. In leadership issue, the Congress was ´no-match´. Sonia Gandhi, seemed inadequate in front of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. Aaj Tak survey says that 51 per cent of those interviewed placed Vajpayee at the top of their list as their favourite for the Prime Minister´s post, against 23 per cent rooting for Sonia Gandhi. In the Outlook survey, Vajpayee´s percentage is even higher at 58 as compared to Sonia´s 26.
The Prime Minister has acquired a stature that no other Indian politician can match. His peace efforts with Pakistan and pro-minority approach are bringing Muslims closer to BJP every passing day. The Opposition, which tried to make an issue out of the stampede in Lucknow and the Supreme Court ruling on Best Bakery, miserably failed to move the electorates. As Naqvi has said, “It´s a foregone conclusion.” And that the first round has gone to BJP, is completely evident.