UP poll campaign that turned too communal for comfort?
By Sanjay Kaul?
In just one month of electioneering in UP, the Congress has all but revealed its expectations of the results in UP and in the process exposed its desperation, its delusion and finally its dejection in advance of the tally. This piece argues that the Congress’ unprecedented attacks on the EC are a result of acute Rahul mania and that a pliant CEC is willing take a lot more.
The exuberance of the Congress in going for the Muslims in UP and then its belligerence in going after the EC when it purred its disapproval at the transgressions of the party members should have signaled some serious stress, but before you could catch your breath, a Congress minister in the incumbent Government has muddied the waters further by hinting at President’s rule in UP even before the last vote is cast. Naturally, there is a catch to all this and while it all began with a morbid bid to secure Prime Ministerial legitimacy for the Gandhi scion by stitching up a UP dream performance for him, it has quickly degenerated into a desperate struggle for salience in UP and is now close to unraveling most ingloriously for the party and its strategists.
It is now largely accepted that the Congress has put the Election Commission in a position where it loses its credibility for lack of acting on them. By dithering on it, the EC too is party to its own discomfiture. In a letter last week to the CEC, I implored him to see through the charade of these pre-planned misdemeanors and conclude that the UP electoral climate had been vitiated, inducement made to one of its largest constituencies and communal equivalence compromised.
Making a case for countermanding the elections in UP, I underlined to him that “Muslims are the largest bloc of voters. They directly influence election results in 173 constituencies out of the 403 going to polls, not to talk of bearing their weight on many other constituencies in collaboration with other voter blocs. The appeals to Muslims by Congress ministers, its justification by the Congress’ first family, the insolent repetition of the same by other members of that party are all solid grounds to propose that the fundamental tenet of a communally neutral election has been compromised. In a secular democracy, this should have been blasphemy.”
The weak kneed attitude of the EC has rendered it inimical to the interest of moral conduct. I made the point that “Secular parties have resisted, refrained and refused to stoop as low. The parties which did not make appeals on caste and communal orientation stand to lose for following constitutional norms. The level playing field is not level anymore. Your mandate—and promise—to hold free and fair elections is challenged.” Last we heard, Beni Prasad Verma, truant number two, was required to reply to a notice from the EC—precisely the powder puff action that allows the Congress to thumb its nose at the EC and get away with it repeatedly. We expect Sriprakash Jaiswal to be subjected to the same civility.
It is now a matter of record that the Gandhi scion and his sister acknowledged the transgressions of Khurshid and Beni Verma and dusted the charge away as collateral damage in electioneering. That points to the heady cocktail of paranoia, myopia and megalomania that has infected the party brass to the extent that ministers, even as they fall to charges of corruption every month have the gumption to snip progressively at constitutional norms. The threat to clip the EC’s powers to make them amenable to their own transgressions must rate as the latest assault on the freedom of institutions under the Congress-led regime. This is not an accidental instruct; this is part of the genealogy of the Congress’ high command Mafiosi mindset, its inherent intolerance of criticism and an aversion to play fair when the odds are high. Sibal’s charge on internet service providers; Chidambaram’s on the federal sanctity of states; Digvijay’s on popular demonstrations against corruption and Khurshid’s on the independence of the EC are all manifestations of the same malady—servants taking on the manner of their king.
The shooting from the hip and the fangs that the Congress is baring at the EC, has to do with a level of desperation that we have not seen in the Congress for some time. Friends of the Congress like to translate this as the enthusiasm and aggressive leadership that the Gandhi scion brings to its moribund organisation in UP, but more reasonable analysis picks this off as siege mentality in a last ditch effort to spruce up the young Gandhi’s credentials to lead the country.
There is design to this desperation too. The election in UP is always a meaty bone to pick on, not just for size and the sizeable chunk of MPs its throws into Parliament but also for its formidable caste matrix, the plethora of issues, the cornucopia of leaders and the jigsaw of election results that follows. It is often not easy to pick up trends and declare headwinds in advance. That allows the young Gandhi to live off—at least as the results come in—organised media hoopla—or hop-la, considering his cameo appearances across the state, aiming for low hanging fruit, safe in the knowledge that spin doctors in his entourage will ruffle up enough yarn to obfuscate any failure with redoubtable theories of delayed success. Aiming low has its advantages; any improvement—and notice the Congress backroom narrative is shifting to improving ‘vote share’ from winning seats already—is to his credit. The promise could then be projected as a premise for later, or greater promise.
Obsessed with his projection, the party has damaged all the intermediary linkages to possible winning strategies. The concert with Samajwadi Party, even if true, is showing signs of misfire. Latest reports emanating from UP point to an unusual tangle for the target population of both parties. Muslims are having to hedge their bets and this could divide their attention, and votes. So in a dramatic twist, the strategy of encirclement of Muslim votes by the Congress is causing a triangular dilemma for the Muslim voter between the Congress, the SP and the ethnically closer Peace Party, even ignoring the BSP for the moment. In marketing parlance, choice can be an asset only until it does not push the prospect into confusion. It looks like the old marketing adage is being compromised by the childlike enthusiasm of the Gandhi rookie and his backroom lads.
It is not as if friendly journalists of the Gandhi family have not attempted to present the shenanigans of the Gandhi scion as the rise of Rahul and embedded it with as much mysticism and technocratic razzmatazz as stage managed events go but the older, graying wise men of the party smile bemusedly at the antics of the new battalion at this ‘projection of desire’ rather than tactics based on reality. Irrespective, many congressmen and women have no choice but to applaud from the side lines hoping the party will not be run aground once again under his spotty leadership.
So what is it that had the Congress General Secretary wager all in so confidently? Political observers say that Gandhi is being led by his coterie into believing that he is the answer to Congress’ UP problems and its endemic caste calculus as well as the aspirations of the Muslims, all rolled into one. “It’s a case of the cart thinking it’s the horse,” is how they sum it up. In the end, the Congress chose to fight two enemies of its own making by addressing itself to two audiences and now looks like falling between two issues which internally contradict each other, for whereas the development plank was used to target the BSP and Mayawati Government, its exact opposite appeal on communal lines was made to the Muslim support base of the SP.
On the other hand, there has been intense speculation which has left many poll pundits mystified as to why Mayawati was the last off the block to campaign and why she has chosen to address so few rallies. The answer, according to some perceptive media hawks is mischievously charming. The BSP—read Mayawati—believes that every time Rahul Gandhi campaigns, he creates an opening for the BSP, cannibalising SP votes, confounding voters, polarising Dalits and confusing Muslims. The theory ties in with this analysis. Gandhi’s tyros with their iPads in their vote bank laboratory of stock market principles have made an obvious mistake – human aspirations are not subject to algorithms picked off a stock brokers screen. Consequently, the command performance we expected of a command structure like the Congress’ may eventually only serve to highlight the classical errors of distended leadership and a failure to connect with people on a psychological plane. That would be welcome, for it would at least put into the freeze the idea that event management companies and PR agency directed acts can foist leadership.
Once the dust has settled, it may turn out that the unrealistic and unbridled ambitions of the Gandhi scion may indeed have caused the party to miss the target of the prize of Uttar Pradesh by a long shot but in their desperate attempt they would also have severely dented the institution of the Election Commission- apart from the buoyant spirits of his back room tele-tubbies.
(The author is a Spokesperson for the BJP in Delhi and can be reached on [email protected])?