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RSS's Lack Of Enthusiasm Is Showing

By N SATHIYA MOORTHY
Last updated on: May 12, 2024 07:52 IST
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According to insiders, their lack of enthusiasm is showing on the ground.
There is nothing to suggest that their enthusiasm will return in the final four phases of polling, observes N Sathiya Moorthy.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra D Modi with RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat at the Ram mandir pran pratishta ceremony in Ayodhya, January 22, 2024. All photographs: ANI Photo
 

By telling the voters that the Bharatiya Janata Party won't win more than 150 seats in the Lok Sabha polls, Rahul Gandhi might have paid back Narendra Modi in his own coin.

At least Modi and his entourage, including the 'Modi family' on social media, have stopped talking about their party bagging 370 seats and their NDA partners another 30, taking the grand total beyond 400 in the 543-member House.

Granting that Rahul's dreams come true, where does it leave his Congress party? Will the party get at least double the 52 seats in the current Lok Sabha, to become the natural claimant to the post-poll leadership of the Opposition INDIA combine and the prime minister's post?

Or, will the party have to fight it out with allies, who might corner many of the seats that Rahul hopes that the alliance would take away from the BJP, for the top job and all that goes with it?

Assuming the greatest of assumptions that the Congress gets all seats in party-ruled Karnataka (28) and Telangana (17), and also all 20 in Kerala, and the 10 seats under the ruling DMK's care in Tamil Nadu, the figure does not add up to, say, a hundred.

If some reports are to be believed, INDIA combine leaders, especially Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray, have a sympathetic voter upset with the BJP for splitting their parties in Maharashtra, but will it translate as votes for their Congress ally, too, in 18 of the total 48 seats that they are contesting?

The same is true of the nine seats that the Congress is contesting under the Mahagathbandhan in Bihar (total: 40) and 17 in UP (80).

No one is talking about the Congress making it big in the BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh (29) and Rajasthan (25), where it is a straight fight between the two parties.

The question is also will the pro-AAP sympathy vote, if any, in the aftermath of Arvind Kejriwal's arrest help the party win its three of seven alliance seats in capital Delhi.

It does not stop here. In states like West Bengal (42), Gujarat (26) and Odhisa (21), the Congress is nowhere in the race in the strict sense of the term.

Then there are smaller states like Andhra Pradesh (25), Chhattisgarh (11) and Jharkhand (14), Punjab (13) and Haryana (10), where all the Congress can hope is to pick up one, two or a few more seats, almost at random.

Do these figures add up to a hundred?

IMAGE: RSS cadres march on the occasion of Gudi Padwa and RSS founder K B Hedgewar's birth anniversary in Nagpur, April 9, 2024.

Yet, the Congress and Rahul may draw more support from among the ambitious leaders and parties in the INDIA combine, if at all they were to wrest power from the BJP-NDA and Modi.

Tamil Nadu's DMK Chief Minister M K Stalin will be the first to endorse both, followed possibly by the Tejaswi Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav -- who may want to bury their ambitions for another day, and focus more on retaining their post-poll regional hold for a long, long time to come.

Likewise, pending his court case, Kejriwal would have little choice but to 'kill' his prime ministerial ambitions. He will have little choice but to sail with the wind.

That should leave West Bengal's Mamata Banerjee, who will find it difficult to suppress her prime ministerial ambitions -- that is if she wins most of the state's 42 MP seats.

What if neither the BJP-NDA, nor the INDIA combine makes the grade, and neither crosses the 273 threshold?

What if the BJD in Odisha, YSR Congress in Andhra and smaller parties in the north east end up holding the dice? It would be an interesting proposition to watch unfolding, and no amount of crystal-gazing now is going to help.

IMAGE: Mohan Bhagwat, left, with RSS Sarkaryavah Dattatreya Hosabale at the RSS's national executive board meeting in Prayagraj.

If still, the Congress is in the news, it is more because Modi is talking about the party and Rahul Gandhi.

After Sonia Gandhi left the poll scene to become a Rajya Sabha member, Modi and the BJP are unable to target her on the 'foreigner issue' centred on her Italian descent.

Anyway, that campaign ended after Sonia's Aam Aadmi swept Atal Bihari Vajpayee's India Shining! campaign out of the voter's reckoning.

Given the perceived mood of the voter today, especially the urban middle class that became the backbone of Modi voters in 2014 and 2019, the more Modi talks about and against the Congress and Rahul Gandhi, greater are the chances that they would go back to the blackboard to rework their own past calculations, and also the calculus and dynamics apart from the chemistry involved in those calculations.

The outcome may not please the BJP as looking back dispassionately, especially the older generation of voters who had lived through the Nehru-Gandhi era or had heard of it first hand from their family elders of the time may begin to count also the benefits that accrued to them as citizens and as a nation during their regime as much as they had ticked off only their negatives through the past decades.

This also owes to the fact that through the poll campaign this time, Modi and his BJP cohorts, including Amit Shah and Rajnath Singh -- others sound insignificant in the overall context -- have not talked anything substantially about their achievements in government through the past decade, particularly since re-election in 2019. Nor are they quoting from the BJP's poll manifesto as to what to expect.

Why, they have all stopped mentioning 'Modi's Guarantees!', as the PM used to declare in the early stages of his campaign this time.

Their talk of what all is in store in a third Modi reign is at best vague. Present-day voters, whether old or middle-aged, are unable to relate to the party's national goals for 2047.

The younger voters anyway are unable to connect, as their concerns are about getting jobs and/or keeping them, especially if the latter class is now employed in the IT or related sectors.

IMAGE: Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra meets with block-level party workers in support of Rahul Gandhi, the party candidate for Raebareli.

What does it all mean? Between the time Modi launched his campaign and at the end of the third phase of the seven-phase polling, Modi and his party campaigners have lunged into an entirely 'negative campaign' against the INDIA campaign, all of it targeting the Congress.

Generally, it is the political Opposition that often resorts to negative campaigns while the ruling party would talk (only) about their achievements and promises for the future.

So much so, even the seven-phase poll schedule, instead of helping Modi and the BJP, seems to be working in favour of the combined Opposition.

Time was when the INDIA combine strategists were worried that they would not be able to sustain the last-leg campaign through nearly 45 days when Modi, flying out in an official aircraft, would have all the time and facilities (like choice of campaign venues and time) to himself.

Today, yes, Modi has all this and more. But ingenuity has helped the Opposition, too.

They are now spreading out their limited funds for the likes of Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi and Mallikharjun Kharge, not to leave out Left leaders, to make targeted campaigns, as the BJP used to do while in the Opposition, under the Vajpayee-Advani duo in the late eighties and early nineties.

Suffice to point out that the seven-phase poll with a staggered schedule for filing nominations only helped Rahul Gandhi to give a second seat in Rae Bareli only after polling in his existing seat, Wayanad, was beyond him.

If he had been forced to file nominations from two constituencies at the same time, who knows, the voters of both constituencies could have felt hurt at what the BJP would have then tom-tommed as his cavalier approach.

IMAGE: Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge, party leaders Rahul Gandhi, Siddaramaiah and D K Shivakumar at an election meeting in Shivamogga.

Because the Congress had been out of power for ten long years, the BJP has no new corruption or nepotism-linked charges to hurl at the other, as happened through the past decade.

Their inability to conclude any of the corruption cases from the Congress past may -- or, may not -- have raised questions in the mind of 'neutral voters', who had swung the Modi way in the past.

Likewise, Modi lost the leg to stand on his 'dynasty' charge against the Congress and the party's regional allies in states like Tamil Nadu, UP and Bihar, after the BJP hurriedly signed up with, among others, the Janata Dal-Secular in Karnataka, the Pattali Makkal Katchi in Tamil Nadu, and the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh.

The BJP lost its moorings on probity in public life when it aligned with Bihar's Nitish Kumar for the (n+1)th time.

The man is the 21st century 'Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram' from the eighties, but a more dangerous one, as he is not an individual like the forgotten Haryanvi, but also heads a political party as a chief minister to boot.

Maybe, it suited the BJP that polls in Tamil Nadu ended in the first phase on April 19.

Else, it would have been embarrassed even more about talking against caste reservations than in and on Nitish Kumar's Bihar, as Tamil Nadu's PMK is all about caste politics and caste reservations -- for its Vanniyar constituency, whatever is the fate of other communities and their quotas.

Yet, Modi's talk about abolishing the four per cent reservations for Muslims in Andhra Pradesh did not go down well with the BJP's TDP's ally.

The reason? TDP boss Nara Chandrababu Naidu had introduced the 'Muslim quota' as chief minister and defended his decision in the Supreme Court too.

Even without Modi's outpouring, the TDP was feeling uncomfortable as party insiders felt that they would do better in the twin polls to the Lok Sabha and state assembly sans BJP tie-up.

IMAGE: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, S Danish Ali, the Congress candidate, and others at an election meeting in Amroha.

Win or lose, where will Modi stand in the eyes of his ardent supporters who are not his blind followers -- at least not anymore? They had actually taken the personalisation of Modi's 'Vishwaguru' (global teacher) coinage for India that is Bharat seriously.

His attacks on communities using the Congress manifesto as a peg, and his increasing level of decreasing levels in the poll campaign has left a bad taste in their mouths, too.

They may still vote for him and the BJP, but he may have slipped in their eye, like never before in the past decade in particular.

Most of them, it needs to be acknowledged, did not possibly approve of his handling of the Gujarat riots way back in 2002, mainly because that was the way they had seen the ruling Congress's handling of the Delhi riots after Indira Gandhi's assassination in 1984.

But they readily turned around to swear by Modi even when he had nothing to show beyond the new coinage of a 'Gujarat model' of development, when there was nothing by way of the present-day social media to propagate such an idea, whether true, half-true or not at all true.

In the absence of that kind of trust in his leadership, this constituency especially would begin evaluating his post-poll performance if he gets a third term as PM, if only to surpass Jawaharlal Nehru's 12-year term as prime minister since the first general elections in 1951-1952.

That Nehru did another five years after becoming interim prime minister in 1946 and as the Independent India's first PM is another story altogether.

That way, maybe, there are more Modi bhakts from the past decade who may now be willing to listen to Nehru's contributions to India's growth, development and democratic traditions.

Who knows, some of them may even want to read about Nehru on Google and Wikipedia, if not his works, beginning with The Discovery of India.

IMAGE: Rahul Gandhi and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav at an election meeting in Bhagalpur.

That is not all. Whether or not he continues as PM, post-poll, if there are signs of Modi losing grip over his 'committed constituency' that is really vast, and as large as maybe that of Mahatma Gandhi and the early years of Nehruvian rule, then trouble for him may come from within.

Faceless rebels from within, both in the states and at the Centre, could show up. They may want to speak, and they would want to be heard.

Imagine what if the BJP's numbers hover around the 'golden figure' of 272 required to form a government, especially with its NDA allies? Would state BJP satraps like Yogi Adityanath in UP and even 'wronged' former CM Shivraj Singh Chauhan do, if given a chance? This is to keep out stand-alone prime ministerial prospects like Nitin Gadkari, who might have the potential of drawing in all 48 MPs from the state on Marathi asmita, or self-respect.

Who knows, the list could include Congress MPs, leave alone those of the Sharad Pawar NCP and Uddhav's Shiv Sena.

They would have had their sweet revenge on the Modi-Shah duo for splitting their once monolith parties, using their own confidants -- a trust-worthy nephew in the case of Pawar, Sr.

But it is Adityanath who would draw greater media interest. After all, those who know, and care to recall, the one political sin that the Vajpayee-Advani duo committed while in power was to destroy their party's UP chief minister Kalyan Singh, who had accounted for all but one of the BJP's 50 MPs from a total of 80 in the state.

Vajpayee was the only one to win his Lucknow seat. Even Murli Manohar Joshi in Allahabad counted on Kalyan Singh's support to win/retain his seat.

IMAGE: Mohan Bhagwat with BJP leader Nitin Gadkari.

But the place to watch will still be Nagpur, the RSS headquarters. Modi's arrival at the national scene upset and even more upturned the Sangh Parivar's top-down approach to leadership.

If they do not wrest the initiative now, it may never ever happen the way the RSS has come to be perceived until about the edifice sort of began crumbling from within -- but without anyone acknowledging it.

Modi first went to the party over the head of the existing BJP leadership of an ambitious Advani. He then went directly to the people over the head of the party.

In both, the RSS parent was the ultimate loser. Even now, it has little choice but to attest to Modi's candidacy and election as PM, if they have to preserve a 'Hindu/Hindutva' government.

According to insiders, their lack of enthusiasm is showing on the ground -- also because they are also from the opinion-making middle-class, and feel 'cheated' -- but in ways different from how others of the ilk feel.

There is nothing to suggest that their enthusiasm is going to return in the coming four phases of polling.

It means if the BJP and Modi were to win -- whether 400, 300 or plain and simple 273-plus -- it would all be Modi's victory.

At least in private, the Sangh parent might not have anything to claim ownership and authorship, as in 2014 and 2019 -- however remotely, as they all knew at the time and since.

N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and author, is a Chennai-based policy analyst and political commentator.

Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com

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India Votes 2024

India Votes 2024