'Modi has kept some loopholes in case they lose, saying it was not his election.'
'The fight will be Modi of 2014 vs Modi of 2019.'
'The BJP has realised that keeping the temple issue alive is more important than building the temple itself in terms of votes.'
Will the December 11 election results in the Hindi heartland states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan be a shocker for the Bharatiya Janata Party which is in power in all three states?
Would a triple defeat indicated that the Modi wave is on the wane?
"He (Narendra Damodardas Modi) was distancing himself from these state elections. He was doing this because all three state chief ministers (Dr Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh and Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan) are not his appointees. They all are from (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee's BJP," says senior journalist Priya Sahgal, author of The Contenders, which profiles 16 emerging political leaders who, she believes, will dominate India's political landscape over the next decade.
"If the Congress can show they are better at temple politics in the BJP stronghold (Madhya Pradesh), then they can replicate this in 2019," Sahgal, below, tells Rediff.com's Hemant Waje in a telephone interview. Part 1 of a two-part interview:
What will be the key issues for 2019?
The key issue will be Modi.
It will be Modi of 2014 vs Modi of 2019.
This is what Pankaj Vohra, managing editor, The Sunday Guardian, keeps saying and I want to quote him.
Because he (Modi) is going to be the issue Woh khud hi kehte hai main hi mudda hoon (Modi himself says I am the issue).
It is going to be who can beat him? Who can provide an alternative narrative?
That is where all this guys are not making the mark.
Not one of them today you can say is the alternative for Modi.
They are works in progress and they are coming into their own. But as of today I think Modi has the edge.
Also, we are a country that honours its old.
I keep saying that older people definitely get more credibility and trust of the people and their own familiarity comes in.
Which is why the young -- those who are from (political) families -- get the edge because they say he is his son. So he has experience, connections, family name.
We are a country that works on these connections.
What will be the mantra for Modi's 2019 campaign? Will it be development or mandir?
It is going to be a bit of both.
Modi will talk about development, but I see the mandir card being played up by the rest of the BJP big time.
The RSS is already doing it.
(RSS Sarsanghchalak) Mohan Bhagwat is going on openly, saying the temple has to be built.
It will be very interesting to see whether they (the government) bring an ordinance on the temple or not.
I have seen the BJP backtrack on that.
In Madhya Pradesh, I was talking with lots of people. Nobody came out openly and said we want the ordinance.
Now the BJP is saying it will go by what the court decides.
They have realised that keeping the temple issue alive is more important than building the temple itself in terms of votes.
Whether the BJP goes ahead and builds the temple or not, the temple issue will be kept alive.
Maybe not by the prime minister himself, but by others.
The Congress always says that for the BJP, development is the user name and the password is Hindutva.
That's the way this campaign will be played out.
What about the caste and religion factor in 2019?
Most of the leaders (in her book) have gone to international schools.
They came thinking 'We will talk development and change the way India votes'.
Unfortunately the reality of India is not that.
Rahul Gandhi began saying, 'I am an Indian and the (Indian) flag is my religion. I have no other caste or other religion. It's my country and my flag.'
In the 2012 UP election, he then introduced (technocrat) Sam Pitroda to eastern UP as a Vishwakarma, by his caste, not as the man who ushered in India's telecom revolution.
Akhilesh Yadav told me, 'Main development, Lucknow-Agra highway, metro ki baat kar raha tha in the 2017 election, but they (the BJP) were talking about kabristan, shamshaanghat (burial versus cremation grounds).
He said I have learnt my lessons.
Now, he is also saying he is a Shiv bhakt or Krishna bhakt. Yadav toh Krishna bhakt pehle se rahe hai (Yadavs have always been devotees of Lord Krishna).
He is also playing the religion card and he's playing the caste card.
The mathematics with Mayawati is actually caste-based politics.
Is the Ram temple a make or break issue in the 2019 election?
The Babri Masjid doesn't have the same resonance.
Having said that, all the parties are picking up the religion card.
My take on the Madhya Pradesh election is very interesting.
If you see the voting, nobody spoke about any strong issue or anti-incumbency against (Chief Minister) Shivraj (Chouhan).
If you see the Congress campaign in Madhya Pradesh, it was a copy of the BJP (campaign).
Instead of taking on any new issue, or what people want, they (the Congress) were playing the Hindutva card, temple card, the Ram Mandir card.
So Madhya Pradesh for me will be very interesting, how it works for the Congress.
If the Congress can show they are better at temple politics in the stronghold of the BJP, then they can replicate this in 2019.
If they can't, then they should have relied on other issues like the farmers narrative, instead of playing to the BJP's game of Hindutva narrative.
So, it will be interesting to see the outcome of the MP election and if the Congress learns its lesson for the 2019 campaign.
Will there be another Modi wave in 2019?
No Modi wave, but there will be the Modi issue.
Has he delivered on his promises?
Is he still has the best bet?
Who is the best alternative to Modi?
Everything will revolve around Modi.
How do you look at the outcome of the five state elections?
If the Congress wins three of the states, it will be a huge relief for Rahul Gandhi.
He hasn't had any win so far.
Gujarat was a near win, Karnataka was a manufactured win. It wasn't a win really.
For Rahul to prove (em>himself(), he has to win a state election.
If he does it, then it will be a huge boost for his credibility.
Also, it will give credibility that Rahul can lead the Opposition against Modi.
With this he can go into the 2019 election.
I think the Congress needs this win more than Modi needs it.
Here, the prime minister is playing a very smart game.
He is distancing himself from these state elections.
We haven't seen more rallies as we saw it in Gujarat or Karnataka.
There was no carpet bombing. He didn't do many rallies in Madhya Pradesh.
He was doing this because all these three state chief ministers are not his appointees. They are all from Vajpayee's BJP.
He can distance himself from the blame (if the BJP loses).
I have been to these states. I have seen the posters there.
There were lots of Vajpayee posters, especially in Rajasthan.
There were a few Shah-Modi posters which are mandatory.
The pictures of the chief ministers were larger than Modi.
In the Bihar elections, Amit Shah and Modi's posters were larger than any of the BJP candidates.
But in these 3 state elections, Modi's posters were not so large.
So, Modi has kept some loopholes. In case they (the BJP) lose, saying it was not his election.
Honestly, Rahul has more to lose here as he really needs this (victories).
Has the BJP sensed defeat even before the results are announced?
There is strong anti-incumbency, especially in Rajasthan.
He (Modi) has played it smart.
He has kept his distance. He has kept loopholes for himself.
He won't accept the defeat for himself. Every win, he takes very personally.
In these elections, the RSS is very strong and (the elections were fought on) the chief minister's own credibility.
Each one has a regional set-up, so Modi stepped back.
Is there any RSS versus Modi fight?
I am trying to figure out that ever since Mohan Bhagwat held a session in Vigyan Bhavan (in New Delhi) where he made a lot of comments which are not in tandem with Amit Shah or Narendra Modi's BJP.
Having said that, the RSS has felt that they couldn't have come to power and prominence if the Modi wave wasn't there.
But they are feeling sidelined that he has got all the credit.
The RSS also did the work. On the ground it is the RSS cadre that goes out and works.
So they feel it's not just a one-man win.
(BJP MP Dr) Subramanian Swamy said three things won the elections: Modi, Hindutva and the RSS.
Amit Shah and the others think it is Modi all the way.
The RSS has felt sidelined.
If (in 2019) they (the BJP) don't get the outright mandate, then they (RSS) will bring someone like Nitin Gadkari.
But if you ask me, I see Modi (will be the PM) even if they don't get an outright majority. Because that's the nature of the man.
The RSS may prefer someone like Gadkari. So that's the tussle to watch out for.