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Advantage Modi - Pramod Kumar - The Sunday Indian
 
An IIPM Initiative
Friday, October 20, 2017
 
 

BATTLE 2014

Advantage Modi

 

The Gujarat chief minister has a much stronger grip over the BJP party apparatus than Rahul Gandhi’s flaccid hold over Congress. Pramod Kumar Reports.
PRAMOD KUMAR | Issue Dated: March 30, 2014, New Delhi
Tags : Rahul Gandhi | Narendra Modi | BJP | Congress |
 

Scene 1:

The Guwahati Lok Sabha constituency in Assam is an open seat. In other words, Congress cadres, after a vote will decide on who the party candidate from this seat will be. On the basis of this election, a sitting MLA’s son has been picked up as the party candidate. One of those left out of this selection process is Bigun Bordoloi. While applying for the ticket, Bordoloi had proudly declared his credentials: the Guwahati airports is named after my grandfather, Rahul wants young candidates and I am young and therefore fulfill the criteria applied by the party high command to allocate tickets for the General Elections.

The ticket instead went to a little known Mukul, son of the sitting MLA. But Bordoloi is far from disappointed after knowing the murky details of this selection. The man tipped to get the Guwahati seat was former Congress MP Kribh Chalia, the man who had vanquished celebrated Assamese singer Bhupen Hazarika in a Lok Sabha election. But in came the new Congress selection process and as it turned out, it was Mukul who got the nod over the others for the one simple reason that he polled the lowest number of votes among all who contested!

 There are many such examples where Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, the prime mover of the idea of selecting candidates through primaries, thought he could create the spirit of unity among warring Congress members by such a selection and opting for young unknown faces. Instead, it has turned out to be entirely on the contrary. The Congress is therefore left with no option but to revert back to type: most party leaders like Beni Prasad Verma, RPN Singh, Pawan Bansal, Jitin Prasad and Subodh Kant Sahay, all staring at defeat, have been given tickets. Rahul Gandhi’s great selection plan has bit the dust and it is back to square one, each man for himself. Quips a Congress leader: “It looks as if Rahul is preparing for the 2024 elections.’’

Scene 2:

At a meeting of the BJP parliamentary board, veteran Murli Manohar Joshi, MP from Varanasi, asked party president Rajnath Singh whether the rumours that Narendra Modi will contest from Varanasi were true. He told Rajnath that Varanasi will be his first choice as he was also the sitting MP. Rajnath assured him that soon clarity would emerge on the situation. A miffed Joshi walked out of the meeting and reached home. No sooner had he entered his house that he got a message: please call up the RSS boss Mohan Bhagwat, the matter is urgent. When he called up Bhagwat, the RSS chief told him that Kanpur is a Brahmin-dominated constituency and it would make sense for him to contest from there. When Joshi protested mildly, he was told that Modi contesting from Varanasi would alter the equation in the Gangetic heartland of both UP and Bihar. Joshi acquiesced, tamely came out and told the media that the party’s decision was paramount and acceptable to him.

 That could finally be the difference between Congress and the BJP, the difference between defeat and victory. Quite clearly, Modi’s grip over his party is a lot stronger than Rahul’s hold over Congress. While Modi is heading an unified command with the entire backing of the RSS, which has played an important role in dousing dissenters who have not got tickets or have been allotted constituencies which they did not want, the Congress looks a distinctly divided house. While Modi is firmly in command of the situation, playing his cards as he deems fit, it has left even leaders like LK Advani at the mercy of his former protégé. Quite correctly, he has been given the Gandhinagar seat, some say, even against his wishes. Even though BJP leader Arun Jaitley believes that in run up to the elections, every single seat would count.

  Put another way, while Modi’s hold in the party is already apparent, Rahul’s attempt to create a similar emotion among his party leaders at the AICC special session at Delhi’s Talkatora Stadium, has come up a cropper. In fact, despite the light and sound, the Gandhi scion is pretty isolated within his party.
 

  ‘Narendrabhai can win from anywhere’

BJP leader Shahnawaz Hussain is upbeat about the elections. Excerpts from an interview:

Is putting up Narendra Modi from two constituencies a sign of BJP’s under confidence?
Not at all. Narendrabhai can win from anywhere in India. He is contesting from Varanasi because it will have a major impact in the Hindi belt. You have seen the response for yourself, all of UP is becoming saffron.
 
But this has led to heartburn in the BJP as several stalwarts have had to change their seats.
 There is no dissatisfaction in the BJP. On the contrary, everyone is fighting together.
 
LK Advani wanted to move out of Gandhinagar but was not allowed to do so. Isn’t that dissatisfaction within the party? He is apprehensive of a sabotage from within.
Far from it. All our senior leaders have convinced Advaniji of the wisdom of contesting from Gandhinagar.
 
But the way people like Lalji Tandon and Murli Manohar Joshi have been ousted suggests that things are not that well.
Some amount of dissatisfaction is natural in politics but it is an internal matter of the party and we will solve the issues.
 

 

Take the case of two ‘tainted’ UPA ministers Subodh Kant Sahay and Pawan Bansal. In the case of Bansal, party sources say, Rahul’s will prevailed and he got the nod from Chandigarh, despite stiff opposition from Punjab Congress leaders including Union minister Manish Tewari. In the case of Sahay, the Congress vice-president was adamant that he should not get the ticket from his traditional constituency Ranchi. When Sahay learnt that Rahul was backing Bansal, he sent a message to the Congress parliamentary board that if he was denied a ticket from Ranchi, it would sent out a wrong message to the party and rank and file; in fact if anyone else got the ticket, he or she could hardly expect any help from Congress cadres. The threat was thinly disguised. Sahay organized a huge meeting of his supporters who went so far as to chant that while Bansal was a leader of Chandigarh, Sahay was Jharkhand’s top Congress leader and would play an important role if the party had to win. Predictably, Rahul had to back down.

  The case of UP strongman Beni Prasad Verma is a bit different. A Congress internal survey had indicated that the chances of his winning was slim – as slim as the chances of his cabinet colleagues RPN Singh from Padrauna, Jitin Prasad from Shahjahanpur and Sri Prakash Jaiswal from Kanpur. Rahul wanted Beni out at any cost. When the steel minister got a whiff of what was transpiring, he organized a massive Kurmi rally in the state, putting it quite plainly that not a single Congress candidate would win between Barabanki and Gonda. The party leadership acquiesced and since then, there has been no further talk of any ‘emerging youth leadership’ in the Congress. Similar is the case of Amethi scion Sanjay Singh, whose support is critical for Rahul to win elections. Sanjay who was miffed with the Gandhi family for ignoring his claims, has not just been nominated from Assam but his wife Amita Modi has been given the Congress ticket from neighbouring Sultanpur.

Congress general secretary Madhusudan Mistry disagrees that the party has had to allot tickets under duress: “There is no question of any threat or pressure. Winnability is the only criterion that has determined the selection of candidates.’’ When asked if the party was nominating even those who did not want to contest – like Manish Tewari – Mistry denied the charge but added that there was an attempt to mix experience and youth and introduce some new faces.

  Insider sources in the Congress say that a number of their youth leaders like Sandeep Dixit, Manish Tewari, Ajay Maken and Ashok Tanwar wanted to skip the elections – sensing the anti-Congress mood in the party – and work for the organization but their pleas were rejected. In the case of Kapil Sibal, the ace Congress lawyer wanted to contest from Punjab and leave Chandni Chowk but was advised against doing so as it would send a wrong message to the voters.

 Most Congress leaders are looking to change their constituencies saying that Manmohan Singh’s policies had made it difficult for them to win elections. Added to it is the aggressive campaigning by BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, who is not just drawing flocks of young voters to the ever-growing size of his rallies but is directly targeting the policies of the UPA government.

  ‘You cannot drop ministers whose performance has been impressive’

Madhusudan Mistry, Congress observer for UP, says demands for changing constituencies have been rejected by Rahul Gandhi

If you look at the list of UP Congress candidates, most of them are old faces. Has Rahul Gandhi’s formula of giving tickets to new faces flopped?
The leaders you are hinting at are all distinguished members of the UPA cabinet, so there is no question of not giving tickets to them. Their performance as ministers have been impressive.
 
In UP Jagdambika Pal has shifted to the BJP while young leaders like Sachin Pilot and Manish Tewari are demanding new seats to contest Lok Sabha elections. If this is not dissatisfaction, what is?
In General Elections, people changing parties does not mean much. Jagdambika Pal had to go to the BJP and he is gone. We have selected a new leader in his place. Our leader Rahul Gandhi has rejected the demands of Pilot and Tewari. In fact the real tussle for seats is going on in BJP.
 
What about the Congress? Why are actress Nagma and Raj Babbar contesting from Meerut and Ghaziabad respectively. Is it only for glamour?

If they have the glamour quotient, what is the harm in using it in election time.
 

 

The outburst of veteran Congressman PC Chako against Manmohan can be seen in that light. Likewise, union minister Salman Khurshid’s rant against the Election Commission’s code of conduct asking the party to be careful in what they say during the campaign, is an outcome of this latent frustration. In the light and background of Rahul Gandhi’s boastful claim that they will form the next government reveals that the Congress propaganda machine is no match for the BJP war effort.

 Which is why Congress strategists have decided that Rahul address smaller rallies in run up to the elections and when the campaigning reaches a crescendo, only then will both Sonia and Rahul address big rallies. As per party plans, the two will cover at least three Lok Sabha constituencies in any given leg of the rally. Some Congress observers will accompany Rahul in the course of these small meetings to take notes and examine all local issues. “These will be ultimately included in the manifesto,’’ says Congress leader Digvijay Singh.

  In contrast, Modi is well briefed on all regions he visits, his inputs coming from the US ad company managing his poll campaign and local unit of the BJP. It is for this reason that the Congress is shaken up by the high emotional pitch and the Modi ‘tadka’ that is infused into the BJP strongman’s his high velocity speeches. And it is not just the Congress that is worried; in UP even the Samajwadi Party finds itself on the back foot with UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav admitting obliquely that the chances of his seats coming down remain high – all without taking Modi’s name of course.

In the course of his speeches, the Gujarat chief minister has been harping on his state’s model, an oblique reference of introducing it in other states and even the country, if the BJP comes to power. Says key Modi aide Amit Shah: “We can talk about a state model but what about Rahul Gandhi who has no experience of running any government and can only talk of strategic interventions in his own government. To be sure, some steps have been taken by UPA 2, but whether Rahul can run a government remains far from clear.” Shah also refers to the veteran journalist Saeed Naqvi’s statements to Wikileaks that Rahul is incapable of running a government.

  Apart from his own capabilities, Modi is concentrating all out in UP. His own reason for contesting from Varanasi is that if the constituency is developed a bit, it has the capability to emerge as a major economic centre in the region, strategically located as it is on the borders of UP and Bihar. At the BJP parliamentary board meeting, he has reportedly taken the responsibility of Lucknow and Kanpur. In addition, he plans to turn Varanasi into a major economic and religious tourism hub and sees it as gateway to Bihar and Bengal. Modi is also said to told some party leaders that Murli Manohar Joshi had squandered an opportunity as Varanasi MP; instead of developing it and turn things around, he had merely indulged in party politics, doing very little else.

The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate also believes that the saffron influence in the region, thanks to its proximity to Gorakhpur peeth, is quite formidable and the party is quite keen to cash on it.

According to BJP calculations, with Modi’s name as Varanasi candidate, the political atmospherics have changed in this crucial eastern UP belt where it will impact the poll outcome in 24 odd Lok Sabha constituencies of Gorakhpur, Jaunpur, Ballia and Allahabad. In addition, there are the seats of western Bihar which will come under the influence of the so-called Modi spell.  This is the party grand strategy to make significant inroads into the Hindi belt. It is hardly a state secret that if Modi has to come to power, he has to get many seats in UP and Bihar. Says Amit Shah: “Narendrabhai’s plan to contest from Varanasi is a carefully cultivated one. A lot of homework has gone into it. If he has to become prime minister, every seat is important.’’ He should know.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017