When they sit behind closed doors to select the right candidates for constituencies, no one is their favourite.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have many strengths and weaknesses that can be debated on endlessly, but their genius is in judging accurately the psyche of voters and reading correctly the mandate given by the people. This became clear, once more, from PM Modi’s speech in Kerala on Saturday.
In spite of winning a fantastic mandate Modi chose Kerala, where BJP could not open its account, for his first public speech in his second term. He was, thus, addressing the people who were not swayed by Modi’s charisma. He told Malayali voters: “Hum rajniti main sarkar nahi, desh banane aaye hai (I have come to politics not to make a government, but the nation).”
Modi and Shah, both Gujarati leaders, could become national leaders inside a decade of hyper politics because unlike the current leaders of the Congress, both have given the highest attention to two most important political acts. First, by selecting the right candidates. In India of 2019, there is no match to Modi-Shah in selecting the right candidates for constituencies—but not necessarily good candidates. The clarity in selecting candidates has come through actual experience, multiple incorruptible inputs, hard work and intellect to draw accurate socio-cultural and socio-political profiles of each constituency in India.
Those who are watching Modi-Shah since the late 1980s would vouch for their intellectual depth in assessing why certain constituency would vote for a certain candidate and what should be done to facilitate that. In Gujarat since last two decades it was said that when Modi-Shah sit down behind closed doors to give tickets to their party men and women, “Emnu koi sagu (relative) nathi (nobody is their favourite)”. Modi and Shah have the same level of demand for loyalty as the Gandhi durbar does, but their selection of loyalists is prudent. Their criteria for “winnable candidate” are not flexible, the way it is in the Congress.
In Congress it is quite the opposite. Largely, favourites of Delhi-based leaders and loyalists of Gandhi family get tickets to contest elections. Giving tickets and getting tickets to fight an election are fundamental to politics. But Congress leaders, when in power, have been corrupted so much that they have forgotten that when they fail in assessing the “winnable candidate”, they lose the election even before campaign starts.
Congress is in a state of complete confusion, after the humiliating defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, but when they come back to their senses they should ponder over their lost talent in selecting candidates without corruption, favouritism and personal biases.
Second, in reading the election mandate, Modi and Shah defeat the combined talent of the Congress Working Committee convincingly. It requires particular political brilliance to decipher why voters defeated you or gave power to you. Many Congressmen knew this all too well in the times of Nehru and Indira Gandhi. But now it seems that their current obsession with RSS and Modi has made them myopic. The major issue with Congress’ current plight is due to its failure in reading correctly the verdicts of 2009 and 2014. Both these verdicts were read correctly by Modi, but not by Congress.
In 2009, Modi and Shah read correctly while sitting far away from New Delhi why Manmohan Singh got a second term. But Congress failed totally in giving Manmohan Singh his due behind the 2009 victory. They should have publicly and loudly celebrated it and capitalised on it. The so-called “New India”, which is backing Modi now, had just started tagging behind the economist Dr Singh’s government then. This New India belongs to the same class which found Dr Singh good for the Indian economy then. But post-2009, as soon as the old leaders, the fat-cat Congress fixers and the Gandhis’ English speaking disconnected advisors saw the verdict through the prism of secularism-communalism and as against the RSS, the Congress lost hopelessly in 2014. This is exactly what Indira Gandhi wouldn’t have done after winning 2009.
It was not that Modi defeated Manmohan Singh, but Congress was defeated by people who wanted it to go fast-forward and do things that Modi has started doing since 2014, and has promised to double up his efforts towards this direction in 2019-2024.
People gave chance to the Congress in 2009 to graduate to a “New India”. What Modi has done is real. He has been able to ensure that a belief percolates down to the ground that “Modi is good for India”. And two, he is indeed devoting his total energy to attract and to stay attractive to young India.
What failed Rahul Gandhi was that before he could shape up his politics, Modi reached out to New India and told them, “The country is safe in my hands.” That emotion worked many ways and got consolidated further after Balakot.
Modi appropriated a slice of Mahatma Gandhi through Swachh Bharat and that of Babasaheb Ambedakar through a series of political actions.
And what to talk about Congressman Sardar Patel? A generation may come one day which will think Sardar Patel belonged to the BJP.
Also, Congress may like it or not, but the fact is that some shades of Indira Gandhi exist behind Modi’s politics. On Raisina Hill today, there is a secret admiration of politics as practised by Indira Gandhi.
It’s clear that Indira Gandhi has been studied by Modi and Shah over the years. Her “Hindu” identity, her nationalism and her governance are copied with flourish and success by Modi and Shah, while Rahul Gandhi fails in appropriating his grandmother’s legacy. One way of reading the 2019 mandate correctly is to note that Modi and Shah have never questioned Indira Gandhi’s “Hindu credentials”.
Congress needs to realise that Modi-Shah have managed to convince the poor Indians in exactly the same way as Indira Gandhi did once: The mandate of 2019 shows that the poor have expressed their belief that “Modi is good for them and for the country”. Just as they did for Indira Gandhi in the election of 1971.