Rahul Gandhi’s Mahagathbandhan falls flat, Modi stands tall

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Dr. R.  Balashankar

The Lok Sabha election 2019, has become presidential, with the entire campaign theme of the NDA and the opposition becoming Modi-Centric. The BJP election slogan is “Fir Ek Baar Modi Sarkar”. The opposition has reinforced this thrust by running a unifocal attack on the Prime Minister’s Persona, and by trying to set the Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) as an anti-Modi front. The Mahagathbandhan so far has been a cropper, but it has damaged the opposition plank and derail its credibility. The election has been turned into a referendum on Modi: The absence of any towering pan-Indian personality on the opposition ranks has added the sheen and glamour of the Teflon Modi imagery.

The NDA has come up as a cohesive election machinery. The opposition, conversely, is at each other’s throat in most states. Their antipathy for Modi has not helped them sink their differences or consummate grand standing.

It is thus the much-touted idea of Mahagathbandhan has fallen flat and Prime Minister Narendra Modi stands taller on invincible as the Lok Sabha Poll 2019, has reached the second phase.

Some disgruntled leaders like Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie, who have been strategizing with the Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, wanted one opposition candidate against the NDA in all the 543 constituencies. Mahagathbandhan proposal was mooted to achieve this end. The so-called grand alliance in a sense was solely on anti- Narendra Modi formation to stop Modi at any cost. This was templated as almost like the 1971 Grand Alliance, which was against Indira Gandhi. Then Indira Gandhi had famously campaigned saying “I want to remove poverty; they want to remove me”.

A similar situation has emerged in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha election, with the only difference being the protagonist of the new Grand Alliance, now is Indira Gandhi’s grandson. The grand alliance of 2019 has failed to take off mainly because of the decline of the Congress as a central force and the reluctance of other parties in the opposition to accept Rahul Gandhi as their leader. In the past one year, Rahul had approached almost all regional leaders mooting this idea. After the big show of opposition unity, in Bengaluru in June 2018, when the Congress conceded chief ministership to Kumaraswamy of the JD(s), who had only one third of the Congress strength in the assembly, the impression had gained ground that the Congress was stooping to conquer. But the euphoria was shortlived. The ego clashes among the opposition ranks came to the surface, in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra and the three Congress ruled north Indian States.

For the Mahagathbandhan, each state presented a conflicting picture. Each party wanted to maximize their gain. To expand at the cost of the Congress party. Senior opposition leaders like N. Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra, Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav in UP were unwilling to play second fiddle to Rahul Gandhi. In Andhra the attempt failed also because of the humiliating defeat of the Congress-TDP alliance in Telangana in December last. Leaders like chief minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao in Telangana, Naveen Patnaik in Orissa and Jagmohan Reddy of YSR Congress in Andhra, were more keen on the federal front idea, which is yet to take shape. These leaders were disinclined to align with the Congress and were often seen as more keyed up towards the NDA.

In Uttar Pradesh, which sends the largest contingent of MPs to Lok Sabha, Mayawati and Akhilesh formed a tie-up without even leaving any scope for the Congress to get accommodated.

This irritated the Congress to no end, and the party decided to offer a counter offensive by projecting Priyanka Vadra on the scene and launching a desperate campaign in at least two dozen constituencies putting up formidable candidates.
The Congress was able to work out a respectable, partnership only in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Bihar. In Tamil Nadu and Bihar, it is playing the junior partner, and in Maharashtra, it is at the mercy of Sharad Pawar’s NCP, which on many occasions in the past has been hobnobbing with the BJP. The congress and the CPM tried a tie-up in West Bengal but failed. The same seems to be the case in Haryana, Punjab and Delhi, where its talks with the AAP is still hazy. Rahul Gandhi’s decision to contest also from Wayanad in Kerala, a minority dominated, most backword constituency in Kerala has further spoiled his chemistry with the left. The Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan has accused him of fighting the left, “After trying to stop Modi all these years”.

The BSP supremo, Mayawati is piqued with Rahul Gandhi, as he had failed to accommodate BSP in MP and Chhattisgarh in the December 2018 assembly poll. The break down of negotiations with BSP on seat sharing in these states sealed the scope for any adjustment in UP in the Lok Sabha poll. In the end there are at least a dozen candidates against Narendra Modi’s candidates in almost all the 543 Lok Sabha constituencies. The talk about post poll adjustment have not convinced everyone. Who is alternative for Modi is question voters are asking the opposition?
The congress strategy from the beginning was flawed. It only helped to project a larger than life image for the prime minister. Everytime the opposition spoke of stopping Modi, without offering any convincing action plan or governance agenda, it looked power hungry and blindly running a hate-Modi campaign. This has generated a revenge response from the electorate, investing Modi with the “underdog image”. The voters naturally sympathized with Modi.

In this national security and the Balakot Air Strikes proved the defining moments. Modi stood for taking India foreword. Protecting it from Pak-Sponsored terror, and the hydra-headed monster of divisive politics. Against this the Congress manifesto which promised a free run to the “Break India brigade” offering repeal of AFSPA, repeal of sedition law, pro-separatist stand on J & K etc, convinced the voter, that Modi, stood for strong and united India.

Rahul’s strategy has been one of hit and run. He never tried to offer convincing, coherent, facts, for the baseless allegations he has been revelling against Modi. Rahul had got personal in his accusations against the prime minister which unwittingly damaged the Congress image.

(The writer is a Political Analyst and former Editor of the Organiser)