The success of Gujarat will show the way to BJP for 2019 campaign. Photograph: (Others)
Rahul Gandhi's strategy of going against Modi won't work out for coming elections
It will be a tough election for BJP in Gujarat. The state is feeling Narendra Modi’s absence acutely as it has failed to manage agitations launched by Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakor.
Congress has taken a big risk by churning out a campaign which will eventually end up pitting Rahul Gandhi against Narendra Modi.
The situation gets further complicated for BJP because of dwindling economy as Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi continues to pillory the PM on the issue of jobs in Gujarat.
The question is that despite everything in place, is Congress walking the right path?
In my opinion, Congress has taken a big risk by churning out a campaign which will eventually end up pitting Rahul Gandhi against the Indian Prime Minister in his home state Gujarat. The believers can dismiss it as Goliath vs David adventure but assembly elections in the past have shown that investing Rahul Gandhi’s political equity in state elections is an exercise in futility. Uttar Pradesh has demonstrated it twice. Once Rahul Gandhi went alone and the second time, he went into a tie-up with the Samajwadi Party.
Even in 2004, when the Congress campaign was lethargic, it ended getting 12 seats out of 26 seats. The campaign was not focused on Modi and it attended to local issues. Rahul Gandhi in Gujarat has symbolically reaffirmed that neither he is an atheist not averse to participation in the religious ceremony but he has chosen to attack Narendra Modi directly.
After Ahmed Patel’s re-election to Rajya Sabha, the confidence of the Congress Party has gone up but it neither has big faces nor a viable leadership in Gujarat which atrophied in the last 15 years. It is in this context, Congress must revaluate whether high pitched anti-Modi campaigns serves well in Gujarat or a more low-key campaign, using the faces of state faces which avoids polarisation on the basis of personality.
Many in the Congress would believe that time has come to turn the tide as GST has caused a massive economic problem to the traders and in organised sectors. However, it would be foolhardy to believe that it has impacted Narendra Modi’s credibility.
The electorate will reach an equilibrium and it can only reach if it doesn’t become Rahul Gandhi vs Narendra Modi.
It is not a 1987 moment where Rajiv Gandhi was accused of taking a bribe and led to a split in the Congress. Amit Shah is not Narendra Modi nor Rajiv's son-in-law Robert Vadra whose public profile added fuel to the fire when reports on him started coming out. Gujarat is a golden opportunity for the Congress to beef up its support base. Even during 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Congress got 33.5 per cent of the vote, a down from 38.9 that it got in the Assembly election of 2012.
BJP’s vote share has increased to 60 per cent in 2014 but it will not get this vote in the assembly. The electorate will reach an equilibrium. The only chance BJP has of reaching the numbers is if the electoral show can only reach if it doesn’t become Rahul Gandhi vs Narendra Modi. Congress can make gains if it avoids polarisation around Narendra Modi’s personality.
Even if the issue is economic, it is impinging on the prime minister. Many would argue that politics cannot be done without taking a risk. In my opinion, it is not a calculated political risk. It seems party wants to go out for a kill. It is hubris. If Congress continues to make elections a fight between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi, it might end up in the same space where it found itself in 2012