Narendra Modi clinched a victory for BJP in Gujarat. He ensured it by consolidating his party’s base in urban India. He has given a new political mantra for his party to function: hope and fear. Evidently, Indian politics has the potential to behave as T20 match and Test cricket at the same time. Gujarat result is an example in case.
Rahul Gandhi despite the loss, took away the sheen from BJP’s victory. Under his leadership, the Congress brought the BJP down to a two-digit victory, making him the Man of the Match. Narendra Modi, however, remains the Man of the Series when it comes to elections. Modi proved, again, that he is the only one who has the stamina to either change the public mood or arrest a tsunami.
Gujarat election changes a couple of things in the political narrative. It proves that Narendra Modi will not shy away from taking the battle to any level, provided it led to victory. Clearly, he is the only one in Indian politics who has the capacity to shape the mood of the voters if not completely shift them. It shows that Modi treats elections like a battle to be won at all the cost, and rest of the issues are shoved at the periphery.
Whether it is the dinner diplomacy gaffe or Mani-Kapil's quick mistakes between the wickets, the urban audience in Gujarat reacted positively to Modi’s jibe. Urban Gujarat chose Modi despite economic distress. Ultimately, the Prime Minister is their original poster boy. To take him down would mean taking one’s own down.
On the day Rahul Gandhi took over as the Congress President, the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke of politics of hope and fear. He said that hope must triumph over fear. The results in Gujarat show that for urban India the hope and fear do not exist in a binary but are intermeshed.
It was best reflected by the speeches of the prime minister on the 'neech' comment, dinner and temple issue. Both fear and hope were stoked at the same time. The hope was in the assertion of majoritarian politics and the fear was the return to a state where minority voice mattered.
Rahul Gandhi did neutralise his anti-Hindu stance which he inherited during 2014 elections but the political memories of hard secularism came flushing back into the electoral arena because of the mistakes committed by Congress leaders and activists. It is not to say that BJP supporters don’t use abusive language. In fact, the correct picture is that twitter handles of far-right supporters have been far more abusive and rest seems to be only catching up now.
The challenge for Rahul Gandhi is to break this matrix put in place by the BJP which thrives on hard Hindutva during elections, and once the race is won it goes back to sabka saath sabka vikas. It works on fear and hope at the same time. It is also married to new and some repackaged government schemes which are all attributable to Narendra Modi.
The only thing attributable to Rahul Gandhi today is the extension of NREGA throughout India. However, it is a distant memory today. It is this politics of hope and fear which Rahul Gandhi has to battle as it is enmeshed with fear of the return of massive corruption and minority politics. The hope is pinned on assertive India sitting on the stool of identity.
Rahul played the match well and lost. The vote share difference was again 8 per cent but rural Gujarat supported Congress. It reinforces the image of Congress as a party which takes up agrarian issues more than BJP. He won admiration from both his own party and other regional players. This has happened for the first time. He has received sympathy and grudging respect. To borrow it from "The Last Jedi", the BJP should hope that Rahul doesn’t become the spark which fires up the entire Opposition, which today is in the doghouse, lying straight on the ground.