Are we going for a presidential form of contest or a contest for 542 seats of Lok Sabha. This question is being asked by many as our electronic channels are spending hours showing the respective popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress leader Mr Rahul Gandhi. Mr Gandhi has not even declared himself as a candidate for the post of Prime Minister of India. Another factor to be noted is that in many states BJP and the Congress party are not even main contenders in the
To start with BJP hardly counts in states in South like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra and Telengana. In East BJP is a marginal player in West Bengal and Orissa. In north in majority of States like M.P, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Chhattisgarh there will be a direct contest between the BJP and Congress. More so both BJP and Congress will be having an alliance with of small and regional players. As such it will be a contest between two alliances and in many other states it will be
fight between a regional player and a main party that is BJP or Congress.
Under the circumstances it is difficult to make poll predictions on the basis of popularity of two leaders. For instance we will have to take into consideration the influence of leaders like Mamata Banerjee, Mr Naveen Patnaik and many others like Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav and many more. For instance in Punjab Congress won because of popularity of Captain Amarinder Singh and not of the Congress Party. Agreed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is best known and most popular leader, but his ability to influence poll in all States is not the same as in 2014.
For instance it is no secret that the BJP in last five years BJP has become more and more dependent on Mr Modi. They have used him for all State elections, by elections and even civic polls. The result is that the law of diminishing returns has come into operation. His speeches have become repetitive and some of advantages enjoyed by him earlier are missing. In contrast Congress President who looked like a novice in 2014 is fast learning tricks of trade and has become better known.
In Gujarat poll Rahul Gandhi made things difficult for BJP and came close to creating a upset. Later he caused a upset in three states in in Northern India. I will not put my bet on Rahul Gandhi to win poll by matching Prime Minister, but one has to keep in mind the issues picked up by Prime Minister and Mr Rahul Gandhi. Which will carry the day in a election in which wave is missing. It is not a poll like 1971 after Bangladesh Victory. Indira Gandhi or poll after the death of Mrs Gandhi.
In 2014 Mr Modi tore apart Congress for some real and imaginary cases of Corruption and he raised hopes of a change.
The current poll is like one held in 2004 when BJP called for election before completing its term with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee Went to polls with cry of “India shining”. The media in one voice declared him a winner as Sonia Gandhi was no match so with candidates yet to be named, I feel there is need to keep the powder dry and wait and see how wind is blowing.
The two set of issues between which a choice will have to be made. The BJP would raise emotional issues like building of temple, strong nationalism as shown by attack on Balakot in Pakistan, strong action against militants in Kashmir and Hindutav. While Congress will go for lack of jobs, farmers distress, attempt to divide voters on communal lines and corruption in Rafale deal.
There is merit in issues but the change is that while in 2014 Modi was attacking this time he has to defend his five year record which include self-inflicted wounds like demonetisation and neglect of farmers. My take is in this poll BJP numbers will go down, Congress will go up, but the real change will be growth of regional players. In case they win around 150 seats, the game will become wide open in which new combinations could come about to install Government in Delhi. The poll has to be in 29 States and seven union territories. Which have differences, but will give a common verdict when votes are counted.
(BRIJ BHARDWAJ IS A VETERAN JOURNALIST AND COMMENTATOR)