Outwitting Modi’s psyops is key

Published December 12, 2023
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi

IT could get worse before it gets better, goes the sagacious saying. It was in the nature of its very being that the INDIA alliance needed to cross the hump of centrifugal egos before its members would find their feet. They needed it to feel equipped to take a clean shot at vacating Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bid for a third successive win in the April-May general elections.

The recent state polls may have been important for the Congress, but were in many ways an obstacle for the alliance. They were not, in any case, the decisive battle presaging the 2024 contest, as has been projected by last week’s winners. The state polls were entirely about the Congress winning or losing to the BJP, and of scant interest to the rest of the alliance partners, who were not emotionally attached to the outcome.

A Congress landslide would have, in fact, complicated the quest for cohesion in INDIA. The muttered relief among some of the members at the humbling of the behemoth masked a perverse lick-smacking joy at the result for the smaller but powerful stakeholders. The results could now clear the emotional block for the alliance, which should now not hesitate to yield to its animal instinct of survival. Any dilution of the resolve would be fatal, as everyone in the group knows.

The incidental benefit of the races in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Telangana should also not be discounted. With Congress winning Telangana, there is now a marked north-south divide electorally, though not for the first time. Indira Gandhi was routed in 1977 in the north, whereas the southern states stood resolutely with her. That’s where she launched her comeback campaign from.

The psychological initiative the BJP claims could be more clearly seen as a saffron mirage.

The fact that the state polls were a close race and not a disastrous outcome for the Congress should go a long way for the INDIA partners to frontally challenge Modi’s psychological warfare. They can now work on a winning strategy, in which the Congress is accepted as a scrupulously equal partner but not less, though not even slightly more, entitled than the rest. From what one has gleaned in Rahul Gandhi’s long march to unite the country, cohesion, and not the spoils of power, would be the Congress’s quest henceforth.

On the other hand, psyops are a pivot for the ruling party’s strategy. Mr Modi has declared the three state results a hat-trick, which his chorus advances as a mirror to the coming-but-already-won third term for their leader. The fluff, however, is palpable in the pretence. The psychological initiative the BJP claims could be more clearly seen as a saffron mirage. The BJP’s logic of reading state results as indicative of its impending victory in the general elections can be turned on its head.

A simple headcount should allay many misgivings. Add up the seats in the states that the BJP controls, let’s say, irretrievably: Uttar Pradesh (80), Madhya Pradesh (29), Chhattisgarh (11), Gujarat (26), Assam (14), Jharkhand (14), Uttarakhand (five) and Rajasthan (25).

The total parliamentary seats in the BJP’s self-proclaimed stronghold in the northern states add up to 204, clearly short of the 272 needed in the 543-member Lok Sabha.

The INDIA alliance states, on the other hand, send 267 deputies, five short of a simple majority. Note that the INDIA calculation includes 48 MPs of Maharashtra, where tragicomic defections led to the BJP taking power. That would be reversed by most accounts in a free and fair contest.

These are the main theatres of mobilisation, where any talk of a hat-trick for the BJP would be laughed off.

Besides, in the states the Congress lost last week, the difference of votes was two to four per cent — highly bridgeable. Madhya Pradesh was the trickier of the three. On the other hand, the Congress was snapping at the BJP’s heels in the close race, something psephologists got terribly wrong. This is the contour of the battlefield in which every regional satrap’s state could either galvanise the alliance or be breached by the opponent. And INDIA is an alliance of very powerful satraps.

In other words, it is obvious that no state being ruled by any particular party or alliance can take success for granted. We do, however, get an idea as to where and how the votes would be stacked. Therefore, the fight is on, and it is preposterous to liken it to a walkover by the alliance, as the Modi psyops is conjuring or projecting it to be.

It doesn’t mean the alliance stands freed of its own demons. There are at least three prime ministerial hopefuls in the opposition ranks, and another few who would be eyeing their chance as the dark horses that Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh came to be. After

the Congress’s loss in the states, the drooling over prospects of gaining power would hopefully abate.

There are strong binding glues to work on; for example, the expulsion of the West Bengal MP Mahua Moitra from Lok Sabha last week over laughable allegations that she took money to ask questions in parliament. The opposition has come together to stand united behind her. That Moitra was a staunch critic of Modi and his corporate friend Gautam Adani is a notable aspect of her profile.

The opposition has had a decade to observe and study the methods Modi has used as prime minister to score high on the ballot,or to be careful with words, on the electronic voting machine.

They also have an instructive dossier on his time as chief minister of Gujarat. They know of the communal mobilisation that has worked for Modi. They also know how a tinctured Hindutva hasn’t worked for the Congress in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.

There’s nothing invincible about Mr Modi. To paraphrase Brutus in a reflective moment, the initiative lies squarely with the opposition, not with the BJP.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

jawednaqvi@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2023

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