Recently, Bharatiya Janata Party announced J. P. Nadda as its working president. In the meantime, Congress is yet to announce its new president (in spite of losing badly on 23rd May). Forget announcing, they are still unsure about whether Rahul Gandhi is still the president or not.
Last month, news channels started releasing the Exit polls results. However, these exit polls results more or less reflected the ideology of most of the news channels. Especially the left leaning ones; for, they spelled out their bias in the form of conservative outcome. Some optimists (who preferred to call themselves realists back then) even quoted recent Australia elections results where exit polls proved to be completely opposite of the actual results. Clearly, political leaders, psephologists, seasoned anchors etc. all ignored the ground reality and their experience; and believed their biases above everything else.
The result however, was heartbreaking (for them). The difference between the largest party and second largest party was of over 250 seats. If you had to be in Sanjay Jha’s shoes, you would say that Congress Party moved from 44 seats in 2014 to 52 in 2019, which is around 20% gain from the last election. It is exactly because of these Sanjay Jhas and Nikhil Waghles, Congress is where it is today – in a political abyss.
The Picture In 2014
Seemingly, the results and the 2014 defeat did not teach anything to Congress. In 2013 when the election preparations started, Congress defeat was the most obvious outcome. The reason was simple – people were tired of corruption in every sector. A scam of a few thousand crores had become as normal as running a marathon. Every second minister did it (and successfully). What they probably did not expect was an out and out BJP victory and BJP emerging as the single largest party.
After 2014, Congress was almost a written off party. People were sure about BJP rule for at least a decade. Soon after coming to power, BJP introduced various schemes to make life better for the core population of the country – villages. Electricity, Gas, Toilets, Bank accounts, Free medical care etc. hit the chord with people like no other.
But this is politics. And things change here faster than the utterance of third talaq from a husband’s mouth. Soon enough, news, online and offline media started highlighting negative aspects of the Country and connecting it with the failure of the ruling Government. These issues included lynching, gaurakshak terror, RSS violence, insensitive statements by the ruling party leaders about various issues and such.
Focus In The Wrong Direction
Three major issues Congress kept highlighting were Demonetisation, GST and Rafale. In every rally, every interview, every press conference, every statement, Congress and its leaders started talking about it. Experts like Raghuram Rajan and Manmohan Singh supported and backed these claims and stories. Online medium was full of failure of these Government schemes and policies. But did any of these issues created any impact? Let’s take a look at them.
Touted as the worst decision by Modi Government, Congress and the media tried to spin the entire narrative around this issue. And they were not wrong either. Long queues outside banks and ATMs, plenty of inconvenience and some deaths were strong enough reasons to believe that the Congress had finally gotten an issue worth fighting for and which may result in their comeback, if clicked. But as they say, no hype matters if it does not get you the right results.
Demonetisation took place towards the end of 2016. Political Pundits even predicted it to be BJP’s downfall. But the assembly election results in the following months told a completely different story. Within 3 months of Demonetisation, 5 states conducted elections, out of which BJP formed their Government in 4 states; that included their landslide wins in UP and Uttarakhand.
There was lesson number one piercing through their eyes – ground reality is different from what you see. Yes, demonetisation caused a lot of inconvenience to everyone. Some people were happy, as those superior to them were standing in a line with them. But was it a factor big enough to spin the results 180 degrees? The results said otherwise. Because, along with demonetisation, there were other schemes that helped the majority vote bank – poor people. They got their basics in place. And no, demonetisation did not affect them because the majority did not even have demonetised currency. They did not have to go and stand in the line. They were happy with the Government for providing a toilet and a gas and even a pukka makan.
GST affected a lot of small and medium size industries. Our economy was a cash economy. And demonetisation followed by GST hugely affected it. However, this impact did not result in any major strike or shutdown anywhere. Reasons can be plenty, but none came in the light. The opposition kept saying that GST was a bad move. But it never substantiated its claims. Nor did they provide any concrete plan or solutions to the people in their election manifesto. Forget being relevant, RaGa’s favourite coined term “Gabbar Singh Tax” failed to sound even funny.
From “Chowkidar Chor Hai” to Modi gave 30,000 Crores to Anil Ambani – nothing about Rafale worked from the word go. This was probably the most non-existent scam in the history of scams. Rahul Gandhi touted this to be the game changer for Congress. He kept attacking the Government time and again, relentlessly, about how this was a scam. How the Government paid more money, how Anil Ambani received tax waiver as well as 30,000 crores offset contract money and what not.
Rahul Gandhi even lied about his conversation with the French President. RaGa claimed that our then Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that Indian government is under a secrecy pact with the government of France and cannot share the details of Rafale. He further quoted:
“However, when I personally met President of France, he told me there is no such pact… Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman lied under the pressure of PM Narendra Modi.”
The Government of France denied these claims made by Rahul Gandhi and said that secrecy pact did exist between the two nations.
Be it Supreme Court or CAG report, or the IAF – everyone gave the Government a clean-chit in the Rafale deal; and yet Rahul Gandhi kept talking about it until the eve of election results. He did not even spare the dying man and ex Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. Attacking a dying man about a national security issue and making him give out a statement when he is fighting cancer would never work in your favour. No sir! Outcome? It made him look like a fool than the Government look like corrupt. He attacked something that was no scam at all. Left leaning media houses, journalists and influencers kept supporting him.
What could have been a trump card became just another half-baked ponzi scheme. NYAY promised to give poor people Rs. 72000 every year. When asked about where will the money come from, Rahul Gandhi said that loan defaulters will pay back their money and the Congress Government will give that money that belongs to the banks to poor people. All the hows, whys and whats were ignored. To add insult to injury, Rahul Gandhi’s mentor Sam Pitroda (Hua to hua fame) said that NYAY money would be recovered from the taxpayers.
Gone are the days when people get fooled by such promises. NYAY was neither planned nor executed correctly. People in rural areas were not even aware about such a scheme. If they did, most of their questions about it remained unanswered. Further more, on one side they had Modi Government schemes that were working for them, giving them results and roof and safety and security; while on the other hand, they had an almost impossible proposal (or bribe?) in front of them. They chose the former.
Lack of Nationalism
Now, many would criticize me for this, but Indians are out and out nationalists. You just cannot ignore this major factor while fighting a national election. After Pulwama, the opposition failed to ask the right questions. And after India’s reply to Pulwama attack, the opposition did not pick the right strategy. Balakot airstrike converted the confused crowd in support of Modi. And the opposition leaders failed to see it completely. Their Rafale was still flying high above the sky with Chowkidar Chor Hai banner.
Main bhi Chowkidar campaign – Rahul Gandhi should have seen it coming. There were millions of people using Main bhi Chowkidar in their names, as a symbol of pride. Rich and poor, educated and uneducated, men, women and children – everyone started calling themselves Chowkidar. And yet Congress failed to see it. They, in return, mocked it. Their arrogance was about to cost them one more election. (Remember chai wala remark by Mani Shankar before 2014 elections?) Just by the number of Chowkidars around them, they should have understood about the Modi wave; but they did not.
Let us take a step back and re-visit the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The 2014 election campaigns went beyond the traditional methods of banners, slogans and rallies. Internet connectivity was on the brink of finding a massive countrywide footprint. Social media, big data and digital platforms were heavily used to understand voter preferences. Political parties strove to employ the emergent field of data analytics to their advantage. Targeted campaigns were designed to appeal to voters based on their profiles.
Even the casting of votes was carried out under the umbrella of technology – if a booth showed lower voter turnout by the middle of the day, party workers increased efforts to encourage voters to turn out in huge numbers. The BJP’s social media marketing strategy found tremendous appreciation for its ability to impress voters – particularly the young generation.
Congress took a cue from BJP and built an IT cell for the 2019 elections that looked after only digital media. The IT cell concentrated solely on building favourable narrative for Congress. A fresh and parallel ecosystem was created. Existing influencers simply pushed the agendas decided and released by the IT cell. But somehow, the idea to make Congress stronger derailed. The IT cell fell in the trap of peddling fake news in order to defame the Government. Fake news was not the only thing they publicized, but it was something that worked more negatively than the kind of impact positive things created.
Elections were lost. This loss caused major embarrassment for the Congress camp. Rahul Gandhi as usual announced to resign from the Party President post. His mother refused to accept his resignation. For the next three days, media kept the resignation news and rumours afloat. Congress IT Cell head Divya Spandana one fine day just vanished. There was no explanation given. No questions answered. No announcements made. And no statements issued. A person who was the face of the party on social networks abandoned you. (Or was it the other way round?) Again, she and her fake news peddling were blamed.
In 2018, the party launched “Shakti” app to connect the party high command with the grass-root level workers. Party workers and followers were to sign up on the app by simply text messaging their voter ID. They could get directives from the taluka and state level leaders. The organizational tree would grow all the way up to the Party’s headquarters. Based on a person’s inclination for Congress on a scale of 1 to 5, he would be assigned booth duties. Two-way communication between party workers and leadership ensured a faster exchange of ideas. Party units and their workings could be analyzed into deep detail resulting into an overall winning strategy.
Praveen Chakravarty, the Chairman of the All India Congress Committee (AICC), Data Analysis Department, handled the Shakti app. An ex-investment banker and an MBA from Wharton, Chakravarthi is no stranger to big data. His ideas seemed to bear fruits too as the app saw 80 lakh registrations.
The app’s glitch, however, reared its ugly head during the implementation phase. Party workers were promised photo ops with Rahul Gandhi based on the highest sign-ups brought in by them. Aimed at enrolling Party’s followers and workers, the competition led to massive registrations. Equipped with voter lists and with no worries about verification, party workers rushed to register ‘Congress followers’ on the app with new SIM cards. They would even visit from one home to another signing up people on the app. The five-point loyalty scale was rendered useless as party workers registered any and everybody around them. App registrations were seen as a stepping-stone towards getting an election ticket. A comic disaster ensued as the Congress strategy was shared, through the app, with random people, and in the worst case, even BJP loyalists.
What followed these fake registrations was hardly a surprise. The party shared its upcoming videos and received feedback on them. They even conducted surveys regarding the use of “Chowkidar Chor Hai” slogan and the too-good-to-be-true NYAY scheme. Though party leaders saw both these agendas with a shadow of doubt, they were employed based on feedback from Shakti surveys. An issue of immense importance – whether Congress should form an alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was also thrown open to the so-called registered workers on the Shakti app.
As if the fake registrations were not a sufficiently worrisome problem, a graver drawback emerged from the survey methodology. Recent allegations against Chakravarty claim that the surveys were sometimes conducted by external agencies. Often, the surveys took place in pockets with ineptly small sample sizes of 100-150 people. The final nail in the coffin came in the form of a prediction of a resurgent victory for the Congress based on the data from the Shakti app.
Is This An Actual Strategy?
However, it is difficult to believe that a national party of the world’s largest democracy can base its entire election strategy on data inputs. It is true that data analytics might give useful insights on voter behavior and demographics. It cannot be the sole bearer of a party’s narrative. The buck stops neither with the data collector nor with the person who analyses data. The final responsibility lies with the party president who chose to believe everything that a poorly implemented app told him. Here’s hoping that Rahul Gandhi actually comes within the people whose votes he so dearly wishes. It is not going to happen through an app but by walking among the crowds.
There are Endless reasons for Congress’ defeat. Whether it be their alliance strategy in North, or their lack of enthusiasm and support for the Mahagathbandhan, or Priyanka Vadra’s backing out from contesting elections anywhere (especially Varanasi), undermining local parties and most of all – failing to see the mood of the general public. Congress did not attempt at all to connect with people on the ground – be it voters or volunteers. And that’s precisely why Shakti failed. That’s precisely why Chowkidar Chor hai failed. That’s precisely why Rafale failed. And that’s precisely why Rahul Gandhi lost Amethi.
All in all, Rahul Gandhi is still not owning up the responsibility of two consecutive losses in the general elections. He is blaming IT cell, Pravin Chakravarthy, EVM, party workers not working and such. But when the leader himself loses, then something is wrong with the way he led and not with anything else. And it does not seem like they are going to learn from their mistakes anytime soon. And we will continue to be a democracy with a spineless opposition. What a scary situation!