Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s electoral charisma remains unmatched in India’s poll history.
The two-time PM has once again emerged as the biggest electoral mascot for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as the results of the recently concluded assembly polls in three Hindi heartland states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh illustrate, ahead of the crucial parliamentary election next year.
Consider this data point to underscore Modi’s indelible imprint on electoral outcome.
In Rajasthan, the BJP won a staggering 66 seats in 14 districts — Udaipur, Bharatpur, Nagur, Barmer, Bikaner, Jaipur, Rajsamand, Bhilwara, Dungarpur, Baran, Kota, Churu, Jhunjhunu and Beawar districts of the desert state — where Modi campaigned.
On the contrary, the PM’s main challenger, Rahul Gandhi, the Congress’s last beacon of hope, held 12 meetings in 11 districts spanning 60 assembly seats.
Gandhi’s appeal, or lack of it, was evident.
The Congress managed to win 23 constituencies in Sri Ganganagar, Churu, Hanumangarh, Dausa, Sawai Madhopur, Bharatpur, Udaipur, Dholpur, Jalore, Barmer and Bundi districts.
Similarly, the party’s general secretary Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra addressed six meetings in five districts of Dungarpur, Chittorgarh, Ajmer, Jaipur and Bhilwara, where 43 seats went to the polls.
Her impact was at best limited, as the Congress won in only nine seats.
If these numbers from Rajasthan, which is known for fickle voters for over three decades, where an incumbent government has been voted out after every five years with unflinching regularity, are extrapolated to Rahul’s influence on the electorate, a clear pattern clearly emerges.
Devil is in the data
According to data put out by CSDS and the Hindu newspaper, the Rahul effect on Congress voters was one of diminishing returns.
The data shows that an overwhelming 56% of the voters did not fall for the Congress leader’s charm, while 48% of his party supporters were swayed by him.
To make matters worse, Rahul and Priyanka’s bid to rake up crony capitalism linkages between PM Modi and industrialist Gautam Adani in successive rallies such as Baloda Bazar (Chhattisgarh), Bemetara (Chhattisgarh), Barmer (Rajasthan), Bharatpur (Rajasthan), Dholpur (Rajasthan), Bundi (Rajasthan), Dausa (Rajasthan) came a cropper.
Adani is known to have substantial investments in Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh and among 21 other states in the country, where it has expanding footprints and many of which are not ruled by Modi’s BJP.
Adani’s shareholders cheered the poll outcome and reposed faith in the ports-to-power conglomerate on December 4, a day after the verdict was announced.
The Adani group flagship Adani Enterprises hit a 10% upper circuit, while Adani Energy Solutions rose 14%. Adani Power and Adani Green Energy surged over 12%. Adani Total Gas, Adani Ports, and Adani Wilmar advanced 5-8%, data showed.
Adani’s alleged culpability in the U.S.based short-seller Hindenburg Research’s report, which grabbed global headlines on January 24, 2023, is a thing of the past following last month’s observations by the Supreme Court of India.
The apex court concluded hearings on multiple petitions about the regulator, Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi)’s investigation into the allegations of stock manipulation that were made against Adani by Hindenburg Research.
Chief Justice of India Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud ruled that Hindenburg's report could not be considered as “credible” and nor should media reports be treated as “gospel truth”.
The top court’s report ties in well with India’s demographic dividend, where 50% of its population are below the age of 25 and more than 60% are under 35, who sees Adani and India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, as aspirational figures.
Congress loses anti-corporate perception battle
The Congress, out of power for close to a decade and reduced to less than 50 seats in the 2019 parliamentary polls, continues to be haunted by its anti-corporate image.
Remember the 2G scam, which allegedly occurred in 2008 and in the last leg of the Dr Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) 1-led regime. The aftershocks were felt in Singh’s second tenure (2009-14).
However, the writing on the wall for the Congress-led alliance became clear by February 2012, when the Supreme Court cancelled all the 122 licenses awarded in 2008 for a paltry Rs 9,200 crore. The top court had ruled that these licences and consequently, all precious natural resources, which are by nature finite and limited, should be allocated through auctions or a fair bidding process.
The court declared the allotment of spectrum as “unconstitutional and arbitrary” amid Dr Singh’s radio silence over the corruption slur. There is a striking similarity between a staid Dr Singh and his charismatic successor and master communicator Modi. Both have been found to be incorruptible at a personal level. In Modi’s case, the BJP’s aggressive social media machinery has ensured that the PM is ringfenced from all kinds of corruption allegations, which, however, did not save the day for Dr. Singh.
Three main cases pertaining to 2G scam, two filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the other by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), ensnared Dr Singh’s cabinet colleagues, bureaucrats and UPA allies, notably the Dravida Munnetra Kazgham (DMK). The allegations gained credence and momentum because of an in-depth report by the then Comptroller and Auditor Vinod Rai, who estimated the 2G scam at a whopping Rs 1.76 lakh crore. The-then telecom minister A. Raja and DMK member of Parliament M.K. Kanimozhi), the-then telecom secretary Siddharth Behura and Raja’s private secretary R.K. Chandolia and businessmen such as Unitech’s Sanjay Chandra, Essar’s Ravi Ruia, Reliance’s Gautam Doshi were chargesheeted.
There was a sense of closure — on the lines of a pyrrhic victory — in December 2017 after a special CBI court brought the six-year-long 2G spectrum trial to a close by declaring that all accused were acquitted because the CBI had failed miserably in proving the charges.
However, the Congress lost the perception battle as the legal proceedings jeopardised foreign investments, triggered cascading job losses, market consolidation and random shutdowns and exits of telecom companies in what was seen as a sunrise sector.
Sloganeering isn’t storytelling
The Congress has not learnt its lessons from the 2G scam, as Rahul’s empty rhetoric of मोहब्बत की दुकान, a shop of love in the market of hatred, stands exposed. The high-falutin turn of phrases does not cut any ice with the country’s growing youth population, as the assembly poll results showed.
The Congress, smarting under the defeat, sought parliamentary recourse, but was hoisted by its own petard.
On December 5, Congress parliamentarian Jairam Ramesh’s bid to question the Modi government over 2,623 individuals owing banks over ₹1.96 lakh crores in the Rajya Saaba met with a resounding rebuttal from finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
The Congress, which sees itself as the main opposition and is itching to lead the rag-tag I.N.D.I.A. alliance, has tied itself in knots both the floor of Parliament and at the hustings, where its recent win in Telangana in the south of the Vindhyas remains an outlier and the only silver lining.
Modi, who is on poll mode, held out a strong message for the Congress-led opposition, where his response to a post on X (formerly Twitter) summed up the mood in the ruling dispensation.
He reminded the Congress that they “may be happy with their arrogance, lies, pessimism and ignorance”.
But the country’s voters “beware of their
divisive agenda. An old habit of 70 years can’t go away so easily”.
“Also, such is the wisdom of the people (read voters) that they (the Congress) have to be prepared for many more (read electoral) meltdowns ahead”.
Rahul, who has humbly accepted the popular mandate, is missing in action from the ongoing Winter session of Parliament, the last time the House convenes for elaborate proceedings before next year’s general elections.
He is all set for a three-nation tour to south-east Asia, starting with Malaysia from December 8.
As the Congress dissects Rahul’s failure to rein in party’s old warhorses such as Kamal Nath and Divijaya Singh (Madhya Pradesh), Ashok Gehlot (Rajasthan), Bhupesh Bhagel and T.S.Singh Deo (Chhattisgarh), it’s time for yet another introspection for the Congress scion.
Perhaps, late former President and Congress veteran Pranab Mukherjee, who once described Rahul as “very courteous” and “full of questions” but he was “yet to mature politically”, increasingly holds good as his successive electoral debacles demonstrate.