India Votes. File photo Photo: iStock

The general elections in India, the world’s largest democracy with 900 million eligible voters, kicked off on April 11. Five phases have been completed and there are two more to go before the results are announced on May 23. The high-stakes elections will decide the fate of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who led the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) into power by securing an absolute majority in the 2014 polls. The opposition Indian National Congress (INC), the oldest party in India, which was in power for 55 years, was badly defeated in the last elections. The grand old party was reduced to a mere 44 seats out of 543 in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament.

The Congress party is led by Rahul Gandhi, the great-grandson, grandson and son of former prime ministers. He has been eyeing the post of prime minister and never fails to miss an opportunity to attack Modi. However, it seems that Gandhi is nowhere near Modi in terms of connecting with the electorate – he is even lagging behind many regional leaders in that respect.

His slogan “Desh ka chowkidar chor hai” (“The country’s watchman is a thief “), which refers to the Rafale jets controversy, which until now hasn’t resonated in the countryside, as rural Indians are more concerned about unemployment, inflation, farming distress and terrorism. In addition to that, Prime Minister Modi coined the slogan ahead of elections “Main bhi chowkidar hun” (“I am also the watchman”), which immediately became popular on social media. Gandhi made a mistake when he linked his slogan with the Supreme Court, a move for which he later apologized. Obviously, in the election season, this was a big setback for Gandhi. It made such a bad impression that it amounted to a political gift to Modi, who is a master of the art of spinning narratives in his favor.

This was not the only political mistake the party has made. Gandhi’s sister Priyanka Gandhi, who resembles her grandmother Indira Gandhi, who was assassinated in 1984 while serving as prime minister, was eager to fight against Modi from his constituency of Varanasi, one of the most famous Hindu pilgrimage sites. Even she herself had earlier expressed her desire indirectly by saying that if her brother Rahul gave her the green light, she would be contesting from Varanasi. Interestingly, jubilant Congress sources told the media that Priyanka would contest against Modi. However, despite fueling speculation for days, Congress finally decided to renominate local Congress strongman Ajay Rai to fight Modi, who was the second runner-up against the prime minister in the 2014 polls. Had Priyanka being nominated from Varanasi, it would have sent a strong message to the electorates that the Congress party was in a serious position to take on Modi. But the party failed.

Gandhi’s sister Priyanka Gandhi, who resembles her grandmother Indira Gandhi, who was assassinated in 1984 while serving as prime minister, was eager to fight against Modi from his constituency of Varanasi, one of the most famous Hindu pilgrimage sites

In addition, the non-BJP regional parties have snubbed the Congress party. In Uttar Pradesh, which sends the largest number of  MPs to the lower house (80), the two regional former archrival parties, the center-left Samajwadi Party and the centrist Bahujan Samaj Party, ruled out an alliance with the Congress party. Both the regional parties are allied in their fight against the BJP in the state. In West Bengal, another significant state, the grand old party failed to ally with the All India Trinamool Congress led by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, a bitter critic of Modi, and with the Left Front led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) – another strong opponent of the Modi-led BJP. Other major regional parties, who are expected to perform well, such as YSR Congress of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana Rashtra Samithi, and Biju Janata Dal of Odisha, have so far been distancing themselves from the Congress party.

In a recent media interview, Kamal Nath, a senior Congress leader and chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, said the party will win 122 seats this time, which lucidly reflects the party’s feeling of hopelessness about the outcome. Elections are fought to be won and perception determines which way people vote. The way the grand old party is openly accepting that it has no chance of winning 150 seats gives the electorate the impression that the party has already resigned itself to defeat. Actually, the Congress party’s political blunders have made it look like it is battling the anti-incumbency, not Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is banking on Hindu nationalism, as well as his development strategy.

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