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HT EDIT-The contrast in the campaigns Both Modi and Gandhi return to familiar themes for the polls

October 16, 2019 05:13 AM


The contrast in the campaigns
Both Modi and Gandhi return to familiar themes for the polls

On Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi kicked off their campaigns in Maharashtra. They followed it up with rallies in Haryana on Monday. Both have started their public outreach in completely different circumstances in the two states. In Maharashtra, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in pole position. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has established himself as a skilled political manager. Its alliance with the Shiv Sena is in place. And the alliance looks set to return to power. The Congress is facing a deep crisis. It has crumbled in traditional strongholds. Many leaders have quit the party. Its social alliance has frayed. And it is not clear if the party will even manage to come third or be overshadowed by the Nationalist Congress Party. In Haryana, the BJP’s Manohar Lal Khattar is the clear favourite, while the Congress has just about resolved its internal factional feuds to be able to get battle ready.

Mr Modi, thus, spoke from a position of supreme confidence. He stuck to two themes that paid rich dividends in the Lok Sabha elections. The first was welfare and the central and state government’s delivery of services — electricity, toilets, gas connections — on the ground. The second was nationalism, with Kashmir as a key issue. Mr Modi dared the Opposition to reverse the move on Article 370, and promised normalcy in the state soon. If there was one element missing in the messaging, it was addressing the concerns on the economy. The government has indeed taken corrective steps but it needs to do more to revive sentiment. Hearing the PM on the road ahead would have been useful.

Mr Gandhi stuck to two themes that had marked his Lok Sabha campaign too. The first was the economy, where he spoke about rising unemployment, the slowdown in growth, and bank fraud. The second was Rafale, where he reiterated the allegations of corruption against the government. While the first theme is significant and has potential resonance, the second was surprising, for it is clear that Rafale had little traction in the national polls. He also stayed away from getting into the nationalism debate with the BJP — and while this may have been tactical, evading it is not a solution. The Congress needs to be more creative with its messaging and get more aligned to popular concerns if it wants to challenge the narrative dominance of the BJP

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