The Candidate: Too little, too late

Congress has been discredited by its ministers & has been lazy at defending them

After months of getting pounded by the best and most coherent election campaign in our history, the Congress has finally deployed Sonia Gandhi. She came out with a three-minute video to counter Narendra Modi’s attack on the performance of the United Progressive Alliance government and the promises he has made.

In the first part of her speech, Mrs Gandhi addressed the concern of many observers who worry about the politics of Hindutva. She said: “What are these values that are the very heart and soul of our motherland? They are love and respect, harmony and brotherhood. In a word, non-violence.”

She added: “Living with these feelings for each other across religions, castes, communities, regions, languages, is what makes us one strong nation. These have been the bedrock of our progress. These are the essence of our Bharatiyata, our Hindustaniyat.” In taking on this aspect Mrs Gandhi has got it fundamentally wrong.

It’s not a negative campaign that Mr Modi has waged. He is not asking for votes on religious grounds and the electorate is not responding to him because of ideology. It is the positive aspects of his campaign, the ones in which he promises to bring about a dramatic change in the way we are governed, which have propelled him to the cusp of victory.

Mrs Gandhi went a little into this subject by saying: “They want to impose uniformity. They say, ‘Just believe in me’.” She added: “We are fighting in this election for a future where power is not the preserve of a select few, but exercised by the many.” But this was a digression and she returned to her primary theme, which was that this was a divisive and negative campaign that was being waged by Mr Modi.

“It is this, the very heart and soul of India, that we are fighting to protect in this election, from those who seek to change it, and to divide us.

We want unity. We say, ‘Believe in our intentions, in our achievements: a high rate of growth, inclusive development, strong democratic institutions’.”

Whether or not this strategy is right, I would say Mrs Gandhi left the attack for too late. The Congress has been so discredited by the actions of its ministers and its allies, and has been so lazy at defending itself that the election was lost to it a long time ago.

What was left to fight for was the margin of defeat. Here also, in my opinion because of his terrific campaign, Mr Modi has crushed the Congress. The latest poll from NDTV shows the swing in his favour has not been caught by pollsters at its peak. This poll showed the BJP at 226 seats by itself and at 275 with its allies, which is a performance that any leader would be proud of given the fragmentation of our politics since 1989.

The Congress is, according to the poll, on track for just 92 seats, which will make it the second-largest block in Parliament, assuming the Third Front forms a coherent Opposition.

Mrs Gandhi made it out to be a life-and-death vote. She said: “Today, our society stands at a crossroads. The Congress ideology and vision will continue to take us towards a healthy, free democracy open to the light of change and transformation. Their vision, clouded with hatred and falsehood, their ideology, divisive and autocratic, will drive us to the ruination of our Bharatiyata, our Hindustaniyat.”

But the fact is, and the Congress should recognise it, that the electorate feels that it is the Congress and the Gandhis who have brought the nation to its knees. Whether or not this perception is correct, it was for the party to have addressed it. But, as I said, they have taken the wrong approach and in any case they left it for too late.

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