Congress leader Rahul Gandhi with Karnataka Congress President DK Shivakumar bring the Bharat Jodo Yatra to Karnataka. | PTI photo
by Nilofar Suhrawardy 16 jUNE 2023
Over-confidence about success/victory can be “suicidal” – leading to failure/defeat, whether it is politics, medicine or any field except of course certain areas. While driving- over-speeding in most cases leads to accidents, big shots in cricket instead of sixes/fours has at times led to catch-outs with a winning match slip to defeat. In politics, however, over-confidence is often not simply due to strategies being exercised by key players. Symbolically, while in other areas, the fault can be attributed to driver at the wheels or to batsman, the command in politics is exercised by numerous players at different levels. Many play a strong role in inflating, boosting as well as bruising or puncturing political egos.
In India, while such politicking seems fairly common, the same can be said about several other countries. Rudimentary survey of western media, particularly that of United States and United Kingdom, indicates that even most important politicians, including those holding reins of power, are not spared from critical missiles fired at them not just from their political rivals but also from critics, including journalists. So much so, little importance seems to be accorded by politicians themselves to taking note of these or even questioning them as negative (perhaps defamatory) strategies targeting them. Indian politicians, however, apparently have a strong inclination of not sparing practically each and every aspect of media coverage they receive. The focus here is not analysis of media coverage, but as suggested earlier, on political impact of the same.
Increase in media coverage, that too primarily favorable, being lately accorded to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi can certainly be linked with success of Unite India March (Bharat Jodo Yatra) and victory of his party in Karnataka Assembly elections. This has also led to speculations about what 2024 parliamentary elections may spell for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and rival parties in the race. On one hand, fairly substantial coverage is being accorded to their being no alternative to present Prime Minister Modi and that this apparently spells strong chance of his returning to power for the third term. On the other, terms such as “Modi-fatigue” are also in the air questioning prospects of BJP in 2024.
Where does this place Congress and its leaders in 2024?
Certain political realities stand out strongly. Congress is the largest opposition party in Lok Sabha at present. Against Rahul Gandhi’s national image and new political importance gained by him, other opposition leaders may be viewed as lagging behind. True, the importance held by them cannot be undermined. However, the fact that this is primarily confined to their domestic domains cannot be ignored. If political appeal of Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal Chief Minister hardly extends beyond the east, that of Nitish Kumar, Bihar Chief Minister is limited to his state. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has begun his “campaign” but prospects of his appeal extending beyond Delhi, to a degree Punjab, appear to be fairly weak.
Besides, “hidden” agenda of these leaders cannot be ignored. This refers to prospects of their anti-BJP plans laced with their own desire to play a key role in forming, even heading the next government being probably a prominent part of their political strategies. Yes, each has the right to consider these plans. But if each focusses on this agenda, it may be equivalent to each trying for a sixer, getting out, and probably leading to collapse of their desire to push BJP out of power. Against these odds, Rahul Gandhi cannot afford to remain politically content with media coverage as well as the positive image gained by him primarily because of his yatra. While political climate may not suit Congress more than it appears to now for parliamentary elections, the party cannot afford to be lax at several levels. Behind the doors, cards of other parties planning to push BJP out of power need to be given serious importance. Congress cannot be oblivious of the political reality that a few politicians are apparently nearly as opposed to return of Congress to power as they claim to be against BJP.
Equally relevant are cards which are likely to be exercised by BJP leaders. With farmers on the roads again, talk about economic issues holding greater appeal for people, probably communal rhetoric bordering on extremist religious issues lacks the political appeal which it appeared to have earlier, at least at the grassroots. Besides, intra-BJP rivalry cannot be ignored. Within the BJP, in all probability, a few stalwarts have queued themselves to step into Modi’s shoes. They are also apparently guided by the impression that they may not get this political chance again. Against this backdrop, the view about “Modi-fatigue” probably prevails at certain levels within BJP too. But then, as mentioned earlier, politics is not cricket where banking on one’s own ability to take the shot can yield expected results. This applies to politicians of all key parties in the race, including BJP and Congress. In cricket, when over-confidence clouds batsman’s shots, chances of results favoring bowlers and fielders prevail strongly. If politics is guided by such logic, in the present circumstances, it may be equivalent to committing political suicide.
Increase in popularity, as suggested by media coverage, may be viewed as only a part of the campaign. Undeniably, media coverage gained by Rahul Gandhi has also played the role of spreading shock-waves in anti-Congress parties. Certainly, BJP leaders have considerably decreased their tendency to keep questioning his “leadership” and so forth. Though Rahul’s “victory” at these levels can definitely be viewed as key steps forward but to assume that these would be translated into sweeping Lok Sabha polls is like chasing a mirage. True, talking about an anti-BJP alliance sounds good but will yield results only if they contest as a team. And if leaders talking about their alliance focus only on their individual shots, this is least likely to yield desired results. Prospects of certain politicians changing political camps, depending on options placed before them following 2024 results cannot be ignored.
Though, at present Rahul Gandhi doesn’t have the permission to contest 2024 Lok Sabha polls, he cannot ignore his own political position as a key player. Just as Karnataka-results are being analyzed to judge his potential, this is likely to be the case at a larger level following parliamentary polls. In lieu of most opposition parties claiming to “unite” to oust BJP, he has a tough situation to handle. The Congress cannot afford to contest all Lok Sabha seats on its own strength. Simply speaking, just as Congress doesn’t have the potential to push BJP out of power, the same may be said about other parties talking about aligning for the purpose. While working as a team, the alliance needs to focus on seats they win “together” and that this will matter only if the key rival party doesn’t win majority. Yielding to wrong political signals and/or over-confidence about victory drowned in favorable media coverage may not just spell defeat but also political “suicide” for quite a few in this race. Politics is politics and not cricket, where political shrewdness can help but over-confidence is likely to spell only dangers!