Either Rahul or Modi can win, but both may lose just as well

The campaign currently under way has created a perception that the 2014 Lok Sabha election is a face-off between two individuals — Narendra Modi, Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate, and Rahul Gandhi, Congress vice-president.

There, however, are several others in the fray — Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu; Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal; Mayawati and Mulayam Singh in Uttar Pradesh; and the greatest disrupter of them all, Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party. Interestingly, while either Mr. Gandhi or Mr. Modi can win, both may lose just as well.

The question then is, Will either of them outlive a failure? What constitutes failure and success, however, is different for each.

For Mr. Gandhi, even if the Congress hovers just above its all-time low of 114 seats in 1999, it will be a survival of sorts. He will indeed live to fight another day, just as his mother and grandmother did.

On the other hand, for Mr. Modi, success should be at least one seat more than 182, the BJP’s highest clocked in 1999. “Any less would mean a setback, and the rest will depend on how much less,” said Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, Mr. Modi’s biographer. “If the BJP gets anything below 160 seats, it would mean that the Modi wave was just a hype created by propaganda.”

Also, if Mr. Modi loses the chance to come to power by a whisker, getting a second chance will depend on what kind of formation outsmarts him, Mr. Mukhopadhyay says.

Mr. Modi’s spin masters, in the initial days, had been insisting that this election was not his. Rather, his would be the one that will follow after a chaotic spell of regional parties at the Centre. However, after having placed himself at the heart of the BJP’s campaign, Mr. Modi will have to take the entire credit or blame for the outcome. Also, if there is no “Modi wave,” the RSS, which abandoned all its positions against personality politics to endorse him, will have to rethink its strategy.

Mr. Kejriwal, who has more of an impact in places where the BJP and its allies are in a direct contest with the Congress, is proving to be a spoiler for Mr. Modi. In its absence, AAP’s supporters will vote for the BJP. Moreover, Mr. Kerjiwal’s campaign against Mr. Modi’s claims of Gujarat’s development is more credible than the Congress’s.

If there is no clear winner in the polls, it will require the regional parties to work together.

Hindutva economy?

BJP president Rajnath Singh created a ripple in politics, when the media reported recently that he had apologised to the Muslims for any wrong that the party may have done to them. The next day, party spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain categorically ruled out an apology, and said: “Mr. Singh said that the party would apologise to Muslims, if any wrong has been committed. We have not committed any wrong and there is no question of apology.” Sources said Mr. Modi specifically instructed the party to clarify that there was no apology.

All this is enough evidence that the simplistic notion that this election will mark a shift from the secularism debate towards development is bunkum. This election is perhaps about the Hindutva model of development.

Mr. Modi’s campaign suggests two things — economic prosperity requires a Hindu assertion, and redistributive politics is harmful. A new social contract in favour of liberalisation that the Congress constructed over the past decade is being sought to be replaced.

“Neo-liberal policies are being presented in a new garb, and majoritarian politics is being pursued in a subtle but effective fashion. The slogan Har Har Modi, Ghar Ghar Modi, which is being popularised by the BJP, is instructive,” says Shaibal Gupta, Member Secretary of the Patna-based Asian Development Research Institute.

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