Rasheeda Bhagat

Power of perception may see BJP through

Rasheeda Bhagat | Updated on April 29, 2019 Published on April 29, 2019

Gaining ground PM Modi

A combination of a fragmented opposition and astute marketing is turning the tide in favour of the BJP

Both branding gurus would do well to analyse how Prime Minister Narendra Modi began this Lok Sabha campaigning session slightly on the back foot, but then surged ahead to the Advantage Modi mode.

Just a few months before the general elections, not only did the BJP lose its three strongholds — Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — but before that also barely scraped through to power in the Gujarat Assembly elections. A resurgent Congress and its President Rahul Gandhi, suddenly looked as serious challengers for 2019.

But an alert BJP leadership took these blows on the chin, and Modi, and BJP President Amit Shah went into a huddle. The campaign strategy that emerged from the BJP camp has already created a perception of victory.

Opposition fails to unite

To the BJP’s delight the mahagathbandhan crumbled even before it could take shape. Buoyed by their success in the UP Lok Sabha by-elections for Yogi Adityanath’s stronghold Gorakhpur and Phulpur, where the SP and BSP had an alliance, its chiefs Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati quickly announced a tie-up, leaving the Congress out in the cold.

If this was not insult enough, West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee, as well as Mayawati, made it clear that there was no question of Rahul Gandhi being the Prime Ministerial candidate of non-NDA parties as both these leaders nurture that ambition.

In Odisha, Naveen Patnaik is fighting a four-term anti-incumbency and going it alone, keeping his post- poll options open. Telangana CM K Chandrasekar Rao is doing the same, and after his smashing victory in the 2018 Assembly polls, hopes to pick up 12-15 of the 17 seats in his State. This would make him an important player in case of a hung Lok Sabha, the dream of every non-NDA, non-Congress player.

A resurgent BJP

By failing to unite, the Opposition seems to have played into the BJP’s hands. The Congress pitching in Priyanka Gandhi in Western UP may also queer the pitch for the SP-BSP combine, benefiting the BJP.

. Also, with Opposition leaders such as the Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav, Mamata, Patnaik and Telengana’s KRC charting independent paths, the BJP had another advantage. Troublesome allies, such as Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray, who has been mouthing anti-BJP rhetoric over the last four years, quietly fell in line and remained in the NDA.

The air strikes on a terrorist camp in PoK, and ensuring the quick return of Wing Commander Abhinandan also helped boost the ‘tough-on-terror’ image of Modi.

The Modi factor

The combination of all these factors put wind in the sails of Modi and Shah, and the Prime Minister has astutely made use of these factors in his election rallies. The controversy over asking votes in the name of the martyred CRPF jawans has not stopped Modi from doing that in rally after rally.

The corrupt and opportunistic Opposition leaders form the rest of his poll rhetoric.

Next came the brilliant marketing of the image of a Prime Minister who was neither arrogant nor dictatorial as the media made him out to be.

In his ‘non-political’ interview to Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar, Modi was at his charming best, and humble to the core. In a relaxed demeanour he talked about his love for mangoes and how his opponents such as Mamata regularly send him gifts such as kurtas and sweets, how he washed his own clothes till became Gujarat CM (never mind his dhobi from 1970 resurfacing on social media).

His latest masterstroke was the free-wheeling interview he gave to the India Today group, which doesn’t appear staged and where some real, if not really tough, questions were asked. One can never say whether the questions were sent in advance and the answers rehearsed. But the body language, the response, the smiles and the laughter, even while taking some potshots at the media, are all that of a winner.

With a couple more rounds of voting to go, the perception of winning itself is a winner, as it makes the fence sitters think: Why should I vote for a loser?

Published on April 29, 2019
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