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Elections 2009: What the Congress did Right

May 21st, 2009 · 55 Comments

  1. It used the troika very effectively to send out its message: MMS as the honest face who can do the economic good, Sonia with her larger than life presence with her 2004 renunciation, and Rahul with his youth connect. The party based its campaign on its pro-poor work (NREGA and farm loan waiver), its economic credentials of the top person, and the aspirations via its youth face. (The BJP could have countered all three aggressively – but in the midst of those 10 Varun Gandhi days much of the positive messaging got lost.)  In short, the Congress promised both Continuity and Change – and that worked for them.
  1. The decision to go it alone was without a strong pre-poll alliance with the parties in the Third and Fourth Fronts, in hindsight, a master-stroke. This emanated not as much from the focus on 2009, but from a long view. It paid them dividends immediately and that is what came as big surprise.
  1. Rahul Gandhi’s work in UP is paying dividends. He has become a face that people in the state are now looking up to. Mayawati is the past which has disappointed, while Rahul is seen as the future which can deliver a better tomorrow. On these aspirations, UP can only improve for the Congress.
  1. Also, and we do not know the full impact of this, the efforts by Rahul Gandhi to bring in inner-party democracy and revitalise the youth wing, perhaps yielded some dividends – via perception and fresh candidates.

So, what worked for the Congress was that in urban India, Rahul Gandhi and the “secular” message (as compared to the Hindutva branding of the BJP) helped, while in the rural areas, the NREGA and farm loan waivers definitely created the right image for the party.

In a sense, the Congress built a rainbow coalition comprising Muslims (and other minorities), the Poor, the Youth (with Rahul as the mascot), and the growing base of Disenchanted Hindus (who don’t like the BJP’s linkages – however loose and distant – with religious elements).

Perhaps, the Congress was willing to think out-of-the-box and long-term this election. It gambled – and their bets paid off (much faster than they expected). In some ways, it was prepared to lose in 2009 to build a stronger foundation for the party. After five years out of power, the BJP was much more desperate to win in 2009 and may have been over-cautious.

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55 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Orkut Junior // May 21, 2009 at 11:02 am

    Rajesh don’t do a macro analysis like everyone else get into vote percentage, share etc u will know exactly what happened- example rural vs urban-or maybe a level deeper

  • 2 Amaodisha // May 21, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    The main advantage that helped Congress in bagging votes is the sweet innocent face of Rahul Gandhi and his dedication towards his work, his liking for the poor .

  • 3 Idris Baxamusa // May 21, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    @orkut junior
    i think though u may think this is macro analysis but isnt arent those the major reasons…
    besides of course the regional parties helping out teh congress by dividing the votes for BJP…. whether it be maharashtra, tamilandu, AP…..

    Also the BJP didnt have a proper agenda..
    the kept on harping about fighting terrorism but then even in south mumbai they couldnt garner votes…..
    Projecting Advani as PM…. was also lost a a lot of youths…. 82 yr old PM… and his flip flops between Hardliner Hindu and praising Jinna…. left many confused..

    On the other hand MMS flaws included he was WEAK….. but he still made the nuclear deal gp thru….
    though I still hate the Congress’s too pro-socialist approach towards our country in general….
    Helping the poor by building infrastructure and creating opportunities by promoting business is one thing and going with reservations in private sector and educational institutes is another…

    But BJP didnt provide alternatives to these issues….

    n of course Varun (buffoon) Gandhi… did them in…
    hope better sense prevails and rather then projecting people like RAjnath singh they project people like Arun Souhrie, Jaitley, MP’s CM ….
    bcoz for our country to progress we need a good opposition as well rather then people who wud keep walking out and not perform their duty to give a healthy debate.

    nice read….

  • 4 udayapg // May 22, 2009 at 5:28 am

    Well reasoned Rajesh…

    Guess that the PRIMARY mood of the electorate was – Yes, the congress had wronged us with bad governance, but they had their reasons for it. Karat/Left, World Recession, Gas Prices, et al…

    Point 1:

    In the case of the Bombay attacks, shifting Chidmabaram to Home was a game changer. His quick reaction and uncompromising stance convinced many that while terrorism was a problem it was one that could be contained without taking recourse to demagougery, which the BJP and LK Advani are prone and partial to.

    Everyone saw that Chidambaram was a natural at it, better than Advani was, in his mockery of a role as Vallabh Bhai Patel II in his last term as India’s Home Minister.

    Point 2:

    As for economic woes, I guess that two things happened.

    One, the economic pinch has not spread evenly to all parts and strata of the country, the bite was selectively more in some areas, say like infrastructure and software, so the discontent was not as widespread as the media liked to think. Also there was enough savings from the boom of the last 6-8 years that softened the blow.

    Two, there was widespread speculation that had the BJP been in power, the economic recession’s influence in India would have been worse.

    Point 3:

    Rajesh is right, the Congress was seen and did come across as more glamourous and Complan Complete than the BJP with its grim faced monotonous leaders and their holier than thou attitudes.

    Even Jaitley otherwise sauve and benign looked glum and grim throughout the campaign. Charisma was sorely lacking in the BJP camp and if the BJP thinks that Modi and Moditva are glamorous, these results should make them think otherwise.

    As someone pointed out in the FOBJP forum post elections, Moditva and Modi only help preach to the converted, which is no help in a swing vote situation.

    Despite what Modi fans may have to say, I guess it is curtains for him on the national stage. Godhra is too big and a permanent stain on his pants and neither he nor the BJP has the finesse of Laloo in handling such uncomfortable issues.

    Also Advani fails / failed to inspire, a point I have made time and again in this blog.

    For reasons many, Advani comes across as a churlish school master, neither his MMS bullying nor his Masjid crashing Hindutva or his pseudo secularism definition is an asset, as BJP blogs seems to realise, post elections.

    It is claimed that in private Advani is more courteous and a nicer man than many other politicians. You may call me prescient, but I wish him success in his next innings as India’s President and hope he does not botch that up too.

    Since WEAK is the new STRONG, BJP should find a leader who sounds earnest and decent and can be combative without going overboard on it, as Modi and company are apt to be.

    The BJP certainly needs more camera friendly leaders but not one as vacuously louquacious as Naidu. And in the aftermath of this elections, even Jaitley seems a very poor choice. Who is left?

    Point 4:

    I guess that more than Varun Gandhi, the Shri Ram Sene queered the pitch and botched the BJP’s chances going into this election.

    Much more than any other incident in the recent past this was televised and I guess had more middle class people with upwardly mobile young sons and daughters boiling in rage than the Bombay attacks. After all this was up close and personal, even while compared to the Bombay attacks.

    The SRS timing was not only unfortunate, but I guess they have forever turned the educated and the young of India against all kinds of Hindutva induced tomfoolery and hoodloomery.

    Even among the young, only the lumpen will be attracted to Hindutva and its idea of cultural correction. Which I see as true at least in my locality.

    Given this existent sense of disquiet and distaste over cultural overlording, Varun’s stupid and untimely outburst only worsened the situation.

    Notice that while Congress babalog have a pan Indian appeal, the likes of Varun are only lionised by the same guys who lionise Moditva and not the saner ones in the party or the common man. The failure of Hindutvites to rein in what I termed the dogs of Hindutva has cost them rather dearly and will continue to as India and its culture continues to Urbanise/Westernise.

    Point 5:

    Forget Rahul Gandhi and the UP experiment – I guess the real assets on an all India basis in this election was Manmohan Singh who is turning out to be a teflon Prime Minister – no mud seems to stick to his haloed image.

    Point 6:

    I guess Rajesh is right, Congress entered this campaign willing to lose, while the BJP tried to see winning as its birthright. Seeing how the Congress had failed almost on all fronts, it couldnt help but think, HOW could we LOSE?This arrogance certainly cost them.


    The bottomline was YES, People were aware that there were issues, the BJP certainly tomtomed them, but one did not see how the BJP could have done any better about it. I also think that the people were thinking nationally, they identified this as a fight between the Congress and the BJP, which is reflected in the demise of the THIRD front.

    This however means that the BJP’s position as the preeminent opposition party in India remains unchallenged, the BJP’s future challenge is to see that it does not always stay in that position. Much catch up work needs to be done…

  • 5 Parag Mahajan // May 22, 2009 at 9:56 am

    If you carefully observe current election statistics,

    Considering 540 seats and avg 5-6 lac voters per seat the figure comes around 27 crore. It means out of 100 crore people only 27% people voted to Indian elections.

    **The people who did vote?
    1) Muslims: They always do strategic voting to Congress to eliminate BJP at any cost. And yes 90-95% Muslims vote.
    2) Christians: They vote to parties other than BJP because of their Pro-Hindu agenda.
    3) Minorities/SC ST people: Usually mislead by Congress and other local parties, their EGOs are exploited and of course for money.

    ** The people who didn’t vote?
    1) Hindu: Mostly hindu people who prefer to sleep or enjoy holiday rather than vote. Or giving lame reasons such as ‘Tell me which candidate is genuine in today’s date? All are
    gundas”. Personally in Pune, I read in news that many Puneites were enjoying holiday at Konkan Beach while election was going on. Even in Bombay the voting was about 40%

    Considering all these things it was very clear that BJP was bound to loose. Congress party is not fool not to hang Afzal Guru and Kasab. They are far better at playing dirty politics and number game.
    Tell me who do you know except Advani, Modi in BJP? Whereas Congress has strong root at regional layers. I mean organizational strength.
    It doesn’t make sense to visit all states in India and ask for vote. India is highly communal country and disintegrated in terms of language, culture, economy.
    BJP doesn’t even have existence in Southern state, How can you call it national party?

    We people have common habit of making our decisions based on what media projects on to our minds. Well, media/channels are happily backed by political parties.

    The most important and first step should be taken is to Make Voting Compulsory or Offer Tax Intensives to People who vote. it is very very important..


  • 6 Seo India // May 22, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    Making voting compulsory is an utopia idea, but for sure, BJP needs to maintain distance from RSS. And they need to start winning the youth. Else, they are finished.

  • 7 naufil // May 5, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    I am looking forward for the next election as soon as I get my voter ID card
    So that I can exercise The no-vote option !!

    The media should advertise the virtues of Rule 49-O of the Conduct of Elections Rules, which allows you to register your disapproval against all the candidates.

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