By K Raveendran
The dust has settled down on the elections; the victors and the vanquished have settled down into their respective spaces. It may be time to dispassionately examine what worked for the BJP and what went wrong with the Congress in their poll narratives.
The BJP followed a twin approach of harping on national security in electioneering while seeking to connect with the common man with its audio-visual campaign, which seems to have really worked. A most striking aspect of the 2019 election campaign is that despite the popular perception associating BJP with negativity, its media campaign was most positive, while Congress had some of its most negative and uncharacteristic campaigns. The voters rejected the negative campaign of Congress as they preferred hope over fear.
The biggest irony of the 2019 election campaign was the highjack of Rahul Gandhi’s chowkidar narrative by the BJP. Rahul’s ‘chowkidar chor hai’ jibe was overturned by Modi to claim he was after all the chowkidar. Modi even had the chowkidar prefix added to his twitter handle, which he removed only after winning the election. The BJP had similarly encouraged all its workers to use the tag liberally. In the end, the chowkidar campaign boomeranged as Modi simply hijacked it, taking the wind out of Rahul’s sails.
What really clinched the deal for the BJP was its campaign stressing on financial inclusion, which found immediate connect with the people, a majority of whom were real beneficiaries of various schemes announced by Modi right from the first year of his term. Electricity for all, cooking gas for poor households, housing for all, healthcare for vast uncovered sections and price support to farmers along with direct benefit transfer to their bank accounts were compelling stories that needed no hard sell.
The BJP communication strategy was simple and straight. The pro-poor schemes announced by the Modi government had benefitted over 22 crore people and it was easy to target them, because seeing is believing. And the media strategists hired by the party produced stunning creatives to convey the story on girl child, women empowerment, financial inclusion and even security and stability. There was no attempt to run down anyone.
But for want of anything better, Congress launched a completely negative campaign directed against Modi and his flopped programmes. Rafale, which Rahul and his team thought would yield results similar to the Bofors campaign that saw the back of the Rajiv Gandhi regime, did not click with the voters as a clumsy turn of events in the Supreme Court, leading to a fiasco over Rahul’s unconditional apology to the court, completely deflated the Congress narrative.
Later on when Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka blamed their senior party colleagues for failure to exploit the Rafale deal as one of the excuses for his much-trumpeted resolve to quit as party president, he was giving the game away. It amounted to acknowledging that the campaign had failed to take off the ground.
Similarly, the Congress TV ad that had individuals asking about the 15 lakh rupees that was supposed to have gone into their bank accounts had lost its bite as the voters had long forgotten about it. The same was the case with demonetisation. The Congress strategists failed to internalise the fact that people had reconciled themselves to the reality and was living with it. Probably, they did not want to be reminded of their painful experience. Congress was, on the other hand, hoping to reignite people’s anger.
Perhaps, the biggest Congress miscommunication was on NYAY, the so-called scheme announced by Rahul Gandhi with much fanfare, hoping that his idea would checkmate Modi and bombasts. The Congress one-liner ‘ab hoga Nyay’ was, however, completely lost on the voters as they could not make head or tail out of it. Rahul’s Nyay was, of course, a smart acronym, but there was no way people could relate it to what the Congress strategists had in mind. Nobody explained that. The ad itself was too cryptic to leave any impact on the audience.
It seems that as the election campaign progressed into its later phases, Congress itself gave Nyay a go-by because feedback from the grassroots was completely negative. It was a clumsy execution of a half-baked idea, which only left a sour taste all thorough. It was a wild shot that had no target in its way; so it cannot even be considered to have missed the target.
The Congress and opposition gambit of creating fear of Modi was not good enough to match the strong BJP narratives based on performance, which may not have appealed as big ticket initiatives to the liberal intelligentsia, whom the prime minister contemptuously dismiss as political pundits, but nevertheless touched the lives of ordinary people, who used the opportunity effectively to express their approval. And thus was created India’s first ‘pro-incumbency’ wave, as claimed by Modi during his election campaign, but was dismissed by the opposition as a figment of his imagination. (IPA Service)