Pulwama and the subsequent airstrikes against targets in Pakistan may have turned counter-productive in the grand scheme of things.
In October last year, the core BJP campaign and branding team had all but given up on a second term for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Then, Pulwama happened. In February this year, 40 paramilitary soldiers were killed in a suicide bombing in Kashmir. The publicity wing of the BJP saw a chance for Modi to launch a political offensive ahead of the polls.
A strong PM who gives it back to enemies, both real and imaginary, was the plank on which these elections would be fought, said sources in the party.
But things didn’t go to plan, they admit, despite a grand opposition alliance that threatened to derail the BJP in its quest for national dominance not materialising on time. The BJP has failed to capitalise on opposition missteps, they said.
“The PM’s image is not the problem, he is a clear winner. He has this persona which no leader in the country has at the moment,” they said. “The trouble is that Pulwama and the subsequent airstrikes against targets in Pakistan may have turned counter-productive in the grand scheme of things.”
And it was too late to change tack as the elections, to be in held in 7 phases, were announced soon after, starting April 11. They didn’t admit it to my face, but there is a realisation that they might have gone too far by harping on the nationalistic streak of the PM and the party.
Was it a case of nationalistic fatigue? Perhaps. “We had several programmes that were rolled out: Swach Bharat, Ganga-cleaning, roads and infrastructure projects, assistance to farmers…somehow they lost traction in our rush to protect Pulwama and national security issues.”
So the last incident came first. The opposition, meanwhile, had used the opportunity to strike at the BJP’s soft spot with elections underway. They picked on the government failures while the BJP parroted national security which didn’t strike a chord with Indians who lived farther away from Pulwama in Kashmir way up in the North and Pakistan.
They also give credit to Rahul Gandhi for his positive campaign. He has evolved, they said. “His media team led by Ramya (Divya Spandana) have polished his image during these elections.” Indeed, the Congress president appears more confident with every passing day. He is upbeat about the future, is about inclusivity, while keeping up his attacks on the “failures” of the BJP – crony capitalism, farming distress, business unrest from GST and demonetisation.
On the score for the BJP, they come up with 200, plus 20-30 odd from other NDA partners. They know they are 30-40 short of 272 of a simple majority. They see a realignment of political forces in the country – Congress and allies for UPA 3 is a possibility they won’t dismiss any more.
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