By Anuj Shrivastava
Elections to the 16th Lok Sabha are turning out to be quite an entertainer with headliners slugging it out big amongst themselves to hog attention of the voters.
With just three more polling phases to go now, campaigning is at its height, the attacks getting shriller and standards dipping to new lows every other day.
There have been late surges in voter-appeasing: some cheap, dubious and divisive ones while others being pure and simple pandering.
However, the key hallmark of canvassing this time has been that it has been carried out very professionally and astutely; the poll strategies are being reviewed, revisited and modified at regular intervals sensing the sentiments of the masses and any perceptible shifts in public liking, towards or away.
The basic campaigning plan of every party started as always with the motive of increasing own support base, targeting others’ and then switched to using all possible ploys to hold on the respective votebanks howsoever.
The BJP started its poll campaign very early. It benefited immensely from naming Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate early, way ahead of its rivals. For the BJP the campaigning started then itself.
Controversies over the candidature, both within the party and outside, gave Modi and the BJP even more publicity and put the spotlight on the Gujarat chief minister.
Not everyone knew that much about Modi then and there was an evident eagerness to know more; people “Googled” him, saw his old speeches on YouTube and read whatever they could, wherever. The big crowds at his rallies were also testimony to the same fact. The urge was to know the man loved and hated by so many at the same time.
The BJP was aware that Modi’s hardliner image would be a problem and the 2002 riots, alleged fake encounters would be used to the hilt by the rivals. The party adopted a clever mix of positive and negative in its campaign.
The BJP shifted the focus to development, growth, jobs, economy and progress. It also encashed the disenchantment of the people with the UPA, overburdened as they were with steep inflation, corruption, scams and non-governance.
Modi promised development, growth, power, roads, infrastructure, jobs as he showcased the Gujarat Model and targeted the PM, UPA, Congress and the Gandhi family for the massive inflation, corruption and slow economic growth.
Modi, a gifted orator, has come up trumps. The moment he says “Madam” and “Shehzaade” in style, it draws guffaws, applause, hoots and whistles from crowds.
The “Achchhe Din Anewale Hain” theme is also said to have generated good impact. Narendra Modi was accused of not interacting actively with media and shying away from interviews. He finally decided to change things and has given a string of interviews to various TV channels.
The Congress party has looked on the backfoot since the very beginning. Even after popular demand within ranks, the party decided against naming Rahul as its PM candidate. There is strong anti-incumbency and the Congress brass knew it well. It shunned the Aam Aadmi theme and switched to “Bharat ke majboot haath” tagline.
Attack is the best defence seems to be the crux of the Congress campaign. The party has been targeting Modi left, right and centre. The attack line went a bit too far when a video showed a Congress candidate talk of cutting Modi into tiny pieces. He was arrested and then released on bail.
Senior Congress leaders have been sowing doubts in the minds of people about the Gujarat Model and trash it completely. The party accuses Modi of being divisive and anti-minorities.
One striking feature of the Congress campaign is that PM Manmohan Singh has been relegated to the background. This seems deliberate as he was the face of the successive UPA governments.
After the Times Now fiasco, Rahul Gandhi has been again giving interviews to TV channels and has been stressing on RTI and other “empowering” laws. Rahul has been trying to puncture the Modi wave as an hot air balloon and terms the Gujarat Model as toffee model.
The Congress party saw growing craze for Modi and Sonia Gandhi in a 2-minute ad appealed to people to not fall for leaders with divisive ideologies.
In an intelligent manoeuvre, Congress spokespersons Meem Afzal, Randeep Singh Surjewala, Sanjay Jha, Ragini Nayak and others are seen speaking ad nauseum at the top of the voice while defending the party and government on TV channels whenever the issue is discomforting and almost nothing is audible in the din.
As if the challenge from the BSP and Congress was not enough for it, the Samajwadi Party is facing threat in the electoral arena from a resurgent BJP under Narendra Modi.
Mulayam Singh Yadav is greatly perturbed by the BJP surge in Uttar Pradesh as being projected by successive poll surveys. The Yadav clan has been targeting Modi at every rally now. Mulayam has always been a favourite electoral choice of Muslims in UP but the Muzaffarnagar riots have alienated many.
Senior SP leader Azam Khan has been trying to woo voters with his controversial statements and has been banned from campaigning.
It is the threat of political survival for Mulayam and his clan that made him say that young boys make mistakes. A threatened Mulayam is fighting elections from two seats, choosing Azamgarh to diminish the Modi impact on 15 seats in Poorvanchal.
AAP, BSP, TMC, BJD all have been targeting Modi. Leaders deny the presence of any Modi wave in public but target him everywhere, rattled as they are by the huge turnouts at his rallies. The huge crowds and loud cheering at rallies in J&K and the NorthEast was not expected even by Modi’s severest of critics.
Arvind Kejriwal brought the Ambani-Adani links charge against Modi. The same has now been picked up even by Rahul Gandhi.
The campaigning is in full swing, every word, allegation is being vociferously matched letter by letter. The final outcome from the EVMs on May 16 will show who campaigned better and managed to strike a chord with voters.