Congress gameplan for 2019 elections: Manifesto vs Modi

When the Indian National Congress released a 55-page manifesto for 2019 general elections on April 2, 2019, raining sops and making big promises, the poll managers of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were somewhat taken aback.  
Many in the BJP thought that the Congress would adopt a moderate approach, having crashed to its lowest ever tally of 44 in the 2014 polls. After all, it had many potential allies to keep in good spirits and not appear to be dominating the narrative. 
But the Congress surprised all with the manner in which it used the manifesto to project itself as the “only national alternative” to the BJP. Having released its manifesto to much fanfare, the party immediately lined up 22 manifesto launch conferences in different state headquarters and said more such events were in the offing.
Contrast this with the BJP, which is yet to release its manifesto. In a sense, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s promises and the personal appeal of its poll mascot, Prime Minister Narendra Modi,  are doing the work of the BJP manifesto. Yet, the party comes across as not being sufficiently interested in a poll-time ritual that the Congress has made into a big occasion this time round. 
But even for Congress, this is a new trend. What may have prompted the Congress to try this out is the knowledge that it would be fighting a losing perception battle in a clash of personalities. With Modi at the helm of the BJP campaign, the Congress needed to come up with something that would help it stand out. It seems to have decided to throw its weight behind ideas rather than personalities.  

This works well in countering the BJP which has focused on the question, ‘Modi versus whom?’ The ruling party believes that by going to voters on the issue of leadership, the Opposition will be shown up as a divided house, where no one face is acceptable to all.
So, while the Congress has latched on to ideas on which a common understanding can be achieved between different political forces, the BJP is basing its election campaign on slogans like ‘Modi hai to mumkin hai’ (Modi will make things possible). 
In the multiple instalments of his blog, ‘Agenda 2019’, senior BJP leader and its poll strategist, Arun Jaitley, has assiduously tried to build up Modi as a ‘strong leader’ and invoked the prospect of a “majboot sarkar” versus a “majboor sarkar” (strong versus helpless government).
The Congress, for its part, has refrained from attaching its promises to the personality of its party chief Rahul Gandhi in too big a manner. The overall messaging is that more than on one individual, its poll campaign is focused on ideas.
One of the Congress’ main slogans for the polls is based on the manifesto’s promise:  ‘Congress will deliver’ or ‘hum nibhayenge’ in Hindi. The manifesto carried these words in large lettering on the cover page with a small picture of Rahul Gandhi’s at the bottom. Moreover, the Congress’ big poll eve promise of cash transfers amounting to Rs. 72,000 per year to five crore poorest households is the manifesto's centrepiece.   
As the party goes to state headquarters with its manifesto, Congress leaders say the aim is to ensure that the message of the party reaches the people on the street and in the hinterland.
Both Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi have asked people to vote on 'real' issues of joblessness, farm distress and the safety and security for women rather than the emotive issues being raised by the BJP. 
That said, much of the election outcome will depend on what dominates the over-all narrative of elections—ideas or personality. The outcome will also decisively the settle the question whether the Modi wave still remains, and if is it as strong as it was during the 2014 polls.
The Congress is definitely poised to make gains compared its 2014 numbers. But the question is by how much, and whether people buy into its ideas over the personality of the PM. Answers to all these questions will be revealed on May 23.

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Congress gameplan for 2019 elections: Manifesto vs Modi


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