As BJP’s two-day national executive meeting came to an end, we were left with a glimpse into the broad contours of its 2019 campaign. Elections are a complex process in India’s rambunctious, representative democracy. General elections are even more so. Diverse people in a federation of states are asked to choose one candidate who will ostensibly provide the country with a better future by fixing its roads, drainage systems, eradicating poverty, generating employment, strengthening the armed forces and everything in between.
The near impossibility of this complex task makes it imperative for political parties to indulge in reductionism. Election campaigns boil down to which party can offer the more compelling narrative. This isn’t to say, of course, that elections are won or lost on the strength of campaigning alone. There are a hundred other equally important factors at play. Some of these factors are controllable, some are not. Yet, campaigning provides the parties a chance to stitch together a ‘story’, on the strength of which they seek votes.
This ‘story’ is not a monolithic narrative. For instance, the BJP looks to make every election — be it Assembly or general polls — a presidential contest. It does so because it believes that the prime minister is the tallest leader in the country, who towers over the rest of his peers. The BJP therefore, wants to make every election a ‘Modi vs X-Y-Z’ contest to capitalise on his popularity which, according to the party, remains unwavering.
The Opposition, it seems, agrees with the BJP’s assessment. It obviously denies Modi’s charisma in public but tacitly accepts that the prime minister may emerge victorious when pitted against rivals. Therefore, different parties and even competing regional and ideological forces are trying to put aside their differences, join hands, and paper over their cracks in favour of an amorphous amalgamation called the ‘mahagathbandhan’, or the grand alliance.
Just as the BJP wants to turn every election into a presidential contest (not to speak of the general elections), the grand alliance seeks to break down even the Lok Sabha polls into 543 small, localised contests where ultra-local issues, caste-community equations and strength of the candidate will decide the winner, not Modi’s perceived success or failures.