The idea of the BJP and Modi having to bend their back in Gujarat was unthinkable a few months ago.

The Master Finisher Faces Home Ground Challenge in Gujarat

TheQuintOpinion

A master finisher, someone like MS Dhoni, is a much-valued commodity in short-form cricket. In contests where things are nicely set up for him, he converts a potentially comfortable win into a decisive one – enhancing team and personal aura and denting opposition confidence in the process. In poised contests – contests where his team has not had the start it wanted, and the opposition, sensing chance of an upset, has acquired a spring in its step – he steps out with palpable intent, systematically targets bowling department vulnerabilities and fielding gaps, and takes his side over the line. Sometimes with more to spare than the match equation may have suggested at a particular point.

If Politics Were Cricket

If Indian politics is cricket, Narendra Modi is its master finisher; the one who led his party to a more emphatic parliamentary election win in 2014 than poll pundits had predicted; the one who successfully took on well-entrenched parties in Uttar Pradesh earlier this year. It is safe to say the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would not be as comfortably placed as it is now, had Modi not been helming its campaigns.

Not surprisingly, the BJP is banking on Modi to swing upcoming assembly elections in Gujarat (election announcement just made) and Karnataka (elections expected around May 2018) its way.

In Karnataka, the ruling Congress does not appear badly placed at the moment, but BJP sympathisers believe the picture will change once Modi steps into the arena. A similar view prevails in Gujarat, where chief minister Vijay Rupani recently ‘warned’ the opposition of further Modi visits and how ‘none would be spared’ once Modi set the mood for the election.

Rupani and his party colleagues have good reason to repose confidence in Modi. Gujarat is the Prime Minister’s homeground and he is expected to know the playing conditions better than most. Plus, the opposition Congress is clearly the weaker team on paper. Then why does Modi’s side look jittery, and the Congress spirited?

It has probably dawned on both parties that Modi is staring at a stiff equation, and the conditions are not as predictable as they have been in the past.

The BJP notables were lulled into thinking that their star performer would see them home even on a wicket they did not prepare well – and even if the rest of the order did not apply itself fully while at the crease. From the sidelines, they now watch Modi heave desperately and pray he connects.

A Warning for BJP

Meanwhile, the Congress, its hopes buoyed by a modicum of assistance from the wicket and a mounting asking rate, is banking on mystery bowlers and some quality sledging. Rahul Gandhi’s barbs have started hitting home.

Should Alpesh Thakor, Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mewani – despite their lack of experience in the big leagues – live up to the pre-match hype around them, the BJP may find itself stretched.

The idea of the BJP and Modi having to bend their back in Gujarat was unthinkable a few months ago. It is now unfolding, and must count as an achievement for the Congress and a warning siren for the BJP.

Underdogs Can Pull Off This Upset

Modi might yet see his side home. All said and done, the Congress is the weaker side in the fray – but anything less than the impressive margin the BJP has publically set for itself will diminish Modi’s aura, and help the Congress approach upcoming contests with confidence.

As for Gujarat, the Congress would do well to remember what commonly works for underdogs once they have taken a match to the slog overs: positive body language, adherence to successful lines of attack, and situation awareness to counter the final onslaught. Scrappy challengers have laid lumbering behemoths low with these before.

(Manish Dubey is a policy analyst and crime fiction writer and can be contacted @ManishDubey1972.)

(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)