(Source: PTI)

100 Days To Go For Polls: What Rahul And Modi Can Do To Stay Ahead In The Race

BloombergQuintOpinion

With the New Year, countdown has begun to this year’s biggest political event, the general election. It’s expected to be a close contest, more so after the Congress won three out of five states in the recent assembly polls.

Three months is a long time in politics and here is what both Congress President Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi need to do to stay ahead:

Rahul Gandhi

Stay On Message

If there is one lesson from the state election results for Rahul Gandhi, it’s that consistent messaging on farm distress and unemployment have worked for the Congress. In fact, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party’s vote share in rural areas dropped. Right from the Gujarat polls to the elections in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, these were the two key issues. Gandhi needs to focus firmly on these instead of launching personal attacks.

Walk The Talk

The Congress may have been quick to announce farm loan waivers, but success will be key. The BJP is questioning the Congress’ track record in implementing similar waivers in Karnataka and Punjab. Voters in these states will be unforgiving if the Congress doesn't deliver within the next three months.

100 Days To Go For Polls: What Rahul And Modi Can Do To Stay Ahead In The Race

Elections First, PM Candidate Later

A stronger Congress makes potential allies for the general election uncomfortable. The Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party, for instance, have made their displeasure felt at not being accommodated in the Madhya Pradesh government despite offering support. Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao has ramped up efforts to form a non-Congress, non-BJP alliance, which would hurt Congress the most. Gandhi should resist the temptation to project himself as a prime ministerial candidate. This would help assuage allies.

Narendra Modi

Underscore The Message Of ‘Saaf Niyat’

Narendra Modi is still considered to be in the best position to win the general election, with his personal popularity largely intact despite voter anger over issues like demonetisation and implementation of the goods and services tax. While the opposition lists unfulfilled promises and the lack of “Achhe Din”—the slogan on which Modi’s 2014 election campaign was built—the PM could counter that by saying mistakes may have happened, but the intention was always right. The BJP’s slogan of “Saaf Niyat, Sahi Vikaas” could come handy.

Accept The Mess That Is Farm Distress

To boost farm incomes, the NDA government introduced higher minimum support prices for key crops, an insurance scheme and an income booster plan PM-Aasha, among others. Several BJP-ruled states have announced farm loan waivers. But these measures have done little to ease farm distress. The prime minister needs to recognise that these attempts haven't worked. The government is expected to introduce another plan in 2019, which may help stem the BJP’s loss in rural votes.

Avoid Divisive Politics

The BJP and Modi may be tempted to go back to the “default mode” Ram Mandir if the going gets tough. The temple issue has already cropped up, but doubts exist over its efficacy. Uttar Pradesh’s Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, a Hindutva firebrand, campaigned heavily ahead of the recent state elections but the BJP lost 60 percent of the seats where he campaigned, according to India Spend analysis. Even in the run-up to the 2014 elections, Modi focused on development that helped boost the BJP’s vote share from 18 percent in 2009 to 31 percent in 2014.