New Delhi, Oct. 6: The theme song is Narendra Modi. For the Congress.
In a break with the past, the Congress leadership has cleared a personality-based campaign targeting its chief rival in the run-up to next summer’s general election.
Sources said that JWT, a global advertising and marketing agency that has won the contract to handle the Congress’s electioneering for 2014, has been told to work on this project.
Although the Congress had fought and defeated Atal Bihari Vajpayee at the peak of his popularity in 2004, its campaign had not focused on his political personality.
Rather, the Congress had punctured the BJP’s “Shining India” balloon with a probing “Aam aadmi ko kya mila (what has the common man got)” query.
In 2009, the Congress refrained from personal attacks on L.K. Advani despite the BJP launching a corrosive campaign contrasting its “Iron Man” with the “weakest ever” Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh). Instead, it concentrated on telling a success story that it said derived from its good governance.
But the UPA II carries a negative image and so the Congress has chosen to “expose” its challenger rather than tell its own story.
Modi, in that sense, has accomplished what Vajpayee and Advani couldn’t. He has turned the next election virtually into a referendum on himself, mirroring the overwhelming presence Indira Gandhi once used to command.
Such domination by personalities, however, has not been so rare at the state level. Lalu Prasad, for instance, towered over Bihar’s electoral scene in the 1990s and the early years of this century.
The Congress, however, never ran a Modi-centric campaign even in Gujarat, where the fight was directly against the larger-than-life chief minister rather than his party or the Sangh parivar. Rather, the Congress took care not to focus on Modi but to dwell on local issues.
But now the party seems to have decided that Modi’s polarising personality and record could be its biggest asset in the battle for Delhi.
Congress leaders are convinced that not just the minorities but also the liberal Hindus nurse a stronger antipathy towards Modi than towards the BJP as a whole, and that this can form the basis of a sound electoral strategy.
While JWT has assigned a team of professionals to study and gather material on Modi, the Congress’s research wing and Gujarat unit too are working on the project.
In addition to Modi’s tainted record on communal harmony, the Congress is keeping a hawk eye on his tendency to make comments that can give offence and his government’s performance in the social sector in Gujarat, among other things.
Sources said JWT had won the lucrative Congress contract by focusing on Modi’s politics in its presentations to the party leadership. Crayons, which earlier handled the party’s campaigns, was opposed by some leaders because of its association with the BJP in the past.
A senior Congress leader confirmed that the party would run a personalised campaign against Modi.
“The way he used a lie planted by a Pakistani journalist to insult our Prime Minister shows his desperation and immaturity,” the leader said.
“We will not only say that he has no vision for the poor and that he is an agent of the rich and the corporate sector, we’ll also question his credentials as a national leader. We will say that he is ignorant and has a narrow vision. We will definitely question his ability to occupy any high post at the national level,” the Congress leader said.
Congress leaders are aware that such a strategy could prove a double-edged sword: it could put Modi on the centre-stage and make him appear the principal political figure in the country.
But the party has decided to run that risk probably because the government’s “success story” isn’t cutting much ice in this season of credibility crisis, and anti-incumbency has begun to hurt after 10 years of rule.