Be it politics, medicine or any field except of course certain areas, over-confidence about success/victory can be “suicidal”- leading to failure/defeat. Even while driving- over-speeding in most cases leads to accidents, big shots in cricket instead of sixes/fours has at times led to catch-outs with a winning match slip to defeat. Over-confidence in politics, however, is often not simply due to strategies being exercised by key players. Symbolically, while in other areas, the fault can be attributed to driver at the wheels or to batsman, the command in politics is exercised by numerous players at different levels. Many play a strong role in boosting as well as bruising political egos – whether it amounts to inflating or puncturing them.
Of course, India is not the only country where such politicking seems fairly common. Rudimentary survey of western media, particularly that of United States and United Kingdom, indicates that even most important politicians, including those holding reins of power, are not spared from critical missiles fired at them not just from their political rivals but also from critics, including journalists. So much so, little importance seems to be accorded by politicians themselves to taking note of these or even questioning them as negative (perhaps defamatory) strategies targeting them.
Indian politicians, however, apparently have a strong inclination of not sparing practically each and every aspect of media coverage they receive. The focus here is not analysis of media coverage, but as suggested earlier, on political impact of the same. Of late, following Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Unite India March (Bharat Jodo Yatra) and victory of his party in recently held Karnataka Assembly elections, there has been an increase in media coverage accorded to him. Speculations are also being voiced on what 2024 parliamentary elections may spell for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and rival parties in the race. On one hand, fairly substantial coverage is being accorded to their being no alternative to present Prime Minister Modi and that this apparently spells strong chance of his returning to power for the third term. At the same time, terms such as “Modi-fatigue” are also in the air questioning prospects of BJP in 2024.
Where does this place Congress and its leaders in 2024? Understandably, at present Congress is the largest opposition party in Lok Sabha. Against new political importance gained by Rahul Gandhi, other opposition leaders may be viewed as lagging behind. True, the importance held by them cannot be undermined. However, the fact that this is primarily confined to their domestic domains cannot be ignored. If political appeal of Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal Chief Minister hardly extends beyond the east, that of Nitish Kumar, Bihar Chief Minister is limited to his state. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has begun his “campaign” but prospects of his appeal extending beyond Delhi, to a degree Punjab, appear to be fairly weak.
Though these leaders may not state openly, prospects of their anti-BJP plans being laced with their own desire to play a key role in forming, even heading the next government seems to be a prominent part of their political strategies. Yes, each has the right to consider these plans. But if each focusses on this agenda, it may be equivalent to each trying for a sixer, getting out, and probably leading to collapse of their desire to push BJP out of power.
Where Rahul Gandhi is considered, he cannot afford to remain politically content with media coverage as well as the positive image gained by him primarily because of his yatra. Media coverage gained by him has also played the role of spreading shock-waves in anti-Congress parties. Certainly, BJP leaders have considerably decreased their tendency to keep questioning his “leadership” and so forth. Though Rahul’s “victory” at these levels can definitely be viewed as key steps forward but to assume that these would be translated into sweeping Lok Sabha polls is like chasing a mirage.
While political climate may not suit Congress more than it appears to now for parliamentary elections, the party cannot afford to be lax at several levels. Behind the doors, cards of other parties planning to push BJP out of power need to be given serious importance. Congress cannot be oblivious of the political reality that a few politicians are apparently nearly as opposed to return of Congress to power as they claim to be against BJP.
Equally relevant are cards which are likely to be exercised by BJP leaders. With farmers on the roads again, talk about economic issues holding greater appeal for people, probably communal rhetoric bordering on extremist religious issues lacks the political appeal which it appeared to have earlier, at least at the grassroots.
Besides, intra-BJP rivalry also cannot be ignored. Within the BJP, in all probability, a few stalwarts have queued themselves to step into Modi’s shoes. They are also apparently guided by the impression that they may not get this political chance again. Against this backdrop, the view about “Modi-fatigue” probably prevails at certain levels within the BJP also. But then, as mentioned earlier, politics is not cricket where banking on one’s own ability to take the shot can yield expected results. This applies to politicians of all key parties in the race, including BJP and Congress. In cricket, when over-confidence clouds batsman’s shots, chances of results favouring bowlers and fielders prevail strongly. If politics is guided by such logic, in the present circumstances, it may be equivalent to committing political suicide.
Increase in popularity, as suggested by media coverage, may be viewed as only a part of the campaign. At present Rahul Gandhi doesn’t have the permission to contest 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Nevertheless, he cannot ignore his own political position as a key player. Just as Karnataka-results are being analysed to judge his potential, this is likely to be the case at a larger level following parliamentary polls. In lieu of most opposition parties claiming to “unite” to oust BJP, he has a tough situation to handle. The Congress cannot afford to contest all Lok Sabha seats on its own strength. Simply speaking, just as Congress doesn’t have the potential to push BJP out of power, the same may be said about other parties talking about aligning for the purpose.
Talking about such an alliance sounds good but will yield results only if they contest as a team. And if leaders talking about their alliance focus only on their individual shots, this is least likely to yield desired results. Prospects of certain politicians changing political camps, depending on options placed before them following 2024 results cannot be ignored. While working as a team, the alliance needs to focus on seats they win “together” and that this will matter only if the key rival party doesn’t win majority. Politics is politics and not cricket. Yielding to wrong political signals and/or over-confidence about victory drowned in favourable media coverage for 2024 polls may not just spell defeat but also political “suicide” for quite a few in this race!
Nilofar Suhrawardy is a senior journalist and writer with specialization in communication studies and nuclear diplomacy. She has come out with several books. These include:– Modi’s Victory, A Lesson for the Congress…? (2019); Arab Spring, Not Just a Mirage! (2019), Image and Substance, Modi’s First Year in Office (2015) and Ayodhya Without the Communal Stamp, In the Name of Indian Secularism (2006).