The results of the state elections about to come out in two days are unique. They are the semifinals of the big battle coming next year, of course. But more than that, this is the first confrontation between the BJP and the new redesigned Congress under Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. Rahul has transformed the Congress into a Hindu nationalist party. In Gujarat, he made a tentative test drive. It worked wonders. The BJP just scraped through. While Modi is trying to achieve Congress-mukt Bharat, Rahul has installed a Nehru-mukt Congress. Gone are the pretensions of secularism, though Great Grandpa is worshipped. Now Rahul fronts a Hindu nationalist party while concentrating solely on Modi by engaging in personal attacks. He has even gone on to question Modi’s Hinduism, which would be astonishing if it was not pathetic.
Modi sees the challenge. He harks back to Nehru and the dismal economic record of the Congress. He has not painted the Congress into a pale version of the real Hindutva party, his own. But that may be obvious to voters. The crucial issue is: Will people fall for the Congress’s brand of Hindutva promoting cow urine etc or will they dismiss it as ersatz. The jury has to be out till we see the numbers.
The paradoxes abound. The VHP wants Rahul to endorse Ram Mandir. Since Rajiv Gandhi set the ball rolling by allowing shilanyas, this may be the move that makes Rahul a VHP hero. Raj Thackeray has accused the BJP of colluding with Asaduddin Owaisi. In a bizarre twist, Rahul has accused the TRS and Owaisi of being friendly with the BJP. The BJP should be quick to get Owaisi under its wings since if there has to be a Hindutva party for Owaisi to join (for self-defence) he may as well join the real thing, not an imitation. The Mahagathbandhan is breaking up before our eyes if the Congress rejects Owaisi.
Whether the BJP wins outright or the Congress dents its majority, it will be inappropriate to project the state election results to the general elections. At present, all one can say is that the BJP may face losses in Rajasthan but is unlikely to lose Madhya Pradesh or Chhattisgarh. If the Congress wins Rajasthan and MP, then all bets are off for the next round.
In the general elections, the regional satraps — the TDP, TMC, BJD, TRS, AIADMK — will need to form a separate alliance, distancing themselves from the Hindutva-lite Congress if they wish to fight the BJP. They may attract the secular Left parties to their side. We may end up with a triangular contest with the BJP/NDA with one or two new allies, the Hindu National Congress and the Regional Satraps alliance. They will only side with the Congress if in the state elections, the Congress proves that its brand of Hinduism is a winner.
The consequence of Rahul’s redefinition of the Congress will be profound. We are already noticing this in the Sabarimala case. Apart from the hapless CPM government, no political party, certainly neither the BJP nor the Congress, wants the Supreme Court judgment implemented. If they all do the same for the SC judgment on Ayodhya, what future for the Constitution?