Indian National Congress, the grand old party of India, suffered its worst ever electoral defeat in May 2014. Reduced to 44 seats, it was staring at a risk of being pushed to the margins if immediate corrective steps were not taken.
The reasons for its defeat were pretty obvious – corruption charges, anti-incumbency, lackadaisical leadership of Rahul Gandhi, and Modi wave.
However, if you analyze them as a pragmatist, these reasons don’t warrant any “corrective” step. They are transient in nature. For example, Congress could simply shrug them off with the following responses, and the party won’t really be wrong:
Corruption charges: Those are over. We’ve lost the elections. Now let’s forget about it. Indian electorate too has a short memory and they will also forget about those soon.
Anti-incumbency: That’s also over. And it won’t be there in 2019. BJP will be facing it.
Rahul Gandhi: Really? If not a Gandhi, who? A Tharoor? LOL! Rahul Baba will improve. Let’s not lose hope.
Modi wave: It will subside; just a matter of time. Nothing lasts forever.
So does that mean that Congress needed to do nothing after the 2014 loss?
No! Because we are missing one thing that the party concluded as the reason for their defeat. And it was pointed out by AK Antony, who chaired a panel to analyze the reasons for the massive defeat.
In June 2014, barely three weeks after the loss, Antony had said that Congress was seen as “pro-minority” by an average Hindu, which could be one of the reasons party suffered electoral reverses. The party’s secularism was seen as “anti-Hindu” by many.
The statement by Antony made news back then, and many Congress leaders were reported to have said that the party will evaluate it as a senior personal like Antony won’t speak anything without proper analysis.
Soon after that, in August there were reports that Congress had decided to go for an “image makeover”. The party decided to celebrate all religious festivals in their offices. Up to that time, the only religious festival they were celebrating was Iftaar during the Muslim holy month of Ramzan.
It was clear that the statement by Antony was not one-off. The party was serious about what he had pointed out and if any corrective step was to be taken, it was on this front.
In December same year, it was reported that party had decided to seek feedback from its cadre if it was perceived as “anti-Hindu”. A Times of India report claimed that ‘in around 20 meetings with Rahul Gandhi, almost every group of leaders underlined the backlash due to Congress’s pro-minority stance’.
All this while, from June to December 2014, BJP kept winning assembly elections and Congress and its allies kept losing. Among the elections the party lost to BJP was in Maharashtra where the incumbent Congress-NCP government had declared reservations for Muslims. Party wondered if the “pro-minority” image hurt them again.
Basically in 2014, Congress knew that it had a “pro-minority” problem and it needed to find a solution.
The solution couldn’t have been stepping away from minorities. That would be suicide. In India, “minorities” form a big chunk of voters, and one can say it without a sense of irony. Not only that, the “intellectual” support system would have also deserted the Congress.
So becoming a little less pro-minority was not at all the solution.
In essence, the problem was – an average Hindu thinking that Congress preferred minorities, especially Muslims, at the cost of welfare of Hindus. That the party was unfairly and unreasonably obsessed with minority issues.
Keywords being “unfairly” and “unreasonably”.
Bingo! That’s where the solution lied. The party didn’t need to shed its pro-minority stand, but all it needed to do was to convince the average Hindu that its obsession with minority issues was not “unfair” and “unreasonable”.
And there you know what to do – convince the average Hindu that the minorities in India were being unfairly and unreasonably targeted.
So towards the end of 2014, after losing the general and four assembly elections, Congress appeared to have finally found the solution.
And coincidentally around the same time, towards end of 2014, we started hearing about gharwapsi and later about attacks on Churches in Delhi – events that suggested that the minorities in India were being unfairly and unreasonably targeted.
Remember, gharwapsi was not any new event as I had pointed out last year here and here, and even the attacks on Churches were all found to be either hyped or fabricated. But they helped create a narrative.
Every stray incident needed to be magnified, every loose comment needed to be mainstreamed, and every misrepresentation needed to be reinforced.
The end message – minorities were not safe, and the majority had to do something.
Essentially, the average Hindu was sent on a guilt trip.
This works almost every time and everywhere. Recently we saw how an average European, who was not too sure about taking immigrants and refugees, was convinced that every European country should take them in after the shocking picture of the dead Syrian kid sent them on a guilt trip. They, as individuals, started believing that the poor kid died as they didn’t do enough.
An average Hindu had to similarly feel personally guilty for the man who was killed in Dadri.
A sense of guilt is very strong emotion and it can overpower other senses, especially the logical or rational ones.
And it worked. In early 2015, BJP was decimated in Delhi. Not entirely due to narrative, but as I had pointed in my post then, the narrative did help AAP – which is basically a party that claims to be a non-corrupt Congress. If it helped AAP, it will definitely help them once people forget about their scams, Congress would have thought.
So all they needed was to continue this narrative that convinces the average Hindu that minorities in India needed disproportionately high attention and care. And starting with gharwapsi around the same time last year, it has continued unabated since then – the latest avatar being “growing intolerance”.
So within a span of one year, Congress has successfully inverted its weakness of being “pro-minority” into being its strength. Now the ball is in BJP’s court.
Some in the party are trying to counter it with data and logic, but that will fail. As I had mentioned in this article earlier – the sense of guilt will overpower those. In fact, already it has been declared that data was not important, mahaul (mood) was important.
The party or the government can’t win this war with data or logic. It doesn’t have to counter anything; it has to help the average Hindu get off that guilt trip.
The problem primarily is of perception, and it has to find a solution, just like Congress could find a solution to its problem of being perceived as “pro-minority”.