Election 2019: A Tale about Reaching out to your billionth voter

“The winner takes it all, the loser’s standing small”

India with nine hundred million voters is by far the largest democracy in the world. USA with 250 million voters is a distant second in the race. It’s amazing and quite fascinating to find out how the political parties reach out to their voters. Now that the polling festival has come to an end, the drama….the enigma…. the stratagem behind the scenes are slowly getting unfolded in the public domain. The analysis of the policies, strategies and programmes which failed to produce the desired result are sure to give a lot of insight to the opposition parties into the causes of their defeat.

Amethi-2009

2. Shiv Kumari Gautam stays at a small hut at Semra, a remote village under Amethi constituency. She earns her livelihood, like many others in her village, as a daily wage earner. Her income is a paltry Rs. 3000 in the harvest season. After the death of her husband she has become the only bread earner in her family comprising six members to feed. It was a big surprise for her, when on a chilly morning of 14th January, 2009, Rahul Gandhi along with David Miliband, British Secretary of state, visited her thatched one room house. Rahul Gandhi ate food in her house and stayed overnight in her charpoy. Rahul later assured her, ” I can feel your distress. I will raise your issue in the parliament. Things will change very soon.”

Amethi-2012

3. Shiv Kumari stares at the cultivable land. She couldn’t earn much money this year as there is severe shortfall of rain. She is a worried person with five children-how to feed them. She became a celebrity overnight in 2009. Yes, a truckload of bricks was sent to her doorstep to construct a pucca house. But, that’s the end of the story. Nobody has since enquired about her. She has reconciled to the situation that she has to fight a lone battle to make both ends meet.

Amethi-2015

4. Smriti Irani lost the electoral battle of Amethi in 2014. But she didn’t lose heart. She identified Barulia, a small remote village without any connectivity to the outer world for adoption by Manohar Parrikar under the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana. Today the village has pucca road, a number of toilets, improved irrigation facility and solar lights. After observing the excitement and enthusiasm among the villagers, Parrikar decided to adopt another village, Hariharpur, under Amethi constituency in 2017. In the absence of Parrikar, Smriti Irani started looking after these villages.

5. When Rahul Gandhi was busy meeting the press and cross section of intelligentsia to talk against Modi Government’s policy of demonetization, hasty implementation of GST , Smriti Irani was making silent inroads into the Gandhi bastion at the grass root level with an eye to make the impossible possible. Rahul Gandhi couldn’t keep up his promises to the people of his own constituency. It’s not that he didn’t visit his constituency, in fact he took lot of initiatives, the most important being to take Bill Gates along with him to Amethi in 2010. Rahul Gandhi and Bill Gates addressed the villagers and the self help group. Bill Gates explained the importance of computer at the gatherings and offered to extend support to create an IT hub in Amethi. Most of the villagers didn’t know who this gora sahab was. But they were told that he was the richest man from America. While inaugurating a school in Amethi in 2018, the Rahul Gandhi said, “After 10 to 15 years, when people will mention Singapore and California, they will also mention Amethi in the same breath.”

Paradigm Shift in Modinomics

6. On becoming prime minister in 2014, Narendra Modi promised achhe din for the 1.25 billion people of India. Restoring economic vigour through good governance and decisive reforms was at the top of his agenda. Reforms, such as, scaling up foreign direct investment, boosting domestic consumption by entry of multi brand retail, land reform for easier acquisition of land to facilitate industrial growth, labour reform, disinvestment of public sector units, restructuring some of the government departments, such as, Food Corporation of India, Indian Railways, Planning Commission were some of the steps that Modi thought, would catapult the economy to a higher growth trajectory. Aravind Panagariya was brought in from from Columbia University to take charge of Government of India think tank Niti Aayog. Mr. Panagarya views growth as panacea for all economic ills and therefore, economic reforms must be strengthened. One idea was to transform the economy by factor market reform, i.e., land and labour market reform as step I as compared to the product market reform of 1991. With all the reforms plan drawn in his sketch book, Modi had visioned to take the Indian economy from two trillion dollar to 10 trillion dollar by 2030. Modi, however, got a big jolt in the assembly election of Bihar in 2015. Rahul Gandhi’s jibe of Suit boot ki sarkar, Modi’s pro-business image and the Mahagathabandhan of Congress with JDU and RJD led to a big success for the unified opposition. Modi stumbled; decided on a course correction. The economic agenda for reforms was replaced by a series of welfare measures. Modi and his team wanted to reach the electorate at the grass root level. He wanted to reach every nook and cranny of the country. He wanted to establish a direct communication link with the downtrodden masses. A series of welfare schemes were announced to benefit the rural and urban poor. Modi wanted to remain firmly seated even after 2019.

Walk the Last Mile

7. Gauri, a dalit woman from a remote town in West Bengal aged about 50 years was ecstatic on getting possession of her two bedroom brick built house. Gauri makes her both ends meet by working as a maid servant in a number of houses. She has been living in a thatched house until now. Today she has a pucca house with a toilet, LPG connection and an electric meter. Gauri didn’t have to pay any cut money for her house. She received Rs. 1.60 lakh in her bank account in three installments. She had paid only Rs.15,000 by cash towards construction of a staircase which was not included in the Government scheme. There are lakhs of Gauri all over India who have been beneficiary of PM Awas Yojana.

8. Inclusive finance became the new pillar of Modinomics. Jan Dhan Yojana to open bank account for the BPL families benefited over 300 million people. Modi implemented Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) of subsidy on LPG and food security by linking bank account with Aadhar card. Today, 550 million people get payments through bank DBT for various welfare schemes. The leakage of revenue has virtually stopped. People have started getting the benefit of all welfare schemes directly in their bank account. PM Gramin Awas Yojana is set to benefit 2 million houses in rural India. Saubhagya Yojana has set a target to provide electricity connection to 38 million households impacting 25% of rural population. Under Ujjwala Yojana, the Government has already provided LPG gas connection to 40 million people. If we take an average family size of 5, this scheme alone will impact 200 million people who are categorized under BPL. Seeing the positive response, the Government now plans to cover another 40 million households. PM Modi’s flagship programme Swachha Bharat Mission aims to make India open defecation free. Seems impossible? But Modi is personally monitoring its implementation. By March 2019, the number of open defecation free cities in India are more than 2500. In rural areas more than 70 million toilets have already been constructed out of 100 million households that do not have toilets. Mudra loan is yet another flagship programme of Modi Government to extend credit to micro amd small enterprises. These enterprises can avail loan up to Rs. 10 lakh under the MUDRA scheme.

9. Ayushman Bharat launched in September, 2018 aims to provide health care facilities to over 100 million households, impacting 40% of the population. Economic Times wrote, ” The big bang scheme is targeted at the rural and urban poor, the segment of voters crucial for Modi. The universal health care scheme, if implemented without any big hitches, can sway a large number of voters towards Modi.” The CEO of Ayushman Bharat said, ” We want to create a brand so that beneficiaries know where to go and whom to contact to get the services. The publicity, especially the audio and visual communication, helps in reaching the beneficiaries effectively.” Piyush Goyal, while presenting the interim budget of 2019-20, informed the house that 10 lakh patients have already been treated under the scheme. The maximum no of of patients are from a Congress ruled state, Chattishgarh, which was reluctant to implement the scheme initially.

Why Congress’s Narratives failed to Impact voters

10. Delivery at your doorstep! The e-commerce industries have become successful today due to their ability to deliver any product at any remote corner of a country. A man residing at a remote town, Jhumri Telaiah in Jharkhand, can become a customer for a silk saree sold at chikpet market of Bangalore or a chandelier sold at Firozabad of UP. Modi has perhaps taken a leaf out the global supply chain management of e-commerce industries and meticulously implemented it to ensure the last mile delivery of his schemes. Under his Government, a person sitting in a remote village of Mechuka in Arunachal Pradesh gets the benefit of LPG connection or Modi health care, just as the people of Maharashtra and Gujarat can get. He is no longer isolated. He is part of the system. No Government prior to NDA has paid so much attention to reach out to rural masses.

11. The conundrum of attaining electoral success for the grand old party has become a kind of challenge for the poll experts. Lot of post poll analysis has been done to find out the reasons for the debacle Congress has faced in 2019 election. I feel Rahul’s narrative of suit boot ki sarkar to be the primary reason for his electoral defeat. Modi’s pro-business community and anti-poor image was successfully marketed by Rahul Gandhi with the help of this slogan. But this jibe instigated Modi to make a course correction midway from his reform agenda to inclusive development agenda. Rahul, in the mean time, misjudged the media reports about high unemployment and farmers’ distress as possible signs of widespread resentment against Modi Government. His allegation of corruption in Rafale aircraft deal was magnified out of proportion by a section of media as if to score a point against Modi. Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha and Prashant Bhushan spearheaded the attack , ably supported by N Ram of HIndu. I don’t find a parallel to the kind of onslaught, a particular section of media pitched against the Rafale deal without any corroborative evidence. Rahul was misguided and misinformed thoroughly. Praveen Chakravarty, the management graduate from Wharton school and an investment banker by profession was engaged by Rahul Gandhi to head Shakti, the data analytics group of Congress. Not only did Shakti fail to assess the mood of the voter, but it gave wrong advice to the Congress President to continue his relentless attack on corruption issue in Rafale agreement. The idea to checkmate Modi with the slogan Chowkidar chor hai fell flat on the voters. Little did he realise that less than 5% people of India was interested in the narrative of Rafale. The huge rural vote bank and majority of urban population were totally ignorant of Rafale issue. How Rahul Gandhi was deluded about the ground level situation has been amply reflected by the post poll introspection by Shekhar Gupta in his online news portal OpIndia. Gupta confessed that though he was looking for evidence against schemes of Modi Government, he found none, “We were hoping to see evidence for the contrary but we were not finding it. We were finding gas cylinders. We would even peek inside a house and find a gas cylinder.” He admitted, “Initially, I thought Mudra loans were all fakes. But I have videos…. 50 kms from Azamgarh, a dalit saying that I got Rs 50,000 Mudra loan, made this chai shop, I repay Rs 1300 every month.” The journalists, media people completely ignored the fact that people got doorstep delivery first time in their life without a cut money. The actual beneficiaries were a bit surprised too, because, they are used to the system of cut money even to get 100 days employment under MNREGA. It’s a big change. It’s good governance. Vote boxes did reflect their feelings.

Rahul Gandhi’s Romanticism done by Modi’s Classicism

12. Robert M Pirsig in his best seller book, Zen and the art of motor cycle maintenance (published in mid seventies), has divided human understanding in two categories: romantic understanding and classical understanding. A classical understanding sees the world primarily from an underlying form itself. A romantic understanding sees it primarily in terms of immediate appearance. The romantic mode is primarily inspirational, imaginative, intuitive. Feelings, not facts, predominate. The classical mode proceeds by reasoning, analysis, and therefore, facts predominate in it. Pirsig draws an example from motor cycle maintenance. When the motor cycle is analysed part by part into major assemblies, minor assemblies, detailed parts, such as, cylinders, piston. crankshaft, fuel pump it leads to a classical interpretation. Thus motorcycle riding is romantic, motorcycle maintenance is purely classic.

13. This analogy is appropriate in Indian political scene too, because, when we look at the strategy of the two main political parties of India, Congress depended more on rhetoric, whereas, BJP adopted a classical approach to reach to the granular level. It’s amazing to see how namo was packaged and sold through nano management. The planning, strategizing, organizing and above all the execution excellence of the party can dwarf the think tank of some of the professionally managed companies. The strategy was decided by central leadership. Its execution was entrusted at the grass root level. In its execution plan, BJP divided a state unit into seven levels, starting from state level, to district, Lok Sabha, Vidhan Sabha, Mandal, Shakti Kendra and ending at booth Itlevel. Each Mandal has 50 to 60 booths under its jurisdiction. A committee of 12 to 15 karyakartas are made in charge of a Mandal. Then there are shakti pramukhs made in charge of Shakti Kendras comprising five to six booths. Below shakti pramukhs are booth palaks to take care of around 2000 to 2500 voters. In the lowest rung of the ladder is Panna Pramukh to target 50 to 60 voters. The panna pramukhs are trained to apprise their target voters about various welfare schemes and cross check if the benefits are actually reaching them. The communication channel from panna pramukh to the district level is made so disciplined and methodical, that any loophole noticed at the ground level is plugged instantaneously. The implementation strategy was a bottom-up one, not the other way round as followed by Congress.

14. In comparison to the well oiled electoral machinery that BJP could muster, perhaps made possible, due a huge cadre base and micro planning, Rahul Gandhi depended on hired workmen who failed to walk an extra mile to convince the voters. Feedback mechanism, so pertinent, was completely missing, which, in a way trapped Rahul Gandhi into a make-believe situation, created by his sycophants and a section of media. Rahul’s own idea, Nyay couldn’t even convince his colleagues in the party. The scheme’s promo made a jump start without any viable implementation plan. It failed to reach the 20% target families who were to benefit from it. Urban middle class discarded the idea for the fear of additional tax burden.

15. The journey for Rahul Gandhi from 2014 to 2019 has been tough and arduous. The road was not a flat bed, rather full of potholes without any noticeable back up support. Resurfacing it with a fresh layer of asphalt may not yield the desired result. The situation demands a complete overhaul. Let it be a process driven exercise without an element of subjectivity. Leave aside your oversize ego; pull all your resources to strike a chord with the masses; change over from traditional top-down to bottom-up democracy. People are sure to repose faith in you, once a reasonable degree of credibility is established. Till that time, the need of the hour is to play a constructive role as an opposition, both in and out of parliament, else, it would undermine the democratic accountability. Hope the party leadership will withstand the test of time.

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