March 04, 2007

Brand "Sonia" is more myth than reality


The ruling Congress party was heading for defeat in polls in Punjab and Uttarakhand on Tuesday. The Bharatiya Janata Party looks set to form the government in Uttarakhand winning around 34 of the 68 results declared. In Punjab the Shirmonai Akali Dal, SAD-BJP combine bagged 67 of the 116 declared results. Congress spokesperson Ambika Soni attributed price rise to the defeat while Sonia Gandhi speaking to NDTV said that the results were along expected lines, whatever that meant. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday termed the NDA's poll victory in Punjab and his BJP's win in the Uttarakhand elections as a rejection of the Congress-led UPA for its "soft stance" on national security and inability to control inflation. In his reaction to the poll results Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the results were not a referendum against UPA. Manmohan Singh was reacting to Arun Jaitley's remarks that this was the "beginning of the end" for the Congress in a "string of victories" to come.

While detailed analysis of the polls based on vote share will have to wait, some quick observations from Offstumped on the results.

In both Punjab and Uttarakhand the trend is clearly against the Congress without doubt. This flies in the face of exit poll after exit poll and news analyses in the mainstream media which talked of cliffhangers and nailbiting finishes. The results were no close encounters they were made out to be. However the rather slender majority in Punjab and the BJP finishing just at the half way mark in Uttarakhand is indicative that there was no landslide in favor of the NDA. The exact vote shares will reveal how strong the swing away from the Congress was or in favor of the NDA but that will have to wait.

There is however a larger message that has kind of been hovering in the background and has found an echo in this election and this has to do with the fate of the two principal national parties - the congress and the BJP.

One has to rewind back to the 2004 general elections to better understand this. In the run upto the general elections while there were hints of the BJP not doing well, the congress was practically written off in analysis after analysis. The exit polls and the opinion polls were full of mixed messages to be of any practical use. Then came the results and the subsequent shocker for the NDA. The big surprise however was the emergence of the Congress as the single largest party a few seats behind the BJP. The media euphoria that followed the much hyped "sacrifice" by Sonia saw a series of analyses that for the first time started to contribute to the "Brand Sonia" myth. What started with eulogies on her "supreme sacrifice" soon turned to praise on how "sonia steered" the congress towards victory. The reality of 2004 however was drowned in this euphoria and since forgotten. A more careful analysis of 2004 would tell us that it was not so much "Sonia steering" but the BJP's state level alliances letting it down. 3 key states made the difference - TN with DMK switching over, AP with Naidu getting white-washed and Maharashtra where the Shiv Sena hurt big time.

Since 2004 the nation has seen 3 waves of assembly elections. The first wave was in 2005 with Bihar, Jharkhand and Haryana going to the polls. In Bihar and Jharkhand "brand sonia" was hardly in play as "brand lalu" started to fade. The next wave was in 2006 with Kerala, West Bengal and Assam going to polls. "Brand Sonia" saw Kerala slip away, Bengal having the best showing ever by the Communists and Assam despite a high turnout saw a motivated anti-congress vote splintered away to hold the Congress but with support from outfits like the AUDF that owed their existence to the anti-congress vote. The 3rd wave and current wave in 2007 has seen "Brand Sonia" blame away inflation for Punjab and Uttarakhand slipping away and Manipur in play with support from other outfits.

So in summary since the "mythical victory" of 2004 "brand sonia" has done nothing to the Congress. In fact with the exception of Haryana where the pendulum swings wildly on anti-incumbency every term, the only election where "brand sonia" had an impact was where "Sonia" herself was contesting. From local polls in UP to Mumbai which were hyped up with Sonia campaigning, "brand sonia" did little to make an impact.

Offstumped had earlier in the year pointed out that the only poll with good news for the Congress in 2007 was perhaps already out and this was the Yogendra Yadav manufactured fictitious opinion poll which reported Sonia as the most popular leader. But for the media types who have been manufacturing and promoting "Brand Sonia" the hard reality for the Congress is the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty is no longer an election winner. This despite the able aiding and abetting by known Sonia Spin meisters like Vir Sanghvi, Pankaj Vora and others who have been on the ball to defend Sonia whenever she has been challenged be it on the Office of Profit Issue, the issue of President's rule in Uttar Pradesh or now on the Quattrochi issue.

Which brings us to the question, if one were Arjun Singh and one were passed over by a bureaucrat with no known electoral base for the nation's top job all at the insistence of "brand sonia", one must be wondering why exactly is "brand sonia" allowed to lord over the remaining vestiges of the congress party when in election after election the brand is turning out to be more myth than reality ?

This takes us directly to the message for the BJP in these 3 waves of elections. The days of national elections based on national issues dominated by national parties are over. If the BJP must do well in the Center it must focus on its states. It must not lose sight of its state level alliances and must get its act right in all the states where it is in power. The media may continue to obsess over the confusion in its national leadership and there maybe some opportunities lost in parliament to pind down the UPA on national issues, but those have little bearing when it comes to election realpolitik. So rather than worry about defending itself to the national media the BJP must focus on turning out its base and keeping its allies in good humor to get the arithmetic to work its way.

Offstumped Bottomline: The message from the elections is clear for the Congress. Brand Sonia is more myth than reality. It does not provide any insulation against a motivated opposition campaign nor is it any insurance against anti-incumbency. In fact the value of the brand is highly questionable and the likes of Arjun Singh must rethink their continued indulgence of the Nehru-Gandhi family at the cost of the Party itself.
posted on Tuesday, February 27, 2007 9:48 PM

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Totally agree with your final analysis that BJP must focus on Ground work instead of defending themselves in the Cosy studion of media who otherwise are nothing but Mask wearing Doormat of 10 janpath.