» Views

INDIA POLLS: Election conventions fall by the wayside

Publication Date : 28-04-2014


One such unspoken deal was that the personal lives of key leaders of the various parties, and their close relatives, are generally not targeted. Another is a live-and-let-live attitude, whereby leading political rivals generally do not campaign in each other's constituencies.

This time though, opposition front runner Narendra Modi, sensing victory, is considering travelling to Amethi, the constituency of two-time MP Rahul Gandhi, who is leading the election campaign for the ruling Congress party led by his mother Sonia.

In turn, Gandhi's sister Priyanka, a crowd-puller, may visit Modi's own constituency, Varanasi, a city on the Ganges River that is considered holy by Hindus.

Modi has declined calls to campaign in Sonia Gandhi's constituency, Rae Bareli, where campaigning ends today ahead of polling on Wednesday.

But a political strategist close to the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said Modi may travel to Amethi just before it goes to the polls on May 7.

The BJP candidate running against Gandhi there is actress Smriti Irani, who was elected to Parliament's Upper House from Modi's home state of Gujarat.

The strategist said: "The BJP thinks that while Rahul will still win in Amethi, it can significantly narrow the margin of his victory and thus prove to the Congress party that its dynastic leaders have outlived their usefulness as vote getters."

Should Modi indeed travel to Amethi, it is almost certain that Congress will have its own response. According to the Hindustan Times daily, which is generally well-informed on Congress affairs, Priyanka Gandhi may not campaign in Varanasi, known also as Benares. But, the paper said, she may make a politically significant visit to Varanasi's famous temple to the monkey god Hanuman. A senior Congress figure said he could not confirm the plans as Gandhi has said she will campaign in only two constituencies - Amethi and Rae Bareli.

However, he added, a Priyanka visit to Varanasi could give a useful boost to Congress morale, which is noticeably low in the current climate of anti-incumbency.

"Just as Modi's nomination day procession in Varanasi came through on television as a victory parade, a Priyanka foray could be just the antidote Congress needs in Varanasi," he said. "Television loves Priyanka because of her quick repartee and striking resemblance to both her father and grandmother."

Rahul and Priyanka are the children of the late former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was assassinated by the Tamil Tigers in 1991. Rajiv Gandhi's mother, three-time prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984.

Meanwhile, another tacit understanding that is clearly no longer observed is that the close family members of key politicians are not targeted in the political battle.

After Modi surprised everyone by declaring in his election papers that he had indeed been married, Gandhi attacked him for keeping quiet about it for so long.

Then, Priyanka, stung by Modi's attacks on her businessman-husband, Robert Vadra, lashed out at the BJP leader, suggesting that he monitored the telephone conversations of some young women in his home state.

The Gandhi clan has also repeatedly attacked the Gujarat model of development as a hollow strategy based on anti-farmer policies built around favouring a few industrialist cronies of Modi. In turn, Modi and the BJP have spoken about the "RSVP model" of development, referring to "Rahul, Sonia, Vadra and Priyanka".

Vadra, the BJP alleges, parlayed a personal wealth of five million rupees (US$16,491) into a fortune of three billion rupees in three years.

The old, unspoken Congress- BJP pact, now ignored by Modi, apparently arose from a favour done for the Gandhis by then BJP prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee when Rahul Gandhi was a student in the United States. At the time, when Vajpayee's foster son-in-law was involved in several business deals in India, the Gandhi family made no fuss and looked the other way.

Then, in 2006, Congress did not make political capital of the controversy over Rahul Mahajan who was hospitalised for an alleged cocaine overdose. He is the son of BJP bigwig Pramod Mahajan, killed earlier that year. That same night, the latter's political secretary, who was with Rahul Mahajan, died after taking a cocktail of drugs with champagne.

Some BJP leaders have publicly said Vadra will be investigated and possibly jailed for his land deals should the BJP take power.

Last Saturday, Gandhi said Modi would have been in jail if Gujarat had followed other states in appointing commissioners to implement the Right to Information Act. He was referring to the 2002 riots in Gujarat, early in Modi's first term as chief minister, that left three times as many Muslims as Hindus dead.

One reason Modi is at ease about taking on the Gandhi clan is that he has little to lose personally: He has not lived with his wife for more than 40 years and his siblings are a distant entity.

Still, there are hints that once the bustle of the election is over, the big parties may go back to their old ways of trading favours.

"The focus will be on fulfilling promises we have made to the people," he said recently. "We will work with a positive attitude and not be vindictive towards anyone. I have paid the price for the past 12 years due to others' vindictiveness."


Mobile Apps Newsletters ANN on You Tube