In January 2019, BJP President Amit Shah exhorted his part workers to ensure that the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections of 2018 was not like the Third Battle of Panipat.
Panipat as a battlefield has favoured the invading forces in each of the three battles fought there. However, the outcome of Election 2019 will be different, as is indicated by an understanding of the circumstances and situations leading to the Third Battle of Panipat and Elections 2019, respectively.
First, the leadership into battle. Maratha General Sadashivrao (Bhau) had little knowledge of North India. His next in command, Vishwasrao, the heir apparent to the then Peshwa, was a 20-year old lad, with not enough experience of actual battle. In contrast the victorious Afghans led by Ahmed Shah Abdali, had experienced commanders from the Punjab who were well acquainted with the region and its politics.
BJP is led by the very senior and experienced Narendra Modi and Amit Shah and supported by a galaxy of state leaders like Yogi Adityanath, Devendra Fadnavis, Shivraj Singh Chohan, etc. The Congress campaign is single-handedly run by Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, whose political careers have been helicoptered without any grassroot experience.
Second and most important, was building the right alliances. Sadavshivrao Bhau, though courageous, was a brash personality lacking in diplomacy. His behaviour put off and was therefore, unable to obtain the support of the Rajputs and the Jats, who were his natural allies against the Afghans, and who remained neutral. In contrast Abdali managed to get local support by deftly persuading the Nawab of Avadh to join him on the grounds of religion. This, in spite of the Nawab’s own mother, advising him to support the Marathas who had helped and treated them well.
Modi-Shah team, very wisely, made peace with Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and Nitish Kumar in Bihar, in spite of having to make significant concessions. This not only bolstered the BJP chances in those states by preventing the division of votes, but also created the perception and momentum for the BJP getting the necessary numbers in the Lok Sabha. This in turn ensured that other smaller allies also fell in line, like the Apna Dal in UP and the LJP in Bihar.
The Congress is bereft of any allies. The bonhomie between the Mahagathbandhan seen post Karnataka assembly elections has vanished. Worse, the infighting between the coalition partners in Karnataka, Congress and JD(S) cast a big question mark on Congress’s ability to run a stable and cohesive government at the Centre. Inability to come to a tie-up with Kejriwal, will cost the Congress seats in Delhi. The anti-BJP camp which are now at war with each other, because of personal ambitions and rivalries.
Modi’s nomination paper filing at Varanasi was a show of unity of the NDA partners, whereas Rahul Gandhi’s nominations were filed in the company of his immediate family members.
Third, having a fighting fit army without unnecessary encumbrances. The Maratha army of approximately 40,000 plus cavalry and infantry, was accompanied by a large number of non-combatants (including women and pilgrims wanting safe darshan of the holy sites in North India). The combatant to non- combatant ratio was 1:4 by many accounts. This bogged down the movement of the Maratha army apart from putting the additional burden of having to feed and protect the elderly pilgrims and other non-combatants.
Fast forward 2019 – the BJP leadership has been ruthless in its selection of candidates. All those who did not have the potential to contribute to victory or were not part of the larger scheme of things for the future of the BJP government or the growth of the party were denied tickets. Super seniors like L K Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi were axed. Tickets were also denied to all sitting MPs of Chhattisgarh and to many sitting MPs in various states, notwithstanding howls of protests. Merit and the future outlook played a role in candidate selection – young and articulate lawyer Tejas Surya got the look-in over the widow of the late Union Minister Anant Kumar Hedge in Bangalore. Definitely a motivation for the cadre.
A stark contrast when one looks at the Congress candidates, same old faces, dynastic choices. Look at Jodhpur Lok Sabha seat, CM Ashok Gehlot utilising all his energies trying to ensure victory for his son Vaibhav, and almost ignoring the rest of Rajasthan.
Fourth, ensuring adequate logistical support and supplies when away from one’s own base. Having antagonised the Hindu kings and even sections of the local population in the North of India by their attitude and behaviour, the Marathas did not receive any support for logistic and supplies of food, fodder, etc. This made their task of running a long-drawn campaign much harder. In the days preceding the fateful day of 14th January 1761, the Marathas were on the verge of starvation due to lack of food and fodder. In contrast, the tie-up with the Nawab of Avadh ensured the supplies and local support for Abdali.
BJP is however at power in the Centre and in various states and hence placed in a far better position than the Congress, in terms of resources needed to sustain an intense all India campaign. Its organisational strength well supported by the RSS cadre outclasses that of the Congress.
Lastly, the Marathas did not play to their strengths. Abdali had a larger army and heavy artillery whereas Marathas has Ibrahim Gardi’s light artillery. Therefore, in spite of their courage and bravery on the battlefield, Marathas were on weaker position in frontal battle on the plains. They did not use their famed swift guerrilla tactics to harass Abdali who could not have indefinitely sustained a campaign in an alien land.
BJP, however, is making full use of the goodwill generated by it various welfare schemes like Ujjwala, Electricity for All, Direct Benefit Transfer, etc. It has also emphasised its ability to take a strong stance when national security is concerned. The Balakot air strikes have been showcased as an example of Modi’s strong and decisive leadership. This has been appreciated by the masses, as much as it has been deprecated by Modi’s opponents.
All in all, one can fairly conclude that Election 2019 shall be a victory for the BJP. Amit Shah can rest assured that it shall not be a “Panipat” for the Indic – nationalistic forces.