In January, India's main opposition Congress party seemed poised for a strong fight back against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi after victories in three heartland states late last year.
But just over four months later, even Congress officials admit the attempt to unseat Modi in the ongoing general election has suffered from a weak campaign and fumbled communications. Political strategists say the mis-steps and an inability to sew up alliances with other opposition groups had hurt Congress. Votes are to be counted on May 23 and it's still not clear if Modi will come back to power, although many political analysts and pollsters have said he has the edge.
Two Congress officials told Reuters that their campaign, centred around a promise of a handout of 72,000 rupees (US$1,025) every year for India's poorest families, was rolled out late - only four days before the first phase of the polls began on Apr 11. In contrast, the Modi campaign's communications has been a huge strength - no one can complain that the message didn't get out.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has dominated newspaper frontpages, TV screens, social media posts, roadside billboards and rallies through the election, backed by a war chest multiple times that controlled by Congress.
On 11 Hindi TV news channels, for example, Modi has got nearly three times the air-time compared to Congress party chief Rahul Gandhi between Mar 30-Apr 26, according to Broadcast Audience Research Council India. Congress has also been unable to forge alliances with other opposition parties in two important states and adequately overhaul its grassroots organization, political strategists said, making an already difficult contest even harder.
The campaign slip-up was partly because the party's detailed manifesto came out late, followed by further delays in readying promotional materials, the two Congress officials said. Both requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. "The backroom work to push out the campaign hadn't been done," one of them said. "Basically, it was a big royal mess."
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