Friday, March 24, 2023
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Modi created India’s north-south divide, Rahul Gandhi contesting from Wayanad will unite them

Rahul Gandhi has shown his intent that he can be the bridge that repairs this growing north-south divide within the country under Modi’s rule.

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The news that Congress president Rahul Gandhi will contest as a candidate from the Wayanad Lok Sabha constituency in Kerala was decried by his political rivals. They tried to make a case that Rahul Gandhi was running away from his traditional stronghold of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh and/or was going against the Opposition unity, which the Congress has often spoken about, by taking on the Left in Kerala. But the reality is that Rahul Gandhi has simply taken another step towards further sealing his credibility as a prime ministerial candidate who is ready for national leadership.

For one, Rahul Gandhi’s decision comes at a time of unprecedented assault on the spirit of cooperative federalism that has held the country together since its Independence in 1947. Under the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre, relations between the southern states and the federal government have steadily deteriorated. This was partly because of cultural factors such as the Modi government’s drive to impose Hindi across the southern regionor the attempts to ban beef, which is widely consumed in the south. But there have also been larger issues in recent times that threaten the economic security of the southern states as well as the future of the region’s political representation in New Delhi.

The BJP government’s decision in May 2018 to change the terms of reference in the 15th Finance Commission and use the 2011 census figures as the benchmark for revenue sharing among the states (as opposed to the 1971 figures that were used in the previous Finance Commissions) had a particularly vitiating effect.

Also read: Modi govt has nothing to show in Kerala, and so RSS made me part of its attack agenda

The southern states were understandably aggrieved since it meant that their share in the revenue raised by the Centre would be slashed while that of their northern counterparts, where the population has steadily grown, would go up. At the same time, this also has implications on the 91st Amendment to the Constitution through which the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, in 2001, froze the allocation of Lok Sabha seats for 25 years to encourage population control, by assuring states that success in limiting population would not lose them Lok Sabha seats. This is the carefully balanced arrangement that the Modi government so carelessly disregarded by instructing the Finance Commission to use the 2011 census figures instead of the 1971 figures, causing uproar among the southern states.

It is in this context that Rahul Gandhi has made a bold statement of intent to suggest that he can be the bridge that repairs this growing north-south divide within the country. It also signals that he has the confidence to win elections in both the north and the south. Can Narendra Modi make such a claim? Would he have the courage to fight for a seat in Kerala?

If Rahul Gandhi wins (and there is little to suggest otherwise) from both Amethi and Wayanad, he will be one of the rare leaders in the country who enjoys a clear and demonstrated popularity in both the south and the north. And, most importantly, the south will be galvanised by the fact that its concerns are unlikely to be ignored by such a leader, one who will walk into Parliament on the back of their support. In his own words, the Congress president has sent out a clear message of reassurance: “South India feels hostility from Narendra Modi; I wanted to send (the) message, that I am standing with you”.

Also read: NDA’s answer to Rahul Gandhi in Wayanad is a powerful OBC leader & liquor baron

There is certainly precedent too. In 1978, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi contested from both Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh and Chikmagalur in Karnataka (and in 1980 she added Medak, now in Telangana, to the list). In 1999, Sonia Gandhi jointly launched her campaign in both Amethi and Bellary in Karnataka.

It is a bit rich for the BJP to suggest that Rahul is running away from a supposed stiff fight in Amethi, considering that his main rival there has been unable to muster a win in a popular election in the entirety of her 16 years in Indian politics. It is also clear that they are consciously choosing to ignore the precedents of their own stalwarts, from Atal Bihari Vajpayee (who contested from three constituencies in Uttar Pradesh in 1957 — Lucknow, Mathura and Balrampur, and managed to only win Balrampur) to L.K. Advani (who contested from New Delhi and Gandhinagar in 1991 and won both) or for that matter the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi (who contested from Vadodara and Varanasi in 2014, winning both).

By demonstrating his electability in the south, as party president, Rahul Gandhi is also reiterating and publicly demonstrating the Congress’ age-old commitment to being a party that stands for an inclusive India. The Congress’ idea of India is that of an India where all Indians matter – unlike the present ruling dispensation, which has made it clear through their actions that some Indians come first and others are beyond their comprehension. By choosing to fight from a constituency that shares a border with Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, Rahul Gandhi’s Wayanad move is also a strategic decision to energise the Congress in the south and help it build serious momentum in this part of the country in the run-up to the general elections, scheduled in a week from now.

Also read: Not just a ‘safe seat’ for Rahul Gandhi, Congress sees Wayanad as key to its southern revival

The issue of sending the wrong signal by challenging the Left is a bit curious. In Kerala, the Left and the Congress are sworn adversaries and have fought bitter elections against each other for decades. That hasn’t prevented the Left from participating in post-poll support to the UPA — in 2004 for instance after it routed the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections in the state. There is no good reason why contesting against each other should prove an impediment now. After all, post-poll calculations are always different from pre-poll ones. At the national level, the Left has fewer differences with the Congress than it has with the BJP, and it makes sense for the Left, with its modest numbers, to support a secular party committed to social justice if it is in a position to stop the BJP.

In other words, there are no valid objections to Rahul Gandhi’s decision to contest in Kerala. It looks like a win-win from all angles – a phrase that will recur when the results are in from Amethi and Wayanad on 23 May.

Dr Shashi Tharoor is a Member of Parliament for Thiruvananthapuram and former MoS for External Affairs and HRD. He served the UN as an administrator and peacekeeper for three decades. He studied History at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University; and International Relations at Tufts University. Tharoor has authored 18 books, both fiction and non-fiction; his most recent book is The Paradoxical Prime Minister. Follow him on Twitter @ShashiTharoor.

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  1. The voters of Thiruvanathapuram should defeat this shameless Gandhi family sycophant and bring a BJP MP from there.

  2. One half of India should be ruled by pure free market capitalists and the other half by leftists. I would love to see the poverty and hopelessness of leftist India from the comforts of capitalist India.

  3. It’s an old Congress ploy to first create a problem and then showcase as if they are the only one who can solve it !! Kashmir Valley, Punjab, Northeast etc are few examples. They have now come up with this sad notion of North South Divide. why are you creating this sad narrative, Mr Tharoor? Firstly, INC is no position to form a strong Govt in Centre. Secondly, if Shri RaGa was so popular in South he should have contested from any seat, why carefully chosen Wayanad ? By the way Amethi may shock you this time !! So please stop being patronising and refrain from creating non existent issues, for the sake of this nation. Fight hard but fight fair..

  4. Sir, there was no division between South and North in anyways. I had vacation in Pondicherry in 2013 and in Kerala in 2018 and I am from North India. I didn’t saw or faced and problems in anyway. In the manner of liberal thinkers and just want to grab power u guys keep on making unrealistic story. Very sad!

  5. Most people in Karnataka does not even know where this funny sounding Wayanad is.They know only Malabar,Moplas and mini Pakistan.

  6. It’s disgusting that people of Shashi’s calibre are involved in sycophancy in India, justifying one family control over Congress party thus killing the democratic principles.

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