Agrarian distress, lack of jobs, atrocities on women, minorities and Dalits, scams: Was the Congress free of all these when it was in power earlier?
While addressing the Congress party’s plenary last month, new party president Rahul Gandhi declared: “In 2019, Congress workers will show the country how the Congress party fights elections and wins elections.” It was nothing short of a battle cry; since then, all eyes are on the new chief and his war strategy.
While the Karnataka elections will give an idea which way the fortunes of the Congress and the BJP will go, Rahul has been trying to build on the momentum he created in the recent Gujarat polls. One such effort was Sunday’s Jan Aakrosh rally, aimed at galvanising party workers from all over India.
While one expected more, Congress leaders indulged in the same old Modi-bashing and raised the same old issues — scams, agrarian distress, lack of jobs, atrocities on women, minorities and Dalits etc. While these may be important, was the Congress free of all these when it was in power earlier? The BJP has enough ammunition to throw back about how Indira Gandhi demolished all the institutions, the same charge which Rahul is making against Modi now.
What was missing in the rally was the Congress’s prescription to cure these ills. Does Rahul have a new narrative like his mother Sonia Gandhi’s ‘common man’ in 2004? Can any strategy succeed without an economic narrative? Should he not talk about the future instead of the past? Does he have any plans to involve the opposition in this fight against Modi, or does he think that the Congress can fight it out alone?
Modi will showcase his government’s achievements in a big way next month when he completes four years in office. There will be a big ad blitz, celebrations at the government and party level. BJP legislators and MPs have already been asked to fan out and propagate the government’s achievements. Modi might also announce some populist schemes to woo the voters. If the BJP wins Karnataka, it will be a big boost ahead of the Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh Assembly polls scheduled for later this year.
Rahul has to address many things before the Lok Sabha polls. He is rightly concentrating on the organisational reshuffle and on bridging the gap between the old guard and the younger leaders. He has appointed some senior leaders in the party as general secretaries and states-in-charge. He has given a free hand to the Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah in the assembly polls. In all probability, in the next two months, he might put people in position, though there is a question mark over whether he will choose the right people for the right jobs. Rahul has a blind spot for some leaders like Madhusudan Mistry and C.P. Joshi and continues to give them importance even when they have failed in their responsibilities earlier.
The party proposes state level pad yatras and bus yatras. He is trying to connect with the party workers. The next step should be to connect with the voters. In short, Rahul has graduated from his earlier ‘pappu’ days; now, even BJP chief Amit Shah reacts to his charges against the party and the Modi government. But Rahul is yet to reach Modi’s stature and popularity.
Rahul has the big job of building up rapport with many senior opposition leaders like Sharad Pawar (NCP), Mamata Banerjee (Trinamool Congress), Lalu Prasad Yadav (RJD) and others. While they might still agree for Sonia Gandhi’s leadership, they are not prepared to accept Rahul Gandhi’s. Perhaps the mother-son duo should divide their responsibilities. While Sonia could engage the other leaders, Rahul could concentrate on building up the party.
Opposition unity is important to challenge Modi. After all, the BJP came to power in 2014 with 31 per cent vote share. Arithmetic, more than chemistry, is becoming important in elections. The Congress should engage other opposition parties and ensure they speak in one voice for better impact.
The Congress and the BJP will be in a direct fight in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. If the party adopts the right strategy and builds a viable social engineering formula, and contains its factionalism, it has a good chance of winning all three or at least two states because of the double anti-incumbency of the BJP rule at the Centre and in these states. Also, the difference in vote shares is not much.
Rahul emphatically declared at the Jan Aakrosh rally that “in Madhya Pradesh Congress will win, in Rajasthan Congress will win, in Chhattisgarh congress will win, and in 2019 Congress will win.”
The Gandhi scion needs to get down to the task of not only hitting at the right strategy, but also seizing the initiative. The time is ripe. Just a few months ago, no one could have doubted Modi’s return, but now, his government’s report card is not so flattering. There are murmurs in his own party that the BJP might come back with a reduced majority. Rahul has to prove he is a default alternative by communicating better, connecting with the electorate, and positioning himself as the other pole.