The party’s campaign for next year’s Lok Sabha election will involve a big push to bolster Rahul Gandhi’s appeal as the Congress’ PM candidate.
New Delhi: Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s sister Priyanka is running the show as the party kicks into high gear for a charged bid to redeem itself from the 2014 rout.
The 2019 Lok Sabha election is slated for April-May, and the Congress is hoping an early start will help the party enter the poll season at an advantage. The plan is to take the preparation 100 days at a time, and focus its energies on 300 seats where the Congress believes it has a fair shot to defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Millennials and alliances are among the pivots of the strategy, which will be put into action by a three-tier structure with Priyanka at the helm.
Priyanka, sources said, will actively monitor goal-setting for different departments and keep periodic tabs on progress towards achieving them.
Just a few weeks ago, she held a meeting with senior leaders and different department heads in order to work on a “grand plan” for 2019.
A 100-day blueprint
Senior leader Jairam Ramesh and techie Dipak Amin, will oversee preparations at the party war room, 15 GRG Road, in Delhi and handle the party’s backroom functioning, with Priyanka monitoring them.
Academician-MP Rajeev Gowda, the head of the Congress’ research department, and social entrepreneur Vijay Mahajan, the CEO of Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, will provide research support as the party devises its campaign theme with a focus on highlighting problems faced by the country. The achievements of erstwhile Congress governments will also be dwelt on.
According to sources, the heads of all departments will be asked to lay out a blueprint for their agenda over the subsequent 100 days, with a review scheduled at the end of this period to plan the outline for the next 100 days.
“The idea behind the 100-day plan is to set a target for all departments and review it after 100 days and then plan for the next 100 days. It’s a big election and every unit of the party should be working hard to ensure the success of the party,” said a senior party leader.
“For example, in case of Mahila Congress, the aim should be to add new women voters… Their role will no longer remain organisational, and they will have to actively contribute to the growth of the party,” the leader added.
The party plans to wrap up candidate selection over the next few months, especially for states where it will contest against the BJP alone.
Sources told ThePrint that the Congress will contest “actively” from 300 Lok Sabha seats where it thinks their candidates are either in a winning position or will give a good fight to the BJP.
In states where the party is not a key player, it will forge “tactical alliances” with regional forces, a la the tie-ups for recent bypolls in Uttar Pradesh.
At the Congress Working Committee meeting in Delhi last week, Rahul was authorised to take a call on alliances with regional parties.
In all, the party will contest just over 400 seats, down from 464 in 2014. That the number of seats contested was higher than the BJP’s 428 did little good to the Congress at the time as it was reduced to 44 seats against the BJP’s 282.
Registering its worst performance ever, the Congress could not hit double digits in seat share in any state, failing to notch even one in 14 states.
A campaign built around Rahul Gandhi
The Congress is unlikely to formally declare Gandhi as its Prime Ministerial candidate but the opposition party will fashion its campaign around him.
The campaign will involve a big push to bolster Rahul’s appeal as the Congress’ prime ministerial candidate against the BJP’s Narendra Modi, who is said to have spearheaded his party’s 2014 win.
This will include a bid to highlight his recent speeches as well as issues raised by him. There will also be interactions between Rahul and different groups of voters where the Congress president is expected to present his vision for each one.
A major part of the campaign will focus on youth voters, those who reached the voting age after the last election.
According to an internal report of the Congress, there will be 150 million youngsters aged between 18 and 23 years eligible to vote for the first time in 2019, and they are expected to play a decisive role in the election.
According to Election Commission data, in 2014, there were an estimated 11.72 crore first-time voters. Though it is difficult to say exactly how many voted for the BJP, it is believed these voters helped the party more than they did any other.
The Congress plans to identify 50 youths from this age bracket in every state, and interact with them about their expectations and assessment of the party. It will be ensured that these youths are not part of the Congress’ student wing, the National Student Union of India (NSUI) and are apolitical, so they can offer an objective opinion.