New Delhi: Congress general secretary and Nehru-Gandhi scion Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is likely to be one of the mainstays of the party’s campaign for the Delhi assembly elections as it eyes a comeback following its complete decimation in 2015.
“We are trying to get Priyanka Gandhi to play a prominent role in this election,” a member of the Delhi campaign committee told ThePrint. “We are also hoping Rahul Gandhi and Soniaji will do rallies as well.”
Delhi goes to the polls on 8 February and the results will be declared on 11 February.
The 2015 elections culminated in a landslide victory for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which won 67 of Delhi’s 70 assembly seats. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the remaining three, while the Congress, which ruled Delhi for three terms from 1998 to 2013, drew a blank.
Five years down the line, the Congress finds itself grappling with a host of problems that have left the party struggling to launch its poll campaign in Delhi — the lack of a mass leader, a deep grassroots-level disconnect, funds crunch, and the anti-BJP vote gravitating towards the AAP.
In this light, multiple party leaders told ThePrint, an increased role for Priyanka is expected to add heft to their campaign. Other strategies include text messages to counter the BJP campaign, and a detailed fact-sheet on the AAP government’s performance alongside its comparison with the Congress’ 15-year tenure, the sources added.
The legacy of Sheila Dikshit
The party is yet to launch a full-scale campaign even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal have already sounded the poll bugle. So far, the Congress has limited itself to daily press briefings and scattered events in a few assembly segments.
With Modi playing up the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which eases citizenship for non-Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, and Kejriwal announcing a slew of poll sops like free bus rides for women, it is the legacy of three-term chief minister Sheila Dikshit, who passed away last year, that will be central to the party’s campaign in the capital.
“We talk about all the positives of Sheila Dikshit’s government,” Delhi campaign committee chief Kirti Azad said. “The number of hospitals, schools, flyovers, we built far outshine anything the AAP has done.”
To emphasise this, the party has come up with a 12-page fact sheet that breaks down the AAP government’s budget and performance in the last five years. The fact sheet, which is yet to be released but has been accessed by ThePrint, will target the AAP on each of the claims it has made, especially in the health and education sectors, the cornerstones of its campaign pitch for re-election.
Against the BJP, the Congress plans a massive social media and text message campaign, the unnamed campaign committee leader said.
“The BJP peddles so many lies,” the leader added. “We will send out messages to each individual to counter this. We will beat them at their own game, but we will do it with the truth.”
According to Azad, the party has received enormous positive feedback. “The people of Delhi have realised that the AAP and the BJP have fooled them. The AAP fooled the Purvanchalis in the capital and they know it now.”
An uphill task
But not everyone in the party is convinced of its ability to make a dent in the assembly polls, citing the Congress’ deep grassroots-level disconnect as the reason behind this assessment. If the party manages to win even eight seats (its tally in 2013), they say, it will be an achievement.
“The Congress has more workers in Delhi than the BJP or the AAP,” a senior Delhi Congress leader said on the condition of anonymity. “But where are they? We have no block-level campaign.”
“If home minister Amit Shah can go door-to-door to explain what the Citizenship Amendment Act is, then why can’t we explain the NRC (National Register of Citizens) the same way?” the leader added.
The Congress has been at the forefront of protests against the BJP’s plans for a nationwide NRC, an initiative reiterated by Shah multiple times before an apparent pullback in light of extensive anti-CAA demonstrations.
According to the leader, when the Congress started its campaign for the municipal elections in 2017, they identified prospective councillors and began the campaign six months in advance. This, the leader added, helped take the party’s voteshare rise to nearly 22 per cent in the civic polls, from 8 per cent in 2015.
A Congress functionary involved in the campaign echoed the concern. “The response, even from party workers, is less than enthusiastic,” the functionary said.
Yet another Congress functionary claimed that asking for votes in Dikshit’s name was sure to backfire. “They will talk about the achievements and the AAP and the BJP will counter it with [claims of corruption and CWG],” he said, referring to the alleged 2010 Commonwealth Games scam.
“The party needs an aspirational campaign not a suicidal one,” the functionary added.
The party is also struggling to match the BJP and the AAP in terms of campaign budget, the sources said.
Then there is another worry in the party — that even a successful campaign is unlikely to bring the Congress back to office and may, instead, end up helping the BJP by splitting the votes against it.
“We don’t want to help the BJP,” said a Delhi Congress leader. “The anti-BJP vote is likely to gravitate towards the AAP and we should let it. Trying anything else will only benefit the BJP.
“The Congress is likely to be a poor third and BJP a poor second in this election,” the leader added.