The party’s exercises for the Assembly polls are forcing some contortions but victory will make it all okay
The harsh political reality is that the Congress needs to win at least two of the four bigger States, plus retain Mizoram, of the States going to polls over the coming few weeks to be a serious contender for a leading role in the Opposition’s plans to unseat the BJP from power in the 2019 General Election. It is, in fact, the worst-kept secret in town. And the leadership of the grand old party is aware of just how quickly all the Opposition bonhomie will dissipate and the Congress pushed into a ‘supporting role’ for a conglomeration of regional parties if it fails to perform at the hustings yet again.
In Mizoram, the party’s last toe-hold in the North-east, the party has deputed AICC general secretary Luizinho Faleiro — who was recently brought back to New Delhi after a couple of years in his home State of Goa — to ensure that his ‘magic touch’ which saw Congress-led Governments in five North-eastern States till as recently as 2016 helps the party retain power in the face of the BJP and Mizo National Front strategy to fight the elections separately and then come together post-poll. It’s a small State but it is vital for the Congress to retain it in terms of the Assembly elections score-line, so Faleiro is pulling out all the stops. That Mizoram is a Christian-majority State helps the Congress which has effectively mobilised Church groups and demonised the BJP — with a lot of help from the utterances of BJP leaders nationally, it must be said. But in the other four States, it’s a different story. Madhya Pradesh has seen the party play what is known in popular parlance as the ‘soft Hindutva’ card with a vengeance. From promising a gaushala in every village and committing itself to promoting research and application of cow urine in medicine and healthcare, to Rahul Gandhi, Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia paying obeisance at prominent Hindu temples complete with sacred thread, the party has gone whole hog. Further, in keeping with its strategy of portraying itself as comprising the ‘real Hindus’ and the BJP/RSS as katarwaadis(fundamentalists) within the fold, Congress has announced plans to re-impose the ban on Government employees attending RSS shakhas or allowing Sangh-related activities in government buildings if elected. Simultaneously, reports from the ground indicate that the Congress leadership, especially veteran Kamal Nath, has persuaded many of the candidates put up by the Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party apart from lesser political groups to ‘informally’ support and vote Congress come polling day. This tactic, if the Congress can pull it off, may make the crucial difference between winning and losing in a State where the BJP and Congress are widely perceived to be running neck-to-neck. In many ways, Madhya Pradesh, an erstwhile Congress stronghold where the party has managed to retain its rural support base despite 15 years out of power, is the key State for it to win.
Rajasthan, as survey after survey backed up by anecdotal evidence from those who have travelled extensively in the State suggests, is in the bag for the Congress unless it shoots itself in the foot spectacularly. Chhattisgarh looks likely to re-elect Raman Singh as Chief Minister thanks at least in part to the Ajit Jogi-Mayawati combine drawing more votes from the Congress than the BJP though the Congress is still hopeful of propping up Jogi — a la HD Kumaraswamy in Karnataka — if the BJP falls even marginally short. TRS seems headed for a win in Telangana despite a Congress campaign that has over the past couple of weeks shown some signs of coming into its own.
If the above scenario holds, and this is before Prime Minister Narendra Modi has launched his election campaign in earnest please remember, the Congress could win in Rajasthan, Mizoram and Madhya Pradesh. With three out of five States in the bag it will be difficult for any Opposition alliance to ignore Rahul Gandhi as he would have finally delivered at the hustings. Congress has all to play for.
Writer & Courtesy: The Pioneer