There is a sense of new-found enthusiasm in the ranks of the Congress party across the country. Efforts are underway to consolidate this mood to the required levels, implying that the ‘rejuvenated’ party will be back to its winning ways.
Acid test for Rahul in Gujarat
Come the hour of reckoning, the 47-year-old Rahul Gandhi will become the sixth from the Nehru-Gandhi family to head the over 100-year-old party. Veteran leaders feel that subsequent to the coronation of the heir-apparent, a new era of leadership will call the shots and in a way that could be parallel to those espoused by Sonia Gandhi.
The AICC has lined up a series of events in a manner that is typical of any orchestrated Congress hype-generating exercise. Not to be left alone and wishing to be part of the action, State units are in the process of finalising their list of delegates to the PCCs as well as the AICC. According to a senior leader overseeing the process, most of the units have ‘identified’ their respective delegates, who will be eligible to exercise their vote for the post of Congress President.
Meanwhile, political circles are wondering about the sabbatical taken by Rahul Gandhi. Irrespective of what he did during those days, thats remain an unresolved mystery, Gandhi transformed himself to such levels that he suddenly seems a man possessed and the one who can take any attack into the NDA camp. There are already expectations that he wishes to ensure a Rahul vs Modi battle in the 2019 general elections.
Rahul, of late, has been targeting the NDA government in general and Prime Minister Modi in particular. He has also changed his style of public speaking. A marked difference is visible in his political strategies as compared to the Rahul during the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. His campaign style in Gujarat is entirely different. He is trying to address various sections particularly the pre-dominant and electorally crucial Patels and the youth.
While the Congress has successfully roped in Hardik Patel by assuring him that they would give reservation to Patels if voted to power, Rahul has been talking about his skills as a black belt karateka.
However, the party leadership is anxiously looking forward to Gujarat Assembly results, as it could be a good parameter to the individual standing of both the BJP and the Congress, despite it being a State election. They feel that the Rahul-Hardik combination and the pact with the Patidar community marks the opposition’s trump card in order to end BJP’s 22-year rule in the state, In hindsight, it could upset the sentiments of leaders of other castes and may even run afoul of legal ceilings set by the Supreme Court.
If this combination works, it could bring the party to power and could pave way for better electoral chances in the 2019 elections as it would be the first major achievement of ‘President’ Rahul Gandhi. Hardik Patel said the Congress has committed to give quota to his community in jobs and college admissions by bringing a bill once elected. The formula for how it will be done will be included in Congress’s manifesto, he added.
“We will majorly gain with Hardik’s support. It will help us in 25 seats. At least 65% of the Patidar votes will come to our party,” is the optimistic observation of Gujarat Congress spokesperson Kailash Kumar Gadhvi. According to political analyst Prakash Shah, the Congress will gain from the understanding, although, it could be tight rope-walk for the Congress.
This is not the first time the BJP is facing a tough contest in Saurashtra, a region dominated by Patels. In the 2012 Assembly elections, the BJP overcame a stiff challenge from its former Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel, whose newly-floated Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) won 32 seats. The Congress bagged 13 while the GPP could manage to win just two and the NCP one.
For all the expectations and points of debate that border on hypothetical ifs and buts, the ground reality is that it is not fully conducive for a Congress comeback, though it is sure to make significant increase in its vote share and perhaps increase its strength in Gujarat Assembly. It appears the Congress is so confident of gaining lost glory that it has timed the coronation of Rahul while the polls are on in Gujarat. But then the big question is what will happen if the party emerges as the main opposition.
It would certainly have negative impact on the 2019 elections. That apart, there are many questions that still need to be answered. Has Rahul become such a seasoned politician that he can revive the party prospects? Can he take on Modi and triumph? Can Gujarat elections be construed as a trial run to the main battle? Assembly elections are different from general elections, which is a bigger canvas and where the stakes are ominous and high. Moreover, there cannot be a uniform strategy for the nation as issues vary from State to State.
For example, in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, the party is in a shambles. It has done precious little to project winning optimism. It has failed to throw up a leader, who can win the hearts of the people and take on the ruling TRS and TDP governments.
Congress suffered a major setback in Uttar Pradesh and other states that went to polls recently. A silent ego battle is on within and there is a conflict of policy matters in the party between the old guard and the young brigade. In simple words, unless a proper balance is maintained between the two factions, it would be difficult to steer the party towards victory.
Another important issue which needs to be watched is the role of Sonia Gandhi post the anointment of Rahul Gandhi, which is not clear yet, although she is likely to be the figurehead. Sonia Gandhi is likely to continue as chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party.
There is hope that Rahul will create a young brigade to reinstate the hope of Congress. The top brass is also looking forward to young blood and having Rahul Gandhi at the helm of affairs can be the best step forward. They feel that he can revive the magic which his father Rajiv Gandhi had weaved. When Rajiv became the Prime Minister it was a young team consisting of his cousin and the wily Arun Nehru, who was the navigator with people like Ahmed Patel being backroom boys.
Of course, there is a vast difference between the political situation in 1984 and 2017 and this should be understood by the campaign managers of Rahul. In addition, he has to reckon with the charismatic hold of Modi which has not vanished, in spite of misdemeanours of demonetisation and GST. That explains why even strident supporters are not proclaiming “Ab ki baar Congress Sarkar.”