Congress bets on high-stakes gamble

Congress bets on high-stakes gamble

THE HANS INDIA |   Dec 06,2017 , 11:04 PM IST


The agitated Patidar community, crestfallen small and marginal traders, jobless youth and distressed farming community should make a potent combination for burying the BJP rule fathoms deep in Gujarat.

Political pundits and analysts are slowly upping their anti-incumbency ratings with each survey and on the eve of the first phase of polling Gujarat, they now see a photo-finish. It means that if the disenchantment with the long BJP rule gets crystallised further, that should predict a remarkable Congress resurgence giving a boost to the party’s president anoint.

Congress leadership had a herculean task ahead of the elections and it did well in wooing the dalit, OBC and Patidar youth leadership. The Gujarat experiment for the Congress is not all about just fighting an election.

It is more about establishing Rahul Gandhi as the Opposition face to take on the Modi-Shah combine. Gujarat win is all about optics, too. It not only gives a fillip to the Congress leadership's efforts to prop up Rahul Gandhi in a pre-eminent role but also, it feels, could lead to consolidation of the anti-BJP politics in the country. 

Hence, the social engineering. Now how would Congress really integrate Patidars, OBCs and dalits is to be seen. As the clock ticks towards December 9th's first phase, both Congress and the BJP are sitting with fingers crossed over the yield of the gamble. 

A Thakor community leader Alpesh Thakor, a dalit leader Jignesh Mewani and a Patidar leader Hardik Patel, no doubt, have come together to dent the BJP prospects. The last of the three is rather hogging all the media limelight reportedly drawing even bigger crowds than the Prime Minister himself. 

He seems to be having his staunch followers. But, however shrewd he may sound, polling time is not about just mobilisation of crowds in public meetings. It’s a far greater engineering that works variously to impact the voting patterns.

Moreover, there are now questions emerging on whether all those attending Hardik Patel's meetings are Patidars. Patidar Samaj elders are disagreeing. This community is not a monolith and is split along several lines. 

So, Hardik's appeal is certainly hot universal. When Madhavsinh Solanki, the then Chief Minister of Gujarat in 1981, introduced the reservation for socially and economically backward castes, based on recommendations of the Bakshi Commission, it resulted in anti-reservation stir across the State that led to riots and about 110 deaths.

Solanki introduced his own social engineering to come back to power after resigning in 1985 with his KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslims) experiment. Patidars then fell out with the Congress and sailed towards the BJP. 

Rahul Gandhi is now depending on yet another social engineering experiment hoping to replicate the Solanki example promising quota for Patidars. In doing so, he has pitted the about 17 per cent Patidar community members of Gujarat against nearly 40 per cent of the OBCs, unmindful of the consequences this move could have for the party.

Congress may have taken comfort in the argument that the BJP which came to power in 2012 had the support of 11 per cent Patidars in the State and a chunk shifting away from it now would result in a huge damage to the BJP. 

Those arguing in favour of a Congress win point to the fact that Keshubhai Patel who rebelled against the ruling BJP to form Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) in 2012, bagged just 3.6 per cent of the votes to defeat the BJP in 23 Assembly segments in Saurashtra and Kutch, to claim that a greater chunk of Patels moving away from the BJP could spell its doom now. 

However, the BJP is eying the votes of the OBCs who are now wary of the Congress promise to the Patidars. No social group now-a-days is ready to lose its benefits through reservations. More so, in the case of Alpesh Thakor who is a known Congressman since years. There is nothing new in his support to the Congress, but today his joining hands with Hardik Patel is not to the liking of his community's youth.  

Rahul Gandhi and his advisers should have looked at Mayawati's experiment with social engineering. Her Dalit, Muslim and Brahmin combo and earlier, the Dalit-Muslim combo did not stand by her side for long. A traditional ally of a party might shift allegiance to a new political outfit or party temporarily, but it would always touch base at the first opportunity with its past friend. 

Mayawati's success or for that matter even Mulayam Singh Yadav's was more attributable to the hard work they had put in to understand the intrinsic as well as extrinsic issues involved. The goals, plans and even budget in the election could be in place for the Congress, but its success would depend on the intensity of its focus on how to achieve those goals.

The most important questions that the Congress leadership in Gujarat should ask itself now are: Has everything been communicated to the people responsible for the targets and goals? Is everyone in agreement and aligned with the direction of the party on how to get there? Most importantly, have they put the right metrics and motivators in place to inspire the voters to go to the booths to vote for the Congress despite the inherent contradictions to its social engineering.

These are key because this is an area where Amit Shah-Narendra Modi combine excels. When all surveys and predictions claim it is going to be a tight race, it is mathematics that trumps finally over the chemistry of the combinations. Unless the disgruntlement and disenchantment of the people are channelised properly in Gujarat, Congress could well be left behind. 

A competitor does not worry about the scoreboard or stats or social media fans. A competitor shows up to be the best they can be and their hunger for improvement is never satiated. There lies the difference between the win and a loss. Now the game is all about one’s mental conditioning.

By W Chandrakanth