By Amulya Ganguli
Even by the Congress’s standards, two false steps in a single day can be considered odd. The party usually misses its footing once in a while. But perhaps the proximity of the elections has blurred its focus. Hence, the mistakes.
The most egregious of them was also one which was uncalled for. There was no need for Rahul Gandhi to contest from two seats when there isn’t a ghost of a chance that he will lose in Amethi, one of the Congress’s bailiwicks.
Now, however, when he has shown that he is not fully confident about his chances, there may be a measure of resentment among a section of voters in the constituency over the Congress president’s decision to look for another “safe” seat when Amethishould have been deemed safe enough.
Nor is Wayanad very safe considering that both Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan and former CPI(M) general secretary, the Stalinist Prakash Karat, have let it be known that they will try their best to defeat Rahul since their dialectical interpretation of his decision to contest is that he is fighting more against the Left than the BJP. So much for the idea of a gathbandhan.
In any event, Rahul’s choice of Wayanad is odd since his opponent in Amethi can hardly be regarded as a formidable politician. Instead, Smriti Irani is a former star in a trashy (though popular) soap opera, and a former human resource development minister whose inadequate educational qualifications made her eminently unsuitable for the post. To give such a person the opportunity to say that the Shehzada has run away is a blunder.
The explanation given by the Congress’s spokespersons that Rahul’s decision was a riposte to the BJP’s attempts to create a North-South divide does not hold water in view of the BJP’s minimal influence in the south, except in Karnataka. The party may be trying to exploit the Sabarimala issue to secure a foothold in Kerala. But the move has only confirmed its essentially communal and pseudo-religious outlook.
Rahul’s southern venture will serve hardly any purpose, therefore, to counter an already weak BJP in Kerala and will only take his time and attention away from Amethi and other areas where he is virtually the only leader who is carrying the entire burden of the opposition’s campaign on his shoulders. The Wayanad excursion will, therefore, be a pointless distraction.
The Congress’s other mistake is to go it alone in Delhi. The decision, however, is seemingly in keeping with the belief that the party has for all practical purposes given up hopes about the forthcoming elections and is preparing for 2024 by building up the organization. If so, it does not speak well of its stamina or resilience or fighting spirit. In fact, it denotes a defeatist outlook. A resounding defeat cannot be a good omen for 2024.
However, it is also possible that the Congress hasn’t shed its inborn hauteur even after the recent electoral setbacks, including the humiliating drubbing in 2014. Instead, it regards the other parties, including the BJP, as interlopers which have entered the corridors of power by chance and will soon be out as the electorate realizes its mistake.
It is this habitual arrogance which made Ghulam Nabi Azad announce that his party will contest all the 80 seats in U.P. as soon as it became evident that there will be no understanding between the Congress and the SP-BSP-RLD combine in the state.
Given the Congress’s present weakened condition in U.P., the boastful declaration made little political sense. Fortunately, the Congress subsequently backtracked, but not enough to prevent a three-cornered fight between the SP-BSP-RLD, the Congress and the BJP. There is little doubt that the latter will be pleased.
The Congress’s attitude can seem all the more haughty in the context of the surprisingly accommodative initiatives of the BJP, notwithstanding the reputation of both Narendra Modi and Amit Shah as being cold and immodest.
Although several senior leaders such as Sharad Pawar and Chandrababu Naidu tried to bring about a rapprochement between the Congress and the Aam Admi Party (AAP), it was to no avail apparently because Sheila Dixit hasn’t forgiven the AAP for her crushing defeat in 2015. So, as in U.P., a three-cornered fight between the AAP, the BJP and the Congress in Delhi would be a godsend for the saffron outfit.
It is obvious that Rahul is yet to understand the need for advances and retreats in political negotiations and for reaching out persistently as Amit Shah did to bring Uddhav Thackeray, Nitish Kumar and Ramvilas Paswan on board following signs of discontent.
Having clawed its way up to the top from two seats in the Lok Sabha in 1984, the BJP has apparently learnt the art of politicking the hard way. The Congress, on the other hand, has had it much too easy, so much so that its admirers like H.D. Kumaraswamy, M.K. Stalin and Tejasvi Yadav can believe that Rahul can be the PM even when there are doubts that the Congress can reach the three-figure mark in this election. (IPA Service)