The Congress has chosen to kick off its campaign for the general election by convening its Working Committee meeting in Gujarat. The party imagined this would be seen as an act of aggression on the turf of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah and showcase a battle-ready, strategy-rich Congress.
Not quite. The Congress is haemorrhaging Gujarat MLAs on a daily basis. Three have quit on successive days, the latest being Vallabh Dharaviya on Monday. Earlier, the party lost Jawahar Chavda, who has heavyweight business interests in mining and education. And in Maharashtra, son of senior Congress leader Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil today joined the BJP.
There could have been a far bigger "oops, we did it again" moment for the Congress as the BJP nearly managed to poach OBC leader Alpesh Thakor. However, the Congress has managed to hold onto him for now. Thakor, along with Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani and Patidar leader Hardik Patel, was key to Rahul Gandhi's Gujarat strategy which saw the Congress putting up a close enough fight in the last state election to allow it the claim of "a moral victory". So the party's state of disarray just 15 months after those elections reflects the typical Congress failure to consolidate any gains.
Exhibit B: It has flat out squandered the momentum of its three heartland wins in December. Always perceived as entitled, the party appears sunk in a complacent stupor since then. Meanwhile, the BJP has taken "Operation Lotus" national and the Gujarat story is being repeated in Haryana and Karnataka.
The endemic infighting in the Congress in Maharashtra, Haryana, Delhi and Punjab seems to be a reality check on Gandhi's abilities as a leader who can hold his party together.
Worse, despite, the years that Gandhi has spent in politics he has been unable to strike a personal equation with other opposition leaders including Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, Deve Gowda. This shows in his dismal track record in striking alliances across the country. The sensible plan of making every constituency a local election and pitching one consensus candidate against the BJP seems to be a non-starter largely because the Congress is flubbing its role as a catalyst of opposition unity. Even the alliance in Karnataka with the JDS is in jeopardy as bargaining continues over how many seats the Congress vs the JDS should get for the general election.
So the opposition cuts a sorry figure in front of Shah who has deftly settled all differences with cantankerous allies like Uddhav Thackeray and Nitish Kumar for political expediency. Yashwant Sinha vented his frustration tweeting this yesterday:
BJP has given up sitting seats in Bihar and Jharkhand to have alliances. The opposition parties are not ready to compromise even on non existing seats. Good luck to them.— Yashwant Sinha (@YashwantSinha) March 11, 2019
One of the canniest operators in Indian politics, Sharad Pawar, who was ready to fight the Lok Sabha election as of last week, announced yesterday that he was opting out of electoral politics. This comes as a blow to the Congress-NCP alliance in Maharashtra which accounts for 48 Lok Sabha seats and is the second national bellwether state after UP.
Gandhi is perpetually harping on the Rafale deal with his war cry "chowkidar chor hai" (the watchman is a thief) attacking Modi yielding diminishing returns. Post Pulwama, the BJP is driving the narrative of muscular nationalism and conflating the party with India.
Instead of changing the story and talking about the real and urgent issues of job creation, agrarian distress, the effects of demonetization, the opposition is playing to the BJP script by raising doubts on the efficacy of the air strikes. This gives the BJP enough fodder to ensure that their mouth piece channels call the opposition "anti national".
A senior Congress leader told me, "Gandhi and the opposition leaders should have changed the story by now but instead they are scoring social media points. India is not Twitter. You can get retweets by abusing Modi but does it translate into votes?"
Gandhi is trying to persuade Hardik Patel to contest against Modi in Varanasi but Samajwadi Party leaders point out that the Congress should have backed the Gathbandhan (SP-BSP) candidate against Modi. It should however be noted that the SP and BSP alliance, hailed as historic, is having trouble on the ground with ticket-seekers rebelling and going to SP Chief Akhilesh Yadav's estranged uncle Shivpal Yadav who has announced that he will contest every seat. Shivpal Yadav has allegedly been helpfully funded by Shah, claim their political opponents.
Even the so-called "Yadav belt" which had withstood the Modi wave in 2014 is up for grabs as the Yadav family fights. These include the seats of Mainpuri, Etawah, Kannauj, and Sambhal.
So, currently the opposition lacks both chemistry and arithmetic. And guess who is grinning on the campaign trail blitzing across India? Yes, Modi and Shah.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.
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