Rahul Gandhi's Wayanad Move Shows Off New Congress Strategy

Published: March 31, 2019 16:45 IST
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As Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party announced that he would be contesting Wayanad in Kerala besides Amethi, his traditional seat, a huge outcry went up from the usual suspects.

The objections: Gandhi is betraying the opposition, he is contesting against a traditional and important ally, the Left, the Congress is not serious about 2019 or an anti-Modi bloc and is therefore invested in a walkover for Modi.

The expectations of the Congress in the name of opposition unity are immense - and dense. It is supposed to give up five of seven seats in Delhi to Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) for example, roll over and accept 2 of 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh from Akhilesh Yadav-Mayawati and steer clear of a solid play for the 20 seats in Kerala, all while signing up as junior partner to all regional opposition parties for the general election.

The fundamental question is should the Congress, battling an existential crisis, save itself first or save the opposition or save the Left the umbrage it has taken to Gandhi's Kerala gambit?

If one concedes that the Congress, however muddled, is still in the game of being a major political party with the goal of winning elections, then Gandhi's move is smart politics.

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Rahul Gandhi has repeatedly said he wants more "inclusive politics".

Gandhi has outshone Modi in all opinion polls in the South. Wayanad is located happily near the border with Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and senior Congress leader AK Antony said today of Gandhi's move, "In a way, it will satisfy the requests of the three southern states". Gandhi contesting will certainly have a ripple effect in Kerala and the three other southern states where the party remains a serious contestant.

The Congress with its love for legacy and lore, especially Gandhi family lore, also points out that Indira Gandhi contested from Chikmagalur in Karnataka and Sonia Gandhi from Bellary in the same state. Sources close to Gandhi say this foray is not just a nod to history but a shrewd attempt to mop up and maximise gains in South India. Gandhi has repeatedly said that he wants a more "inclusive politics". Also supposedly considered according to a senior Congress source was the signalling if support to southern states who have been demanding that they not be penalised for containing population growth with the 2011 census being used to weigh how to divide tax revenue between the centre and states instead of the 1971 survey.

The Left and its fellow travellers in the media have come out all guns blazing against Gandhi who will now fight a Left candidate directly but Congress leaders say they cannot be expected to have no red lines in their party's own political ambition

"The Left could also have said we will sacrifice Wayanad for the cause of opposition unity. Did they? Everyone should win except the Congress? Is Gandhi running an NGO or a political party?" said a Congress leader to me.

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Both Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi are now building up the Congress for the long term.

The Congress cites the case of Punjab for turning down the AAP alliance saying Chief Minister Amarinder Singh would have revolted to form a regional party if that alliance had been considered. A senior member of Team RG says, "Regional parties are no friends of the congress. To them we are as big a threat as the BJP".

Both Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi are now in the game of delayed gratification and building up the Congress for the long term. Priyanka Gandhi's comment in UP that the party should get ready for the next assembly elections was a pointer to this. Rahul Gandhi said that he had not sent Jyotiraditya Scindia and Priyanka to UP for 2019 but for a " real fight". It may have upset Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati but was music to the ears of that endangered species, the Congress worker in UP.

So what of the BJP's excitement that Gandhi ran away from a fight with Smriti Irani? A Congress leader, part of the UP plan, smirks, "If Modi had contested another seat, it would have been a master stroke, but the Congress 'runs away.' These days we do real politics, not TV debates."

The new strategy of the Congress is to rebuild and maximise tallies across India so that they can bargain better. Even Congress treasurer Ahmed Patel is likely to contest the Lok Sabha seat from Bharuch in Gujarat from where he started his political career as the mayor. The decision on Patel could come by next week.

The cherry on the cake would be a humdinger contest between Priyanka Gandhi and Modi in Varanasi. Senior leaders who clearly have got a new shot of adrenalin smile and say "wait and watch". After all, Digvijaya Singh has read the tea leaves and is contesting Bhopal, a seat which has voted BJP for two decades.

So the new deal is contest, prove your worth, no more Rajya Sabha wisdom. The opposition needs to redo its plans for the Congress.

(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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