Rahul Gandhi now becomes a challenger for Modi in 2019 polls

Rahul Gandhi now becomes a challenger for Modi in 2019 polls
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NEW DELHI: Congress’ fighting performance in Gujarat is a morale booster for Rahul Gandhi and the party as the home state of the Prime Minister and BJP national president has been the most impregnable BJP bastion. It establishes Rahul Gandhi as a credible challenger to Modi in 2019 and Congress the rallying point of anti-BJP forces nationally. It also places responsibility on them to retain the tempo in assembly elections scheduled for 2018, ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. Yet, the loss in a close fight, where Congress was gifted with many strategic openings should make Gandhi and his party sit up and tighten the loose ends.

Congress’ spectacular show in Gujarat has to be seen from three contexts: The party faced the polls against the backdrop of BJP’s massive victory in 2014, when the saffron party won all 26 seats and mopped up 60.11% votes against Congress’ 33.45%. Similarly, in 2012, BJP won 115 assembly seats and secured 47.85% votes against Congress’ 61 seats and 38.93% votes. After Congress MLAs led by Shankesinh Vaghela defected to BJP, its effective strength was 47 against BJP’s 129 MLAs. Winning close to 80 seats is thus significant. Coming two days after Rahul Gandhi’s elevation as party chief, the Gujarat results gifts him talking points and breathing space. If the party’s tally had gone below the 2012 figure, opponents and critics would have declared him a ‘lameduck’ party president and a ‘gift’ for BJP. AICC general secretary in-charge of Gujarat, Ashok Gehlot, was quick to hail Gandhi’s role. “Rahul ji’s extensive campaign and issues he raised have earned rich dividends,” h ..

ALLIANCE AND PLANK

Congress needs strategic tie-ups nationally for shoring anti-BJP forces, like it had in Gujarat. Rahul will have to follow Sonia Gandhi’s footsteps in alliance-making and networking with potential allies inside and outside Parliament and in states where the party needs strategic props.

Congress’ pro-farmer and pro-poor campaign discourse in Gujarat has been fruitful and would embolden it to follow the same tactical path ahead of 2019. Congress could also increase its attack on economic policies of central government, even while making it clear it advocates economic reforms that empower the larger population. Rahul’s temple visits to defuse the ‘anti-Hindu’ barb of BJP could also continue. Congress will also keep up its campaign against EVM ‘tampering’.

WEAK ORGANISATION, PIGMY SATRAPS

At the same time, Gandhi and Congress leadership are also bound to introspect on what deprived Gujarat Congress from tapping anti-incumbency against BJP and resentment from social sections. Many believe what proved to be the Achille’s heels was a dormant state unit and absence of local leaders with credible reach. Defeat of top state Congress leaders Arjun Modhwadia, Shaktisinh Kohil and Sidharth Patel made the difference between victory and defeat.

SONIA LESSONS

When Sonia-led Congress fought the Vajpayee regime, she constantly travelled across states, rallying the party before Congress won polls in MP, Rajasthan and Delhi in 1998. “Sonia ji stayed the course and let a series of entrenched Congress satraps such as Digvijaya Singh, Ashok Gehlot, Sheila Dikshit, SM Krishna and YSR to fight and conquer,” said a senior leader.

Rahul has to determinedly stay the course. He has to take key decisions without getting confused by the ‘young Vs old’ debate. Practical and intelligent decisions on who should lead Congress in forthcoming battles in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, where unity of the state Congress and skills of the leader would decide which route Congress would take for the 2019 electoral war.

Courtesy: Economic Times