As Polls Near Congress Gets Concerned
The Congress men are nervous with elections to the assemblies in politically critical states just four months away and the General Election if not shifted to an earlier date nine months later. They suspect the ability of the Gandhis, the duo of mother and son, to get them elected.
Their fear stems from the Congress debacle in the Bihar and UP elections for the state assemblies. Both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul campaigned vigorously in the two states, especially Rahul in UP, but their party was reduced to four from nine assembly members in Bihar and from 42 to 28 in UP. This time Sonia might not be able to campaign very much, if reports about her not fully fit are true.
Has the “Prince” learnt from his mistakes and has honed his campaigning style?
The question, which some Congr-essmen are asking too, has to be considered first because even if the state of the Congress Party is good and is fighting fit, if it does not have campaigners who can win voters, all the preparedness would be futile. The ‘devotion’ of party men to the Gandhis has been because they were the only ones who were getting them elected.
When the party returned to power in 1980 after the bashing in the 1977 election, a large number of newly elected MPs were gathered at Indira Gandhi’s residence. A Newsweek correspondent asked her what they were doing at her place, she said, “They are here because of me.”
The question now being asked who will campaign is rather belittling for the present Gandhis. The party men know very well that it would be Rahul Gandhi, who is party’s most well-known face apart from his mother. So whether he has become a vote-catcher or not he is the only one in the Congress Party who will criss-cross the country to seek voter support. Sonia Gandhi would, even if not fully physically fit, certainly be undertaking campaigning in selected places but she might not able to tour like in the past.
But Rahul would start with a severe handicap for he cannot expect much help from state leaders. One they cannot challenge regional satraps nor have they built up good enough organisation to get voters to polling booths. Can, for instance, the Congress President of the Bihar state unit take on Nitish Kumar? Not even the unpopular Lalu Yadav! In fact there has been local opposition to office-bearers selected by Rahul in various states. The President chosen by him for Bihar unit is alleged by his opponents to have a rather unsavoury past.
In UP, one Madhusudan Mistry from Gujarat has been chosen as chief election campaigner. His qualification, apart from being a blue-eyed man of Rahul, is credited with the Congress victory in Karnataka. So BJP has the chief poll in-charge from Gujarat and so has Congress. It is said there is a lot of murmur against Mistry. In any case Karnataka is not UP.
Rahul would have to visit as many constituencies as possible. A repeat is impossible. Is it humanly possible even for a comparatively young person like Rahul to tour all of 544 constituencies, even if they are whistle stop visits?
The first serious handicap for the Congress is thus the lack of effective, vote-gathering campaigners. The senior and experienced veterans of the Party who have been put on shelves are seldom asked to help in selection. Thus a combination of suggestions from recently found friends and advisers and management style of selection has resulted in picking up persons who are less political and more glib talkers.
Presently, Sonia Gandhi is tied to running of the Government Delhi and Rahul is happy meeting chief ministers from Congress-ruled states, party MPs, MLAs, office-bearers of state party units. This is needed, to enthuse them, to make organisations fighting fit for the coming elections. The question is, when would he start meeting or addressing voters?
Rahul’s other problem is that he has as yet not fully understood the Indian psyche especially of rural conservative people who continue to stick to old customs and code of conduct. From time to time he says something which does not go down with the old guard. For instance, one is told that his warning that he was not as soft as his mother and he would take action against those who were lackadaisical or made too many mistakes, led to resentment among a whole lot of segments in the party.
Against such a backdrop, the series of scams and unstoppable rapes and other crimes against women, failing economy, inflation and ever-increasing prices have made things difficult for the Congress. The people do not care about the other allies in the UPA but blame the Congress alone because they feel that the country is being run by Mrs Sonia Gandhi’s party.
This means Congress would have to carry the sins of other allies. A voter in a village would not, for instance, be able to comprehend who A. Raja or Kanimozhi are. They know that there were huge losses in the Games and the Centre is guilty. So who has to pay the price for that, the Congress, of course.
The more serious situation for the party presently is the rise of Narendra Modi, whether one likes him or hates him. He has become known nationally just like Rahul or Sonia. There is no doubt a new fault-line, the BJP versus Congress and the rest of political parties except Jayalalitha’s AIDMK and Shiv Sena and Akali Dal has developed with cut-off date 2002.
The Congress Party has thus the advantage of securing support from a combination of parties post-election. It can share power in a coalition even if it secures lesser number of seats. The BJP would need over 200 plus seats before it could hope to form a coalition.
Much would however depend on Rahul’s ability to satisfy voters that the UPA 3, would be scam and corruption free and would be decisive enough to be able to provide an effective administration and proper governance. That the economy would improve, prices would fall and law and order situation would be controlled.
It indeed is a tall order. It would not be easy, given Rahul’s public speaking ability, especially as he would be pitted against Modi, who is definitely a rabble-rouser and a very good public speaker.
The other stumbling block for all parties would be the radically changed factors that voters would consider before deciding whom to elect. Over 65 per cent are under 35, they are global in thinking, highly ambitious, vocal, want good governance and decisive leaderhip and are not given much to go by caste and creed and old loyalties.
The outcome of elections would thus depend on whose numbers are higher, of those who want good governance and opportunities for upward mobility and are unmindful of secular credentials of the leader so long he is not a fanatic, and of those who want secular leaders irrespective of their ability to provide good administration.
The Congress leaders know the party is extremely unpopular and people are angry. How would Rahul overcome these seemingly fatal factors and that too in a short time! The situation within the party is also not nice, tensions persist between ministers, allies of the Congress, especially Mulayam Singh Yadav and K. Karunanidhi, have been blowing hot and cold. Mayawati has never believed in long-term alliance. In most State units, dissidence is so much that one can hardly expect them to devote all their time and energy to promote the party.
The fate of Congress would depend completely on Rahul. One feels sympathy for him. But unfortunately voters, being squeezed between high prices and corruption, are unlikely to feel the same way.
The Congress men know this and they are a worried lot. The party has never been on the brink of hitting
By Vijay Dutt