Sunday, December 4th, 2022 20:54:46

Congress- Down but not out

By Nilabh Krishna
Updated: November 24, 2022 6:24 pm

Gujarat has a distinct place in Indian politics because it served as the launching pad for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s current political philosophy. The assembly election, which is set for December 1 and 5, will be a triangular one in which the ruling BJP appears to have a clear advantage due to the AamAadmi Party’s (AAP) emergence as a credible competitor for power. The Congress, which nearly defeated the BJP in 2017, has been losing ground ever since and has so far showed no will to fight. The Congress’s mysterious indifference stands in stark contrast to the exuberance of the AAP.

The collapse of a suspension bridge in Morbi and the deaths that followed undermined the BJP’s claim on its track record of effective governance, but it will have effect on voting preference is very much doubtable. One can say that deep Hindu symbolism and clear cut polarisation among voters has till now steered the politics of the state. Arvind Kejriwal, the leader of the AAP, is attempting to use this polarisation by promising free pilgrimage to Ayodhya for Gujaratis and pressing the BJP to enact a common civil code throughout the nation. The success of AAP has stemmed from Kejriwal’s wide appeal, which triggers automatic voter mobilisation despite the lack of organisation or manpower on the ground. The party is hopeful that Gujarat, where there are enough people looking for an alternative to the two major national parties, would experience the same circumstances as Punjab, where it triumphed in March.

Stakes are high for BJP

According to the CSDS opinion survey conducted prior to the Morbi tragedy, there may not be much voter hostility toward the BJP. More than 70 per cent of respondents supported the BJP, and even those who thought the price increase was worrying continued to support it. The BJP has increased support from the majority of Hindus and tribal groups compared to 2017. The BJP predicts, with good cause, that the AAP will split the opposition votes, making it simpler for it to win than in 2017. Regardless of this assertion, the party is making every effort to protect its fortress.

Caste reverted to being a more significant political factor in Gujarat after Modi’s transfer to New Delhi in 2014 than it had been during the “Modi years.” This allegedly led to a Patil against Patel power struggle, with the Patels reportedly not liking Patil leading the BJP in the state. Since then, however, the BJP has carefully planned its actions. The trio, who may have previously given the BJP pause during the 2017 state assembly elections, cannot be said to pose any threat to the party now. Hardik Patel and AlpeshThakore are members of the BJP, and JigneshMevani’s policies don’t seem to be attracting a lot of support from the general public. In addition, by electing Bhupendrabhai Patel to the position of Chief Minister of Gujarat the sentiments of Patidars have been assuaged by a large extent. Apart from this, two significant private industrial projects were unveiled in short succession in a contentious illustration of the advantages of a “double engine” administration, in which the same party controls both the federal government and the states. According to reports, the investors were pressured to abandon their original plans to settle in Maharashtra. For the BJP’s benefit, the national investigative agencies are actively investigating AAP leaders. The BJP is in a comfortable position, yet it still feels uneasy because the stakes are so high. It is seen by the BJP as being much more than a State election.

Congress – Will it or not?

Arvind Kejriwal, the leader of the AamAadmi Party (AAP), made fun of the Congress and claimed that no one in Gujarat took the grand old party seriously. The Delhi chief minister predicted that the Congress would win less than “five seats” in an exclusive interview with a media organisation. Is that so? Are we looking into an extinction of Congress from Gujarat?  Gujarat saw the Congress retake power in 1985. But this wasn’t your typical victory. A record 149 out of the 182 seats in the state assembly were won by the party. Even the BJP hasn’t reached its vote share high of over 55 per cent, which it received from voters.

Gujarat is going to hold new elections in the first week of December. In addition to being fought in PM Modi’s home state, it also happens to be where his closest ally, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, make his presence felt.

The BJP has held power in the state for the past 27 years, or since 1995. But the Congress is facing a much more serious dilemma. Even between 1990 and 1995, the Congress did not have the public’s mandate. It was in support of the BJP-Janata Dal alliance. Losses in elections, the resignations of some key officials, and internal party strife have led to the existential crisis the Congress is currently experiencing.

In light of this, one might be inclined to predict that the BJP will once more defeat the Congress, whose leader Rahul Gandhi has come under fire for leaving Gujarat out of his current Bharat Jodo Yatra from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, which many have referred to as a walkover. This is a possibility, but elections are not as straightforward as they would seem.

The BJP’s vote share in the six elections held between 1995 and 2017 has often been in the upper forty per cent range. The Congress, however, has not lagged behind either. It has been in the 30s and high 30s, breaking the 40-point during the last assembly elections. Rahul Gandhi ran a vigorous campaign during that election. Despite losing, the Congress’s vote total was the highest since 1985. The BJP prevailed, but it saw its support fall into the double digits for the first time in more than 20 years. Contrary to what some people may have thought, the last election was close. Surat ultimately saved the BJP after PM Modi intensified his campaigning.

Furthermore, it is untrue that the Congress is the weakest party in Gujarat as a whole. Its stronghold has been the rural belt. In these elections, the party outperformed the BJP in terms of seats won. Here, the number of the Congress increased from 57 to 71. The BJP fell from 77 to 63 votes. It is true that the BJP has been strong in urban areas, winning the majority of the 42 urban seats in each election.

Congress believes that the tribal people will support them again this election since they are aware of the “excellent job” that previous party-led governments have done to strengthen the community. According to figures from the 2011 census, there were 89.17 lakh tribal people in Gujarat, or roughly 15% of the state’s total population. The community’s members are primarily dispersed throughout the state’s 14 eastern districts. In 48 talukas, there is a high concentration of tribal people. Since 2002, the BJP has made a concerted effort to challenge the Congress party’s hegemony in the tribal belt since conquering this area, which stretches from Ambaji in the north to Umergaon in the south, is essential for political parties to maintain control of the eastern Gujarat region.

However, this is where things begin to get progressively more intriguing. The third candidate in this election is the AAP. The AAP is largely a party focused on cities. It is simpler for its leader Arvind Kejriwal to travel to Ahmedabad, Surat, and other cities and run for office there where a substantial media presence exists. And, it surely is going to cut into Congress’s vote and will be detrimental for the grand old party’s prospect.

The BJP has been in power for 27 years, after all. If not outright unpopularity, voter tiredness is the party’s biggest problem. Rahul Gandhi didn’t campaign in Gujarat, the Congress will say in response if this doesn’t happen. The scapegoat will probably be MallikarjunKharge, the first non-Gandhi Congress president in 24 years.

The difficulties facing the Congress are numerous. Ahmed Patel, its top strategist, is no longer alive. The party had fought the BJP hard the previous time around thanks to his backroom dealings. The BJP now has Hardik Patel as a member. Gujarat also boasts the most advanced RSS network, which is a huge advantage for the BJP. Despite that one cannot say that Congress is down and out from the game.

 

By Nilabh Krishna

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