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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 49 December 2, 2023

Will the Congress learn from this defeat | Faraz Ahmad

Saturday 2 December 2023, by Faraz Ahmad


December 4, 2023

The results of the three Hindi heart land states of India going in favour of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) virtually on the eve of the 2024 elections for the 18th Lok Sabha are, without doubt a big setback for the Congress party, and the INDIA bloc too, lying dormant for the duration of the campaign for the just concluded elections to Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhatisgarh.

It has however to be seen whether this will demoralise Congress star campaigners Rahul Gandhi and sister Priyanka or it would not let this defeat cause a setback to Rahul’s over a year-long bid to challenge Sangh’s communal and divisive agenda.

On the first day of the Winter session of Parliament a triumphant Modi thumping his chest proudly announced ‘Ek akela kitnon ko bhari pad raha hai’. Also if the INDIA bloc will crush under this defeat or rise to face the challenge of the Lone Ranger.

Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra had revived all those who craved for a pre-Modi, happier more tolerant and more accommodating times, with much hope.

There are many an issue to be pondered over while analysing this humiliating defeat of the Congress party in the large state of Madhya Pradesh, its one-time appendage, Chhatisgarh, and not to forget Rajasthan.

BJP alone won’t gloat over this victory in Chhatisgarh for instance, but a cause of big relief nee satisfaction, for the most shining star of India’s billionaire club, Gautam Adani, Modi so fondly nurtures. Outgoing Chhatisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel had warned that BJP’s victory in his state would open floodgates for Adani’s exploitation of this mineral-rich tribal state.

Most Rajasthan watchers had pronounced Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot a loser much before the elections were announced and with some justification no doubt because of the way Gehlot, for the lust of power, refused to share with the young and promising hard-working Sachin Pilot, whom the Congress high command had sent after its 2013 defeat to Rajasthan to revive Congress fortunes and as Pradesh Congress committee president and he did creditable work in the Eastern Rajasthan, dominated by Sachin’s Gujjar community. When the Congress party offered Gehlot its national presidentship, he didn’t accept if he were to let go of Rajasthan to Pilot. People were looking at this lust for power and the humiliation of Pilot and were sure to teach Gehlot a lesson. In fact, none other than Rahul himself was openly sceptical of any victory in Rajasthan. In so far as that, the Congress party’s defeat here is not half as bad as that in Madhya Pradesh. It proves that if Gehlot and Pilot had worked together as a team all through five years, the Congress could have beaten the past trend of BJP, Congress rule alternating each term.

Congress has been messing up Madhya Pradesh since 2018 when it chose the ageing, has been Kamal Nath to lead the party and be the chief minister candidate as well. Even after the Congress party won in 2018, Kamal Nath refused to hand over the party post to rival Jyotiraditya Scindia, resulting in the fall of the Congress government barely after its formation due to Scindia’s rebellion.

But more importantly, Kamal Nath is a Hindutva proponent and a moneybag, the wrong choice to lead a state with a large population of tribals, scheduled castes and OBCs. It has no doubt a very influential and assertive section of the upper caste all along holding the reins of power.

The Congress party was therefore caught between two contradictions. On the one hand, Rahul Gandhi was promising a caste census if the Congress came to power, and on the other the party‘s CM candidate was an upper-caste Hindutva proponent. Besides, Rahul call for opening ‘Mohabbat ki dukaan’ with Kamal Nath in tow lacked conviction and sounded hollow.

Perhaps we should not entirely blame the Congress party for this. The fact is that following Modi’s arrival on the national scene, Congress has been so badly weakened that for one there is hardly a High Command of yore left and for lack of it, its satraps have become a law unto themselves.

But the party’s high command, including Rahul, Sonia and Congress president Malikarjun Kharge have also to share a considerable degree of blame.

Having taken a lead in forming the INDIA alliance, Rahul and Kharge abandoned the idea as soon as the time came to prove and demonstrate the unity in the INDIA alliance. At worst, the results in these three states would not have been any worse than this. Perhaps a victory might have been possible. But more importantly, it would have sent a message of a national alliance against the BJP.

It was probably the year 1988 when V.P. Singh held a rally in Agra. On the stage were so many leaders including Chaudhry Devi Lal and the then Andhra Pradesh chief minister N.T. Rama Rao, whose heavily accented Hindi one found difficult to comprehend. But that rally sent out a message of the emergence of the National Front. Eventually, in the 1989 elections, the National Front virtually drew blank from the South. Yet Singh remained committed to the Front and had in his cabinet Murasoli Maran from DMK as Urban Development, K.P. Unnikrishnan as Telecom, Shipping and Surface Transport and P. Upendra as Information and Broadcasting ministers. All three presided over important ministries. The same principle was followed by subsequent national alliances, be that of the United Front led by Deve Gowda and later I.K. Gujral or Atal Behari Vajpayee and even Sonia Gandhi who brought together the UPA. In the runup to the 2004 general elections led by Sonia Gandhi, despite stiff opposition in the Congress party, she struck an alliance with the newly formed Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) and ensured he became a cabinet minister in the Manmohan Singh government.

It takes no time to announce with all the fanfare a Front, but it is that much more difficult to keep it together. Like most Congressmen Dr Manmohan Singh did not seem as pleased with some of his ministers from coalition partners. But it was Sonia who kept them in good humour throughout. Kharge and Rahul better learn that lesson fast before the situation gets completely out of hand.

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