HAND IN HAND, WE’LL GO

Congress ne­tas try to get their act to­gether

India Today - - STATES - By Rahul Noronha

Congress politi­cian Ka­mal Nath’s pub­lic over­ture to Jy­oti­ra­ditya Scin­dia in Guna on Septem­ber 27 is be­ing seen as a ‘clos­ing of ranks’ in a di­vided Mad­hya Pradesh Congress. Nath’s sup­port for Scin­dia as the next “chief min­is­ter of the state” and the lat­ter’s ge­nial re­sponse has fu­elled much spec­u­la­tion in party cir­cles here. Es­pe­cially since the next chief of the Pradesh Congress Com­mit­tee (PCC)—ex­pected to be ap­pointed be­fore Oc­to­ber 15—is be­ing per­ceived as de facto CM can­di­date to take on the BJP’s three­time chief min­is­ter, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, in the as­sem­bly polls next year.

But the state Congress faces a daunt­ing prospect given that its dis­mal tally of 58 seats in 2013 was nowhere near the BJP’s 165 (it has to bridge an 8.5 per cent gap in vote share). Leader of the Op­po­si­tion in the state as­sem­bly Ajay Singh be­lieves it is doable. He blames the gap in vote share to the large vic­tory mar­gins in ur­ban seats and pre­dicts “this will

come down as is­sues af­fect­ing the ur­ban pop­u­la­tion have come to the fore”.

As part of its strat­egy for 2018, the Congress is fo­cus­ing on the seats re­served for SCs/ STs (a tra­di­tional vote­bank) and those that have gone the BJP’s way in the past four elec­tions. The fo­cus on the BJP seats is re­ally part of a psy­war, af­ter the saf­fron party chief Amit Shah an­nounced they were con­cen­trat­ing on the Nath and Scin­dia con­stituen­cies of Ch­hind­wara and Guna.

Of the re­served seats, in 2013, the BJP took 28 of the 35 SC seats and 31 of the 47 ST con­stituen­cies. An­a­lysts say the Congress could face a tough time this time round too in th­ese seg­ments, given the mas­sive out­reach into the com­mu­ni­ties by Sangh af­fil­i­ates. To pre­vent a frag­men­ta­tion of the SC/ ST vote, the party is ex­plor­ing al­liances with the BSP and the Gond­wana Gan­tantrak Party (GGP), a tribal group­ing. Such tie­ups could sig­nif­i­cantly ben­e­fit the Congress in the Cham­bal, Vind­hya and Bun­delk­hand re­gions where the BSP has in­flu­ence, and Ma­hakoshal, where the GGP has some sway.

The party will also try and present new faces. A se­nior Congress leader re­veals that un­like in 2013 when most sit­ting MLAs were re­nom­i­nated, nearly 20 per cent of the party nom­i­nees this time will be new. “We will have

to deny tick­ets to some and con­tain any re­bel­lion that it pro­vokes,” says a party leader who did not wish to be named.

Congress lead­ers hope anti-in­cum­bency af­ter three terms and a grow­ing pub­lic per­cep­tion of cor­rup­tion in the state ad­min­is­tra­tion will cost the BJP the elec­tions. “All their claims of de­vel­op­ment have been ex­posed. Even the farm­ers, who are sup­pos­edly do­ing well, are ag­i­tat­ing,” says MP Vivek Tankha.

To en­sure unity within its ranks, the Congress is work­ing on a formula to see that fac­tions left out of the PCC ap­point­ment process are ac­com­mo­dated. In­sid­ers talk about the 1998 ex­per­i­ment of ap­point­ing four work­ing pres­i­dents be­sides the PCC chief to cater to all shades of re­gional and caste as­pi­ra­tions.

But even as it grap­ples with in­ter­nal prob­lems, the state Congress has been rather lethar­gic about rais­ing is­sues to pin the BJP down. Tankha con­cedes that “most scams and is­sues have been raised by NGOs and civil so­ci­ety. In the next elec­tions, the party that has their sup­port will have the edge.”

While Nath and Scin­dia may have patched up, all eyes are now on for­mer chief min­is­ter Digvijaya Singh, who em­barked on a six-month Nar­mada parikrama on Septem­ber 30. Although Singh has for­mally dis­tanced him­self from the race, he has not been a votary of an­nounc­ing a CM can­di­date. He has also sig­nif­i­cantly stayed away from the Nath-Scin­dia bon­homie.

The Congress claims a mem­ber­ship of about 2.1 mil­lion in MP, much smaller than the BJP. An­a­lysts say to make a come­back, the party’s only op­tion is to get its three stal­warts—Singh, Nath and Scin­dia—to pull to­gether. Can they do it?

THE STATE CONGRESS HAS BEEN RATHER LETHAR­GIC ABOUT RAIS­ING IS­SUES TO PIN DOWN THE BJP

VIKRAM SHARMA

I GOT YOUR BACK Scin­dia, Nath at an In­dia To­day TV event in 2016

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