HAND IN HAND, WE’LL GO
Congress netas try to get their act together
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
I GOT YOUR BACK Scindia, Nath at an India Today TV event in 2016