The new Congress is aggressive on statecraft, behind on votecraft
NEWDELHI: The Congress’ decision to move the Supreme Court on Wednesday night, challenging the Karnataka governor’s invitation to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to form the next state government, is part of the new aggression the party has displayed in recent weeks under its president Rahul Gandhi. But when it comes to striking a chord with voters, the Congress trails way behind its political rival.
First, the aggression, although it didn’t pay dividends in the Supreme Court, which declined to stay the swearing-in of the BJP government in Karnataka.
The party has vociferously targeted the government for cancelling a 126-aircraft deal with Dassault Aviation of France that envisaged the local manufacturing of Rafale fighter planes and opting to buy 36 planes instead in a fly-away condition. It has raised allegations of corruption against senior BJP leaders and the suspected ₹12,600-crore fraud at Punjab National Bank involving diamantaire Nirav Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi.
The Congress has also raised the issues of an increase in attacks on Dalits and women and the alleged assault on institutions, including the Supreme Court and high courts, and a perceived attempt to fill these institutions with people who follow the ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP’S own ideological fount.
Even as several leaders cautioned against it, the Congress also initiated a move to remove Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, questioning the allocation of cases by him. Rajya Sabha chairperson M Venkaiah Naidu rejected the notice for Misra’s removal, prompting two Congress MPS to move the apex court. They later withdrew the petition.
In Karnataka, the Congress was quick to move and ally with the Janata Dal (Secular) to get past the halfway mark after it failed to get enough numbers in the assembly polls. And when Governor Vajubhai Vala on Wednesday invited the BJP, which emerged as the largest party in the state assembly but without a simple majority, to form the government, it was quick to challenge the decision at an urgent hearing in the SC.
“Our decision to ally with JD(S) within hours of results coming in, and the decision to challenge the Governor’s invitation, show that Congress president Rahul Gandhi is politically and ideologically clear. He is willing to fight hard,” a Congress leader said on condition of anonymity. But, for the Congress, the real worry remains electoral outcomes. The party has lost or performed badly in 20 states since 2014. It lost power — alone or with allies — in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana (the Congress ruled united Andhra Pradesh for 10 years from 2004 till its bifurcation in 2014), Maharashtra, Haryana, J&K, Jharkhand, Kerala, Assam, Uttarakhand, Manipur, Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and now Karnataka. Among the states where the Congress fared badly are Odisha, Delhi, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Nagaland and Tripura. In Goa, the party could not form the government despite emerging as the single largest party.
The Congress was able to form a government only in Punjab and Puducherry and improve its tally in Gujarat after nearly two decades. It is also in power in Mizoram, which goes to the polls later this year. The results of the last Lok Sabha polls showed that the Congress had failed to open its account in 13 states and could not cross the double-digit mark in any state. The annihilation in states has further shrunk its political space.
The BJP points to precisely this gap. Anil Baluni, the party’s media department head and Rajya Sabha MP, said, “The Congress is getting active in court, but is disappearing among the people. The party is filled with textbook leaders, not mass leaders, who can’t win elections. And in cases like Punjab, where they have won, it is not the party or its national leadership but a Captain Amarinder Singh who won.” The ‘immature and unsuccessful’ leadership will drive the party down further, Baluni added.
Political analysts attribute the Congress’s defeats to its failure to put in place state-specific strategies and its inability to reconnect with the masses.
“It has miserably failed in campaign strategy and vote-catching. It has also not been able to strategise differently for different states. The failure to communicate its achievements for example in Karnataka and absence of focused planning are the other reasons for its continued electoral debacles,” said Delhi-based political analyst N Bhaskara Rao.
But the situation is not new to the Congress; its leaders point to a similar turbulent phase in 1998 when the party ruled just four states — Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Mizoram and Nagaland.
That was the time when Sonia Gandhi took over its reins. Under her leadership, the Congress rose to govern 17 states — either alone or in alliance — in 2004.
Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan will go to the polls in November-december this year and in all these states, the Congress is in a direct fight with the BJP. It is important for the grand old party to win some of these states for its comeback at the national level.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi greets his supporters during a rally ahead of the Karnataka Assembly polls in Bengaluru.