The new Congress is ag­gres­sive on state­craft, be­hind on vote­craft

Hindustan Times (Chandigarh) - - HTNATION - Au­rangzeb Naqsh­bandi

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.

PTI FILE

Congress Pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi greets his sup­port­ers dur­ing a rally ahead of the Kar­nataka Assem­bly polls in Bengaluru.

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