A LEAF OUT OF THE BJP BOOK
The Congress plans to beat the incumbent party at its own game by borrowing its electoral strategy under state in-charge Kamal Nath
Veteran Congress leader Kamal Nath is adopting the saffron party’s ways to bring new energy to the state party unit
NESTLED IN THE SHADOW OF the Kaimur range, the temple town of Maihar in Satna district was an interesting choice of venue for Madhya Pradesh Congress chief Kamal Nath to kick off the party’s campaign on August 1 for the assembly elections in November. It was from here that Nath had begun his campaign in 1998, when the Congress won against all odds. Recalling the time, Nath, after a darshan at the Sharda Mata temple, told a public meeting, “Sharda Mata had blessed the Congress with victory in 1998 when I began my campaign from Maihar. The Congress will win this election too.”
The nine-term Lok Sabha MP will need all the political acumen he has accumulated over the years to take on the well-entrenched BJP—in power for almost 15 years in the state. And what better way to do so than trying to beat the adversary at their own game? On September 2, a day before Janmashtami, addressing a public meeting in Ganj Basoda village in Vidisha district, Nath promised that his party would set up a gaushala in every village panchayat (of which the state has about 2,300), if the Congress were voted to power. “The BJP talks about protecting cows,” he said, “but does nothing. Cows are dying on the roads every day.” In fact, there is a very obvious attempt by the Congress to shed its anti-Hindu tag. Party leaders are seen making a beeline for temples, more so if it’s a shrine with a big following. At all his public meetings, Nath makes it a point to remind those present of his Hindu credentials by pointing out how he is behind the building of the tallest Hanuman idol, standing 101 feet and 8 inches tall, in Chhindwara.
Cementing his party’s Hindu credentials apart, Nath has also been working toward strengthening the party organisation—a priority the BJP capitalised on some time ago—ever
since he took over as party chief four months ago. Thirty-one of the 63 district Congress committee (DCC) chiefs perceived to be inactive or ‘problematic’ have been replaced. The rest have been told categorically to support the candidates who are contesting.
Identifying the block as the crucial level of leadership for the party to provide support in the run-up to and during the polls, Nath has sub-divided the 11 administrative blocks in his Lok Sabha constituency Chhindwara into 120 units. He may not be able to replicate this across all 487 blocks in MP given the time left, but he does want to introduce focused management in the smaller units. Two new organisational levels—the mandalam, borrowed from the Kerala experience, and the sector— have been created to this end. A few of the active Congress MLAs and DCC chiefs have ensured that at least one worker armed with a smart phone and 10 workers serve as the party’s eyes and ears on polling day at the booths.
Another thing that the Congress has ‘borrowed’ from the BJP is meeting representatives of various communities. Akin to chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s panchayats that are organised on the basis of community and profession, Nath has been holding meetings with representatives of various communities, most recently the Kushwahas, on August 28. In the past four months, Nath has held two dozen such meetings with representatives of the Yadav, Gurjar, Bohri, Vaishya, Lodhi, Sindhi, Patidar, Banjara and Balai communities. He has promised to look into all their grievances and
“I SEE SLOGANEERING FOR [RIVAL] LEADERS [OF THE PARTY] AND PUTTING UP BANNERS AND POSTERS AS THE ENTHUSIASM OF WORKERS. IT’S A GOOD SIGN.” —KAMAL NATH
SEEKING DIVINE INTERVENTION Kamal Nath at the Sharda Mata temple in Maihar