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Analysis

Updated on: Tuesday, January 11, 2022, 08:18 AM IST

FPJ Edit: The polls and the sad state of Congress

\ | PTI

\ | PTI

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Those Indians who want to see a strong opposition look at the Congress and swing between hope and hopelessness. They think the party is losing time in reviving itself, but the party itself does not seem to be in a hurry. It seems to be waiting for the people to get disenchanted with the BJP. Once they are disenchanted, it appears to be thinking, they will come back to the Congress. It is such political fatalism that characterises the party’s campaign in at least four of the five states going to the polls next month. Barring Punjab, where it is in power and where it is hoping to retain it, the four states—Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa—have the BJP in power and the Congress is hoping it will fall. It is not making any effort to drive the BJP out; it is waiting for the people to throw it out.

Look at how the Congress leadership has used its time in the run-up to the elections: a padyatra in UP, a rally in Uttarakhand and a second rally in Punjab cancelled because Rahul Gandhi had to go abroad to celebrate the New Year. And look at how Prime Minister Narendra Modi has, especially where it matters most -- Uttar Pradesh. He blitzed through UP, inaugurating projects, addressing rallies, attacking political opponents with thinly veiled insinuations -- rhymed, prickly puns and lethal epithets. The blitz was broadcast live on television and covered widely in the print media. Adding to the blitz was the UP government’s open-purse propaganda of its ‘achievements’ in electronic, print and digital media. Wherever one looked, one saw Modi and Adityanath. That is called presence. And how did Rahul Gandhi meet the challenge of this spectacular presence? With near-total absence. He joined his sister Priyanka Gandhi for a padyatra in Amethi in the middle of December 2021, and that was all the time, attention and involvement he could spare for UP, the state with which his family was identified for decades, the state which used to be the most secure fort of the Congress. Today, the state is under the control of the party’s main rival. Rahul Gandhi should have been passionate about seizing UP from his political opponents. The party needed to make great efforts here because today, it stands on the margins of state politics. Rahul Gandhi should have devoted himself to the mission of regaining UP. Instead, he has left it to Priyanka Gandhi alone. It is he who is the face of the Congress, not Priyanka Gandhi. He should have been there with Priyanka.

The problem with Rahul Gandhi is the confusion he has created with his attitude to leadership. In the morning he says, “I am no longer the Congress president,”; in the evening he says, “I am still the Congress president” and the next morning again he says, “I am no longer the Congress president”. The duality of his ‘presence-absence’ is what has driven the Congress party into the ICU, not the devastation unleashed by the BJP conquests. A party loses an election and returns to fight another. But ever since the Congress party lost the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, it has never looked fit and running again, but as though it has lost its will to fight.

The absent presence of the leader can only result in poor management of the organisation. In every state that is going to polls, the Congress is a divided house, rather than a family. In Punjab, the party’s state president Navjot Singh Sidhu is a bigger critic of its government than the opposition leaders. What is the Congress worker going to tell the voter when he goes for canvassing—that “according to Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi, my government has performed very well, but according to Pradesh Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu, it has not done so”? In Manipur, the fragmentation of the Congress has not stopped since the BJP bought off the former to seize power, despite winning seven fewer seats. In Goa, the atomisation reduced the number of Congress MLAs from 17 in 2017 to 2 in 2021. When the leader is neither absent nor present, the organisation is bound to implode.

Pessimism is a bad thing, but what can Indians who would want to see the Congress as a strong opposition to the BJP do if the party looks poor in all respects compared to the BJP? The BJP too is ridden with factions in states, but its leadership has managed them well to keep the organisation strong. The BJP has been highly innovative in mobilising voters in its favour; the Congress has been far behind in this. The BJP has used technology marvellously to connect its grassroots workers to the voters in villages or urban wards; the Congress is nowhere in comparison. The BJP has turned welfare schemes into a dolefor-vote apparatus; the Congress has yet to begin building that dexterity.

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Published on: Tuesday, January 11, 2022, 08:18 AM IST
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