Gujarat effect: a dog-and-mouse game

Gujarat effect: a dog-and-mouse game

His credentials and seniority allow Mr Kharge considerable scope for aggression. It is in this context that his provocative statements against the BJP should be read

Bhavdeep KangUpdated: Wednesday, December 21, 2022, 10:39 PM IST
article-image
Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge | ANI

The Congress is on the warpath post its debacle in Gujarat. Rather than dialling down the rhetoric after the election, as is usually the case, the grand old party has come out all guns blazing against the Bharatiya Janata Party. The strategy of aggression has been adopted keeping in view the forthcoming Assembly elections in nine states (excluding Jammu & Kashmir) and the challenge posed by the Aam Aadmi Party.

Significantly, the Gandhis have allowed Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge to lead from the front. The 80-year-old Mr Kharge’s advantage is that he is not a ‘soft’ target for the BJP, unlike his predecessor Rahul Gandhi. In stark contrast to Mr Gandhi, he has come up from the grassroots. Also, he is a Dalit (although that descriptor annoys him) and has an impressive electoral record. Where Mr Gandhi could be mocked with the sobriquet ‘Pappu’ and dismissed as a dynast and a child of privilege, Mr Kharge, as a veteran politician, cannot be made the butt of jokes or uncivil remarks.

His credentials and seniority allow Mr Kharge considerable scope for aggression. It is in this context that his provocative statements against the BJP should be read. For instance, his ‘Ravan’ remark targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi proved expensive for the Congress in Gujarat. But he remains doggedly combative, admonishing his political rivals with “Has even your dog at home died for the country?” On China, he said the BJP talked like a ‘lion’ but acted like a ‘mouse’.

On Wednesday, the Congress chief led a multi-party protest in the Parliament complex over the Government’s ‘silence’ on the clash between Indian and Chinese troops at Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. The Congress knows that it is not in a position to compete with the BJP on nationalism or national security, and questioning the PM’s stance on border tensions will have little resonance with voters. But sharpening the attack on the BJP signals that the Congress is undeterred by Gujarat and will put up a tough fight in the 2023 Assembly elections. That message is meant for the regional parties, which have increasingly lost faith in the Congress’ capacity to take on the BJP, more so after Gujarat where it did not manage even a 10% share of the Assembly seats.

The last thing the Congress wants is for AAP to take its place as a member of an Opposition coalition against the BJP. Although AAP did not manage to displace the Congress in Gujarat, it certainly inflicted some damage. Given that the BJP vote share was upwards of 52%, the Congress would have lost even if AAP had not contested, but not quite as badly. Hence, the Congress claim that in Gujarat it “was up against a 3-party alliance of BJP, AAP and AIMIM” who ran a “campaign of provocative polarisation”.

By scaling up its attack on both the BJP and AAP, the Congress is trying offset the ‘Gujarat effect’ on the Assembly elections in 2023. AAP has already set its sights on Haryana, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh (where it managed to win a mayoral seat in the local body elections earlier this year). Also, clubbing AAP with the BJP is intended to keep the former out of a ‘secular’ alliance in 2024.

The Congress knows that it must pull off at least a couple of victories in 2023, in order to regain its credibility vis-a-vis potential allies. While the DMK has remained steadfastly supportive, winning over the TMC, JD(U) and BRS — all of which are in power in their respective states and have no love lost with the Congress — will be a tall order.

Karnataka currently seems to be the Congress’ best bet, and happens to be Mr Kharge’s home state. Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ spent all of three weeks in Karnataka, and evoked an enthusiastic public response. Although the pre-poll picture in the state will be clear only after alliances — for instance between the Janata Dal (Secular) and Bharat Rashtra Samithi — are firmed up, the Congress has the advantage of anti-incumbency.

However, it faces infighting, in addition to the residual effects of its humiliation in Gujarat. Taking his cue from his boss, Congress spokesperson Jairam Ramesh tried to play down its comprehensive defeat by saying a “desperate PM” was trying to “spin the Gujarat victory beyond what it deserves”. The party’s strategy for managing the expectations of three chief ministerial aspirants and denting the BJP’s solid votebase in the state will be closely watched.

Mr Kharge has upped the ante against the BJP; now he has to deliver a victory that will offset Gujarat.

Bhavdeep Kang is a senior journalist with 35 years of experience in working with major newspapers and magazines. She is now an independent writer and author

RECENT STORIES

Bihar Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Will Tejashwi Yadav Revive The Fortunes Of RJD?

Bihar Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Will Tejashwi Yadav Revive The Fortunes Of RJD?

Editorial: Unacceptable Parity Between Hamas, Israel

Editorial: Unacceptable Parity Between Hamas, Israel

Editorial: Power Struggle In Tehran

Editorial: Power Struggle In Tehran

Is The 'Fear' Factor Displacing The ‘Hope’ Factor In This Election?

Is The 'Fear' Factor Displacing The ‘Hope’ Factor In This Election?

Timeless Bharat: A Look From India 2047

Timeless Bharat: A Look From India 2047