Signs of a revival

The Congress has placed itself firmly as the nucleus of any anti-BJP formation

Of the few States where the Congress confronts the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) face to face, three will likely have Congress Chief Ministers now. Last year, the party gave the BJP a scare in the fourth, Gujarat. Where the Congress squares off with regional parties, it is at a disadvantage, as Telangana and Mizoram show. That is the summary of Rahul Gandhi’s first year as president of the party.

Key organisational changes

After taking over as president, Mr. Gandhi sought to engineer a generational shift in the party without antagonising the old guard — “18 or 80, everyone has a place in this party,” he reassured his colleagues in an early meeting. He outlined a three-point approach for the newly appointed office-bearers of the party, a cohort that is a refreshingly diverse, and demonstrably young — strengthen the organisation, honour the worker and ensure ‘social justice’, meaning an outreach to the lower rungs of society. New office-bearers were asked to spend no less than three weeks every month in States they are in charge of, and travel to the booth level. They were asked to treat workers with respect, listen to them and involve them in ticket distribution, formulation of the manifesto and such. They were asked to reach out to the backward castes and Dalits, particularly the former who have kept the electoral balance tilted in the BJP’s favour for some years now in these States. Social justice was to be pursued in both representation and the party agenda. On refining his own image, Mr. Gandhi concluded that his opponents were successful in portraying him as non-Hindu or even anti-Hindu — the root of all his optical disadvantages. His mixed ancestry and a syncretic approach to faith made him vulnerable, he felt. That led to a controversial but apparently successful call, to demonstrate his Hindu faith and personal piety. The wisdom of that is open to further scrutiny, but it may not be a coincidence that the apparent shift in his image among the middle class, to now being seen as a serious power player, overlaps with his Instagrammed pilgrimages. However, a strategy that wins elections may not necessarily suit governance, and that will be the immediate challenge before Mr. Gandhi. Picking a Chief Minister in Chhattisgarh will be relatively easy, but in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, it is going to be a tough call. Balancing the need for generational shift with respecting the wishes of the veterans will test Mr. Gandhi. Balancing his social justice politics with the upper caste claims within the party is also tricky terrain, which will now get trickier. With Tuesday’s results, the Congress has placed itself firmly as the nucleus of any anti-BJP formation, at the national level, in 2019. This will trigger fresh dynamics between the Congress and other non-BJP regional parties. Despite their claims of anti-BJP credentials, entrenched regional parties will not accommodate the Congress easily. A resurgent Congress alarms them even more. If anything, after the massive victory of regional parties in Telangana and Mizoram, regional parties will bargain hard with the Congress. Therefore, the challenge before Mr. Gandhi is to raise his own bargaining power vis-à-vis potential partners to buttress the position of the Congress as an alternative to the BJP — in vision and in governance. An alliance is not something that happens because one searches for it; it is something that happens when parties find it essential for self-preservation and advancement. Having fought back Hindutva in its hotbed, Mr. Gandhi’s next stop will have to be to take the fight to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Source : https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/signs-of-a-revival/article25721927.ece

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