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Congress groping in the dark for a catchy slogan

Last updated on: November 21, 2013 09:35 IST

Congress groping in the dark for a catchy slogan

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Anita Katyal

With its credibility at an all-time low, the Congress party is struggling to even come up with a slogan for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The party is hoping to find one post December 8 when the verdict of the five-state assembly elections will be out. Anita Katyal reports

With less than six months to go for the next Lok Sabha polls, the Congress is struggling to find a catchy and winning theme for its campaign.

Party strategists are currently engaged in vigorous brainstorming sessions to zero in on a slogan, which will effectively counter the Bharatiya Janata Party’s campaign, convey the party’s ideological moorings and project party president Rahul Gandhi’s profile.

Senior Congress leaders in the election war-room told rediff.com that the 2004 slogan -- Congress ka haath, aam aadmi ke saath which had resonated with the people by projecting the grand old party as a champion of the common man as against the BJP’s pro-rich policies -- needs a make-over.

The slogan had clicked then as the Congress put it to effective use by laying bare the hollowness of the principal opposition party’s ‘India Shining’ campaign.

It also reflected Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s pro-poor image, on the same lines as her mother-in-law Indira Gandhi who had captured the imagination of the electorate with her garibi hatao slogan.

The Congress tweaked the slogan for the 2009 Lok Sabha polls to Aam admi ke badte kadam to reflect how the common man had benefited from the United Progressive Alliance’s various flagship programmes.

Unlike 2004, the slogan did not make any waves and had virtually no recall value.

If the Congress Lok Sabha tally went up to 206 in 2009, it was essentially because of the overall positive public mood towards the UPA, the continuing admiration of the middle classes for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Sonia’s credibility and Third Front’s projection of Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati as the future prime minister.

There is a vast change in the scenario today. 

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Anita Katyal

The Congress party’s credibility has touched an all-time low as it battles serious corruption charges.

At the same time, the common man, whose cause it promises to champion, has been badly hit by rising prices of essential commodities and an ailing economy.

The Congress is, therefore, finding it difficult to find a theme and slogan for the 2014 electoral battle.

It cannot completely forsake its commitment to the aam admi but, at the same, has to be forward-looking to take into account the aspirations of the young and the growing middle class.

Moreover, it has to be in tune with Rahul’s projection as the party and the country’s future hope as distinct from BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.

Some senior leaders were of the view that the Congress should go with the theme of change (from Sonia Gandhi to Rahul Gandhi) but others believe that it could boomerang as this theme has been successfully appropriated by the BJP, which is tapping into people’s anger and UPA’s anti-incumbency to hardsell the idea of change of regime with Modi as the candidate best qualified to transform the lives of the people.

There is an air of despondency and helplessness in the Congress at present as the party gradually reconciles itself to a stint in the opposition.

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Anita Katyal

The party’s woes have been further compounded with Rahul not proving to be a crowd puller or a vote catcher. The party is also failing to change the political discourse in its favour while its candidates are shying away from raking out funds for what they believe to be a lost battle.

While this debate is likely to continue, the Congress party’s theme and strategy for the Lok Sabha elections will also depend on the results of the assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi.

If the Congress can wrest even two of the four heartland states, it will be able to take on Modi with greater confidence.

This will naturally be reflected in the choice of its election theme. However, Congress strategists will find it hard to take on a resurgent BJP and an aggressive Modi if the party fares poorly in these elections.

Of the four states where elections are being held, the Congress and the BJP are keeping close tabs on Rajasthan and Delhi as both parties believe the results in these states will throw up important pointers for them.

It is imperative for the BJP to dislodge an incumbent Congress government failing which its campaign for change and Modi’s projection as prime minister will suffer a serious blow.

For the Congress, Rajasthan is a test case for the UPA II’s various welfare programmes.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has literally been like a man possessed. He has gone about implementing various pro-poor programmes like free medicines and old age pension.

So far, it is not clear if the benefits of these schemes have percolated down to the people and are having any impact on the ground. Rajasthan could provide the answers the Congress is looking for.

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Anita Katyal

While it is abundantly clear that the vocal, urban middle classes have been smitten by the Modi bug, these elections will show if the Congress has managed to retain its support base in the rural areas.

If the answer is in the affirmative, the Congress will go all out to market its flagship programmes.

The importance of the Delhi election can hardly be over emphasised.

A BJP loss in the national capital will be particularly galling and demoralising as it has been governed by the Sheila Dikshit-led Congress government for the last three terms.

A defeat here will be magnified as it will dull the Modi aura and dent the BJP campaign which has deliberately kept away from local issues and instead focused on the central government’s poor record in governance.

It is critical for the Congress to retain Delhi for precisely this reason.

After 15 years in office, the Congress is fighting the anti-incumbency of both Delhi and the central governments. Although it has lost a substantial chunk of the middle class vote, it is hoping to sail through with the help of its traditional support of jhuggi jhonpri (slum dwellers) and resettlement colonies and minorities.

The emergence of the Aam Admi Party has, however, queered the pitch in Delhi which has always witnessed a straight fight between the Congress and the BJP.

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Anita Katyal

The AAP is an imponderable factor as there is no clarity if it will do greater damage to the Congress or the BJP.  

The saffron party is, however, more worried as its internal assessment gives 20 seats to Arind Kejriwal’s AAP. This is undoubtedly bad news for the BJP for it will not just impact its bid to win the prestigious Delhi assembly, but will also have serious repercussions in the Lok Sabha polls.

The BJP will have to necessarily revisit its “Modi for PM” campaign as a defeat in Congress-held states will demonstrate that the Gujarat strongman’s image as a mass leader and a vote catcher had been grossly exaggerated.

While the Congress will obviously mount an aggressive campaign against Modi, his adversaries in the BJP will also become active.

They have been waiting in the wings to pull him down but have been deterred from saying or doing anything in view of his popularity with the party rank and file.

BJP elements, who are unhappy at the prospect of Modi occupying the PM’s post, can depend on Congress support in their mission to demolish him. The recent Cobrapost sting showing how Modi and his confidant Amit Shah used the state machinery to conduct surveillance on a young girl, has served as a  warning to the entire political class about the  tactics allegedly employed by Modi  to keep tabs on his colleagues  and opponents.

The present mood in the Congress indicates that though it does not mind losing power, it will go all out to stop Modi in the tracks.  “Anybody but Modi” is the refrain in Congress circles these days.




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