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Cong's 2014 mantra? How to lose friends & alienate people

March 02, 2014 16:47 IST

Cong's 2014 mantra? How to lose friends & alienate people

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Anita Katyal

The Congress looks a picture of disarray, as it has to contend with desertions from its own ranks while it struggles to stitch up alliances.

In contrast to this, the Bharatiya Janata Party is adding to its tally of allies and is finding new admirers. Anita Katiyal analyses the strengths and weaknesses of the two parties this poll season

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance and the Bharatiya Janata Party-headed National Democratic Alliance are currently a study in contrast.

The Congress looks a picture of disarray and confusion, as it has to contend with desertions from its own ranks while it struggles to stitch up alliances in the run up to the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

On the other hand, a confident BJP, assured of an electoral victory, is being inundated with new high-profile entrants even as the NDA is gradually expanding.

BJP’s Prime Ministerial hopeful Narendra Modi, once shunned for his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots and his Hindutva image, is no longer considered trouble as reports about his growing popularity keep pouring in.

The Congress was left red-faced when a triumphant BJP succeeded in weaning away Lok Janshakti Party leader Ram Vilas Paswan from the UPA camp just as the grand old party was in the process of finalising an alliance with him and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad Yadav.

The Congress-RJD-LJP alliance promised to present a formidable challenge to the BJP and Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal-United in Bihar, but Paswan’s exit has changed political equations in the state.

Besides Paswan, the BJP has also tied up with prominent Other Backward Class leader Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party in the state.

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Image: BJP chief Rajnath Singh and LJP leader Ram Vilas Paswan celebrate after they formed an alliance for the Lok Sabha elections

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According to the BJP’s calculations, these two partnerships will give it an edge in Bihar, which sends 42 MPs to the Lok Sabha, as the two allies will add to its upper caste support base by bringing in the Paswan and the Koeri votes to its kitty and compensate for the loss of the extremely backward caste, a key vote base of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.

Paswan’s return to the NDA fold is a personal victory for Modi as the LJP leader had quit the alliance 12 years ago in protest over the Gujarat riots.

The Congress, on the other hand, is struggling to finalise its partnership with the RJD after Paswan’s exit, which has clearly weakened this alliance. As seat-sharing talks between the two parties hit a rough patch, Lalu unilaterally declared on Saturday that the RJD was willing to part with 11 Lok Sabha seats and that it now expected the Congress to respond to this offer as his party’s parliamentary board is slated to meet on Sunday to finalise its candidates.

As Lalu plays hardball, there is a view in the Congress that it should go it alone even though it will be a losing proposition but it would give the party an opportunity to build a cadre of future leaders.

While the Bihar tangle is yet to be resolved, the Congress talks with the Telangana Rashtriya Samithi have not progressed either.

While the Congress is insisting that TRS chief K Chandrashekar Rao should merge his party with it, the latter wants to settle for an electoral alliance instead as he wants to retain his party’s distinct identity which will allow him the freedom to switch sides after the elections. 

If alliances are proving problematic, the Congress is also faced with internal troubles. There are reports from Odisha that the Congress Legislature Party leader Bhupinder Singh is on the verge of leaving and joining Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal. He has been incommunicado since Wednesday and is reported to have checked into a hospital following differences with senior Congress leaders.

The BJD is learnt to have offered to field Bhupinder from the Kalahandi Lok Sabha seat.

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Image: RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav and the Congress have yet to finalise their alliance

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Even as an embarrassed Congress went into damage control mode following these reports, it was also being speculated that another ten legislators are waiting in the wings to cross over to the BJD. A bitterly-divided Congress has failed to forge unity in its Odisha unit and take on Naveen Patnaik even though he has been in power for three terms.

Weighed down by the baggage of UPA government’s anti-incumbency, the Congress is faced with the uphill ask of galvanising its ranks and file and preparing them for the tough electoral challenge ahead. There is widespread speculation that its sitting MPs from Uttar Pradesh -- Jagdambika Pal and Annu Tandon -- are being wooed by the BJP while Haryana minister Venod Sharma is also planning to abandon the party.

With all poll surveys indicating a virtual rout for the Congress in the coming general election and faced with certain defeat, a number of sitting MPs are disinclined to contest these polls.

Among those who would like to opt out include Rahul Gandhi’s personal appointees like Haryana Congress chief Ashok Tanwar, Madhya Pradesh party unit president Arun Yadav and Rajasthan Congress head Sachin Pilot. They are learnt to have told the Congress vice president that they would prefer to work for the party organisation.

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Image: Rahul Gandhi's personal appointees like Haryana Congress chief Ashok Tanwar, Madhya Pradesh party unit president Arun Yadav and Rajasthan Congress head Sachin Pilot not keen to contest polls

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The party’s Andhra Pradesh unit is already in a state of turmoil after the formation of Telangana and the resignations of Kiran Kumar Reddy from the CM’s post, Union minister Purandeshwari and MP L Rajagopal.

This exodus could pick up momentum in the coming days as Congress leaders from the Seemandhra region are reported to be in talks with the Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSR Congress and the Telugu Desam Party.

In contrast to the Congress, the BJP is adding to its tally of allies and is finding new admirers. Former Army Chief General VK Singh joined the party on Saturday shortly after former home secretary R K Singh, former Mumbai police commissioner Satyapal Singh and former RAW chief Sanjeev Tripathi also threw in their lot with the saffron party. The entry of such high-profile names has given the BJP a big boost and strengthened the perception that it is on a winning streak.

Having worked out its caste equations in Bihar, it is now doing the same in Uttar Pradesh. Former UP chief minister Kalyan Singh will be returning to the BJP fold on Sunday at Narendra Modi's ‘Vijay Shankhnad rally’ in Lucknow. Kalyan Singh will help the BJP to consolidate its OBC support base which had  weakened after he quit  in 2009 after being sidelined by the party. The BJP’s other well-known OBC face, Uma Bharati, has already come back to the party after a brief spell in the wilderness.

At the same time, the BJP is also working on a tie-up with the TDP in Andhra Pradesh although its leader N Chandrababu Naidu is miffed with the saffron party for supporting the Telangana Bill.

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Image: Heavy secuirty has been deployed in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh. A President's rule has been imposed in the state after its bifurcation, which was backed by the Congress

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While there is no word on this partnership yet, the BJP got a thumbs up from unexpected quarters when Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief M Karunanidhi praised Modi, describing him as “a hard worker and a good friend.”

Modi’s gradual acceptability has clearly emboldened the BJP, which is now become increasingly confident of crossing the 200 mark in the Lok Sabha on its own.

It was a different story last year before Modi was officially declared as the BJP’s PM candidate. There were fears in the party that his elevation would drive away existing and potential allies. The BJP, however, took its chances. Its strategy was to first put its house in order and strengthen and popularise Modi so that allies are forced to seek them out. If recent developments are any indication, the BJP’s gamble appears to have paid off.

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Image: Once a Congress ally, DMK chief Karunanidhi has now been warming up to Modi

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