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Does Rahul have a plan for 2019 election?

By Sudhir Bisht
March 03, 2019 11:05 IST
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'Rahul is misguided by a handful of family retainers who don't want him to show unrestrained initiative in forming allies.' says Sudhir Bisht.

IMAGE: Congress President Rahul Gandhi with the leaders of other Opposition parties at Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy's swearing-in, May 23, 2018, Bengaluru. Photograph: PTI Photo

A study of the seat-sharing for the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections, between the serious-minded Opposition parties in Uttar Pradesh, looks interesting.

The Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party coalition have left three seats for Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal, and two seats for the Congress party, while apportioning the rest of 75 seats between themselves.

The BSP will fight from 38 seats while the Samajwadis will contest elections from 37 seats in UP.

Three things are significant here:


One, the young SP leadership has agreed to settle for one seat less as compared to the number of seats given to the BSP. Akhilesh, the former CM who lasted a full-term, has shown enormous political sagacity by giving Mayawati, four-time UP CM, a psychological sense of supremacy.

Akhilesh has gone against his father Mulayam Singh Yadav's wishes and formed this coalition with the lifelong rival of his party elders.

It goes to Mayawati's credit that she too has shown the accommodating side of her personality by being unusually courteous to the Samajwadi prince-turned-king.

The lady who held discussions with senior party leaders and bureaucrats by making them stand in her majestic presence, as she sat on an ornate throne-like chair, is now seen as a reformed, less arrogant leader.

Or maybe her show of warmth and affection to Akhilesh is her way of making his father Mulayam squirm more uneasily in his lonely Delhi bungalow. Nothing can anguish the Samajwadi patriarch more than his son kowtowing to his old foe that Mayawati is.

Two, between the two of them, Maya and Akhilesh have kept the influential and rich Jat lobby of western UP happy by giving three seats to Ajit Singh, his son and whoever the third person in their party is.

Three, by deciding not to field candidates at the two seats considered safe for the mother-son combo of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, the SP-BSP has given a signal that though they may not have formed a coalition with the Indian National Congress, yet they retain their respect for the royal family of the Congress party.

Rahul Gandhi is a Lok Sabha MP from Amethi and Sonia Gandhi from Rae Bareli.

The BSP-SP joint strategy may not necessarily make them a winning team, but it is visible that both sides have spent several weeks and even months in preparing their blueprint. The two parties appear serious in their preparation for the electoral battle.

In sharp contrast, the Rahul Gandhi-led Congress party initially handed over the control of Uttar Pradesh to his sister Priyanka Gandhi. But minutes after appointing Priyanka as the supremo of UP, Rahul also ensured that he had a scapegoat ready, in case sister dearest failed to achieve anything significant in the elections.

The scapegoat is none other than Jyotiraditya Scindia who recently had to eat humble pie when he lost his bid to be Madhya Pradesh chief minister to Kamal Nath.

In the current arrangement, Priyanka is said to be responsible for eastern UP and Scindia is apparently responsible for western Uttar Pradesh. However, there is very little enthusiasm amongst Congress workers in western UP about Scindia's appointment.

The feeling in the party cadres, whatever little is left of them in western UP, vacillates between feeling amazed and feeling neglected.

"What has Scindiaji got to do with us UPwallahs? Didi (referring to Priyanka) is UP-ki-beti (UP's daughter). By giving her charge of eastern UP and giving us Scindiaji, the party has proved that they don't give much importance to our part," remarked a party supporter who regularly throngs 24, Akbar Road in Delhi, the Congress's national headquarters.

It is well known that the Congress is more likely to win a few seats in eastern UP, but may fare very badly in western UP and hence, in the event of poor showing by the party, Priyanka will come off less worse than Scindia.

Rahul Gandhi's strategy of going into the 2019 elections is a classical case of lack of serious strategy to mount a challenge at the ground level. He seems satisfied by winning followers on Twitter and making significant improvements in providing more meaningful sound bites to the media.

The Congress's recent win in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan has given a boost to Rahul Gandhi's image.

The Lutyens (how I hate this word!) television channels's know-all gurus who make their assessment of an entire state by talking to the drivers who pick them up from airports in the capital cities of various states, have gone gaga over the coming of age of Rahul Gandhi.

They give the entire credit for the assembly election victories to Rahul Gandhi.

The fact is that the BJP lost Madhya Pradesh narrowly and Chhattisgarh badly due to the anti-incumbency factor that gathered strength over several terms of BJP governments.

In Rajasthan, the BJP lost, but not so badly in spite of a very unpopular Vasundhara Raje regime.

A more organised and more motivated Congress should have pummelled the BJP in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan had it been led by a leader of a calibre higher than Rahul Gandhi.

Just as Rahul Gandhi has failed to cobble an alliance with the bigger and more credible Opposition forces in Uttar Pradesh, he is fumbling in West Bengal where he is more inclined to team up with the Left parties as possible allies.

In Bihar, having lost Nitish kumar to the BJP, Rahul is willing to play second fiddle to the Rashtriya Janata Dal whose principal leader is going through an agonising spell in jail for various acts of corruption.

IMAGE: Rahul Gandhi and Sheila Dikshit, the party's Delhi unit president, at an interaction with students at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, New Delhi, February 23, 2019. Photograph: Vijay Verma/PTI Photo

But Rahul has no qualms about leading a frenzied campaign against imaginary and unsubstantiated charges of corruption against the Narendra Damodardas Modi government. Corruption has ceased to be an issue in new India and Rahul seems to be barking up the wrong tree here.

In Andhra Pradesh, the Congress and Nara Chandrababu Naidu look unwilling to team up with one another and in Telangana, K Chandrasekhar Rao seems so self-occupied that he didn't even have time to set up his own cabinet until this week.

In Karnataka, Congressmen seem more intent on sinking H D Kumaraswamy than strategising about 2019.

In the tiny state of Delhi, the Congress is in no mood to talk to Arvind Kejriwal, the Delhi CM who started his political career by leading an anti-corruption movement against the government that Gandhis remote-controlled for ten long years.

Why is it that the regional parties are not able to strike an alliance with the Indian National Congress?

The leaders of these regional parties consider themselves far too senior to engage with Rahul Gandhi and even though they may be willing to make the first move, they are not interested in chasing him the way they would chase a Sonia Gandhi who was seen as a truly senior leader of the Congress party.

Rahul Gandhi on his part is too far removed from the ground, even though he seems to be travelling a lot these days.

He may not be as self-obsessed as he was in the past, but is misguided by a handful of old family retainers who don't want him to show unrestrained initiative in forming allies.

All of them are happy in lulling Rahul into a false belief that it is the other parties that need to come to him, begging for alliances.

And Rahul remains unenthusiastic to get into the grind of long and tortuous negotiations with the crafty regional satraps.

IMAGE: A photograph tweeted by Rahul Gandhi soon after he met Captain Amarinder Singh on March 14, 2017. Photograph: Kind courtesy OfficeOfRG/Twitter

Is there a way out for Congress from this current state of flux? I see a glimmer of hope in the growing stature of Captain Amarinder Singh, the chief minister of Punjab. Captain is a very senior politician who is well respected for the way he vanquished the Akali-BJP combine in Punjab in the last assembly elections.

He showed enough combativeness in the way he battled, without losing the decorum, with his own party leadership to gain complete command over the state of Punjab.

On the issue of nationalism, real, perceived, hyped or politicised, Captain Amarinder has struck the right notes and has earned the respect of all Indians. His nuanced views, not overly religious but sensible statesman-like views, like on the Kartarpur Sahib corridor, have gotten him many new followers.

Captain Amarinder is a very valuable resource in the Congress party, someone who is senior enough to negotiate deals with the likes of a fiery Mamata Banerjee and a very complicated Chandrababu Naidu. He can be Rahul Gandhi's go-to man and can lead the Herculean task of building alliances for the Congress, all over India.

And on the issue of nationalism, something that would dominate 2019, Rahul Gandhi would do well if he listens to this former captain of the Indian Army, than listening to Randeep Singh Surjewala, the man who came third in the recent assembly bye-election in Jind, Haryana.

Sudhir Bisht, PhD, author and columnist, tweets at @sudhir_bisht.

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