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6 states in 18 months: BJP vs Cong

August 07, 2017 09:18 IST

Elections in Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan will see the BJP and Congress in direct contest.
Amit Agnihotri reports.

IMAGE: Constant infighting and recent losses to the BJP has left the Congress in a bind. Photograph: Amit Dave/Reuters

Still to overcome the latest shocker in Bihar, the Congress party faces political battles with the Bharatiya Janata Party in six states over the next 18 months.

Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh will have assembly polls by the year-end, Karnataka will go to the polls in April 2018.

Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan will have assembly polls in the latter part of 2018, in a contest being billed as the semi-final, ahead of the 2019 national election.

Infighting continues to plague the Congress in the poll-bound states. If not curbed, it could dent the party's attempts to stay relevant.

GUJARAT
Distance and difficulties

The Congress, out of power for 19 years, faces an uphill task in wresting the western state back from the BJP.

The latest tussle within the state unit saw veteran Shankarsinh Vaghela quitting the post of Leader of the Opposition, indicating a rough road ahead for the party.

An import from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP's ideological mentor, Vaghela had been pressing for the past few months that he be replaced with state unit chief Bharatsinh Solanki, something party headquarters refused to do.

Reports of eight party legislators cross-voting in the Presidential election has added to problems of Congress managers.

Sonia Gandhi loyalist Ashok Gehlot is now the Congress general secretary in charge of Gujarat affairs, but sources aver the appointment is a bit late in the day.

Gehlot was brought in after predecessor Gurudas Kamat, not happy with the state unit, decided to quit all party posts in frustration.

The Congress' hopes of roping in Patel quota movement leader Hardik Patel to woo the powerful community have not materialised.

MADHYA PRADESH
Pulling the seniors together

Divided between regional heavyweights like former two-term chief minister Digvijaya Singh and former Union ministers Jyotiraditya Scindia and Kamal Nath, the Congress high command has not been able to project a face for the Madhya Pradesh assembly election next year.

Incumbent state unit chief Arun Yadav, considered neutral, does not carry much political weight and has failed to inspire the rank and file.

The state unit got an opportunity to regroup over the recent farmer shootings in Mandsaur, but it has not been able to capitalise on the state-wide farm distress, say sources.

Singh, who has a hold over the organisation, is planning a foot march across the state to stay relevant.

In the past, the Congress has flagged the Vyapam jobs scam against Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, but this did not move the voters.

HIMACHAL PRADESH
Trying to avoid vertigo

Veteran Ambika Soni urged Congress chief Sonia Gandhi to relieve her of the hill state's charge, citing health reasons.

The high command brought another senior, Sushilkumar Shinde, as general secretary in charge.

Earlier this year, the party had lost the election in Uttarakhand, also under Soni, to the BJP. And lost the Shimla Municipal Corporation elections, the BJP winning 17 wards to the Congress's 12.

The civic body had been a Congress stronghold for 15 years.

In 2012, veteran Virbhadra Singh, the current chief minster, won the hill state for the Congress. However, the octogenarian is under the lens of the Central Bureau of Investigation for alleged financial irregularities.

The BJP is planning to target him on the issue of corruption and the governance model. Soni had played a key role in resolving the tussle between Virbhadra Singh and state party president Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, but the problem isn't over, say sources.

Virbhadra Singh still has a grip on the party, to the rebels' dismay.

KARNATAKA
Squabbles around the chair

In a wise move, Sonia Gandhi decided to project Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, a backward classes leader and once of the Janata Dal-Secular, as the party's face ahead of the polls.

His style of functioning and eminent position has not gone down well with many state seniors.

Scotching rumours that state unit chief G Parameshwara might also be replaced, the party instead opted for a compromise and brought a veteran, S R Patil, as a second working president, in addition to last year's appointment of Dinesh Gundu Rao.

As Karnataka is the only big state still with the Congress, the party also appointed a new general secretary in charge, K C Venugopal. He is trying to push a new work culture in the state unit, under directions from national vice-president Rahul Gandhi.

Veteran S M Krishna, a former CM, has joined the BJP and will limit the Congress' prospects in his Vokkaliga community-dominated areas like Mandya and Hasan.

Sensing the gap between legislators and local leaders, Venugopal has asked his deputies to travel across the state and collect feedback from the ground.

He has conveyed to the CM the need to address the gaps between MLAs and leaders at the earliest.

RAJASTHAN
Working on a tough task

This is the brightest spot for the Congress.

State unit chief Sachin Pilot, also a backward classes leader, has been working hard to rejuvenate the party.

Former chief minister Ashok Gehlot, also from the backward classes and having a sway over party workers, continues to dabble in state politics despite being given charge of Gujarat.

Another senior, C P Joshi, a Brahmin, never takes his eyes off the state.

Pilot has been has able to keep the flock together, regroup the local units and target Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, whose style of functioning does not gel even with the BJP bosses.

Pilot's main challenge is actually to tap into the anti-incumbency mood, ahead of the battle next year.

That he enjoys the blessings of Sonia and is in Rahul Gandhi's good books might help him prove the critics wrong at the hustings next year.

CHHATTISGARH
A tradition of sparring

Infighting in Chhattisgarh has been the bane of the party for a long while.

Former chief minister Ajit Jogi often spoke his mind, annoying party managers and state chief Bhupesh Baghel.

After a long time, the general secretary in charge, B K Hariprasad, offered to resign.

The high command recently sent Uttar Pradesh Dalit leader P L Punia to turn a new leaf for the party in the state.

Jogi, also a Dalit and whose influence cost the Congress dear in the 2013 assembly poll, has floated a new outfit and might cut into party votes.

Legislative party leader T S Singhdeo does a balancing act between the state and the central leadership.

Amit Agnihotri
Source: source
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