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Rediff.com  » News » INDIA Parties May Force Congress To Get Real

INDIA Parties May Force Congress To Get Real

By Aditi Phadnis
December 05, 2023 09:29 IST
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'There is ample evidence to suggest that attacks on the PM's probity and his connections with business houses do not resonate with voters.'

IMAGE: Congress Parliamentary Party chairperson Sonia Gandhi being greeted by party President Mallikarjun Kharge at the launch of the book Mallikarjun Kharge-Political Engagement with Compassion, Justice and Inclusive Development in New Delhi, November 29, 2023. Photograph: Sanjay Sharma/ANI Photo
 

A gathering of Opposition parties, called by the Congress on December 6 to strategise for the INDIA block, is likely to be sombre in the wake of the party's electoral defeat in three heartland states.

According to party leaders, the Congress will be compelled to adopt a more "sensible" stance, stepping down from its role as the driving force behind the Opposition alliance.

The meeting follows a hurriedly arranged Congress event last week, held to celebrate the release of a book by party President Mallikarjun Kharge, marking his 60-year political career. The function was attended by several senior Congress leaders and virtually all party MLAs, with Rahul Gandhi notably absent.

"It was a show of strength by Kharge, who might have been expecting a better result than what we actually got," said a senior Congressman.

Despite the shock of the election results, the Congress is not rushing to conduct any post-mortem. When asked if a meeting of the Congress Working Committee or any other party body was scheduled to discuss the results, a dispirited party MP said: "What will we discuss in a 60-member CWC?"

The electoral setback will inevitably cast a spotlight on the grey area of leadership in the Congress after Kharge assumed the presidency just over a year ago. While his role in the Karnataka assembly victory earlier this year was praised, his comment on the latest electoral defeat as a 'temporary setback' has been poorly received.

"He will be remembered as the Congress president for understatement," said a former CM from the party.

While much has been made of internal divisions within the Congress, such as those between Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot, or between Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel and his deputy, T S Singh Deo, there is scant evidence to suggest that internal sabotage was the sole cause of the Congress's underperformance in the two states.

Instead, party leaders are looking elsewhere for an explanation for the defeat. A Congress MP pointed out: "The faces are the same -- K C Venugopal, Randeep Surjewala... what has changed?", hinting at Kharge's nominal role as president. "Some voices will demand accountability from Rahul Gandhi," he added.

Privately, Congress members acknowledge that personal attacks on Prime Minister Narendra D Modi tend to backfire.

"Turning an election into a presidential contest between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi through personal attacks on the PM does not work in our favour. We need to avoid this, as we did in Himachal Pradesh," stated a senior party leader.

"There is ample evidence to suggest that slogans like 'Chowkidar chor hai', attacks on the PM's probity and his connections with business houses do not resonate well with voters. We need to change our approach," he added.

Behind closed doors, Congress leaders are also expressing serious doubts about what appeared to be a central aspect of the Congress campaign in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections: The caste census.

Leaders say the results suggest there were few takers for the Congress's caste census call and Rahul's repeated dictum that social groups that are the most numerous -- Other Backward Classes, for instance -- must get an equal share in politics.

Many parties in INDIA were resentful of attempts by the Congress to have a caste census thrust on them, especially the Trinamool Congress which will now be empowered to question this.

"It is all very well to talk of empowering OBCs. But in Telangana, it will be hard to deny Revanth Reddy the chief ministership. He is not an OBC. Nor is (Sukhvinder) Sukhu, our chief minister in Himachal Pradesh. We say OBCs are the most numerous so they must have an equal share in power. But in two states out of three run by us, non-OBCs are chief ministers. With what face should we advise other parties to adopt this?" asks a former chief minister from the party.

These results will also force new equations among alliance partners and the viability of tie-ups in the alliance.

For instance, in Telangana, in constituencies that have a large Muslim population, the result suggests a shift in Muslim voting preference from the Bharat Rashtra Samithi to the Congress. In fact, many experts and close observers of politics in Telangana like former state irrigation secretary, A N Das, believe this election saw a tactical shift in Muslim voting in favour of the Congress which contributed to the BRS's resounding defeat.

This has two implications: For the Congress-BRS relations in the INDIA bloc, which the BRS was reluctant to join anyway; and the Congress attitude to minority issues, which for many in the Congress, is problematic.

"If this Telangana victory is going to make us adopt a certain stance vis a vis the minorities, it could be complicated," said an MP from the party.

Observers from the Congress feel the party's 'soft Hindutva' in Madhya Pradesh had no impact. "But in Chhattisgarh, the BJP's Ram Mandir campaign did hurt us," says the former CM.

With parties like Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal seeking a stronger pro-minority tilt and the Trinamool Congress still undecided on its view, INDIA may see extensive discussion on the issue. But a review of the stance may become unavoidable.

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Aditi Phadnis in New Delhi
Source: source
 
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