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Congress finds a few reasons to smile along a bumpy road

By Sunil Gatade
December 27, 2015 11:33 IST
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The year 2015 was a mixed bag for the Grand Old party --with the performance in Bihar being a consolation while the the National Herald case came back to haunt its leadership. Sunil Gatade reports.

Down in the dumps after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Congress’s consolation this year was sharing power in Bihar, thanks to the grand alliance, and the “victory” on the controversial land bill issue though the now-defunct National Herald newspaper came to haunt the party.

But the Congress has challenges galore in the New Year with polls lined up in Kerala, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and West Bengal and a formula for revival still eluding the party that has formed state governments most of the time since Independence.

The party is in power in Assam for 15 long years while Kerala generally witnesses a power swing between the Communist Party of India-Marxist-led Left Democratic Front and Congress-led United Democratic Front every five years. Congress is out of power in Tamil Nadu for nearly 50 years and in West Bengal for almost 40 years.

The year did not start on a good note for Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul with the Delhi assembly polls wiping out the party in the Aam Aadmi Party tornado led by Arvind Kejriwal. The only redeeming feature was that the Bharatiya Janata Party also did not do well.

Notwithstanding his 56-day mysterious sabbatical early in the year, Rahul called the shots in the party with Sonia appearing ready to pass the baton to her son whenever he wanted.

With his return from the sabbatical, the Congress spread the word informally that Rahul would take over sooner than later but the plan was later dropped apparently in view of Bihar polls.

There has been no official word now as to when the changeover would take place.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who ensured the lowest ever tally of 44 for the Congress in the Lok Sabha polls, continued to be the bugbear of the party with the government and the ruling party directly or indirectly seen to be targeting the first family.

During the year, Rahul played on the front foot and emerged as one of the most vocal critics of Modi and his style of governance, dubbing his government as “suit-boot ki sarkar”, an attack which hit hard the ruling dispensation.

The way Congress under Rahul drummed up support against the controversial land bill led to the prime minister himself giving indications of a retreat in the wake of the fierce resistance by the Opposition which dubbed the bill as “anti-farmer and pro-corporate”.

But as the year was about to end, the Delhi high court order in the National Herald case came as a bolt from the blue for Sonia and Rahul.

While Rahul dismissed it as a “100 per cent political vendetta”, the BJP leaders projected it as one bringing focus back on “highest-level corruption and subversion” of a national party to whims and needs of dynasty.

BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, who has filed the case, has a formidable reputation to create trouble for the high and mighty, is being dubbed as His Master’s Voice by the Congress, a apparent euphemism for the prime minister.

Sonia and Rahul sought to project that they are not going to be cowed down as the party made much political capital as they approached the court and secured bail.

What is also worrying for the party is the emergence of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on the national stage after he shook off the challenge from an aggressive BJP led by Amit Shah and Modi in the assembly polls with support from the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress.

National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah openly suggested at Kumar’s swearing-in ceremony in Patna that he should sooner than later move to Delhi to become the combined Opposition candidate for prime ministership in the next Lok Sabha polls scheduled in 2019.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav too sought to give a different take to the issue of Opposition leadership. He expressed Samajwadi Party’s readiness to align with Congress in the next Lok Sabha polls if it accepted his father Mulayam Singh Yadav as the prime minister with Rahul as deputy prime minister.

Congress dismissed the suggestion mildly, but party leaders said in private that Akhilesh remark was “immaturish” wondering as to how can a party with just five MPs in Lok Sabha, which is going downhill, make such an audacious offer to the Congress PM candidate.

In Parliament, there was not much success to the Congress despite the monsoon session turning out to be a virtual washout over its demand for the resignation of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje in the Lalit Modi controversy. It was also demanding the scalp of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister in the Vyapam scam.

In the winter session, the Congress demand for the resignation of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley over the alleged DDCA scam failed to get any response from the government. The demand for resignation of Union minister V K Singh for his dog analogy in the wake of burning to death of two Dalit children in Haryana was also ignored by the government.

Its campaign against intolerance and the objectionable remarks of many a BJP leader as also Union ministers did not lead to government taking action against anyone.

The Ratlam Parliamentary bypoll in Madhya Pradesh saw Congress securing a convincing win over BJP raising its tally to 45 by snatching the seat from the ruling party.

Good news of some revival of the party came in from Gujarat, the home state of the Prime Minister, with Congress securing several district panchayats in the local body polls giving a jolt to BJP. Congress General Secretary Gurudas Kamat said that Congress secured majority in 120 of the 180 assembly seats in the local polls.

Rajasthan, where like Gujarat Congress had drawn a blank in the Lok Sabha polls, saw sizable vote for the party in the local body polls.

As the year came to a close, the party won Lohardaga assembly seat in BJP-ruled Jharkhand.

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Sunil Gatade
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