SEEMA MUSTAFA | 19 MARCH, 2017
NEW DELHI: ”Today what is absolutely clear is that the Congresss' organisational structure is no match to the BJP-RSS organisational structure. They are able to turn out the vote and pull in the vote much stronger,” former Finance Minister and Congress leader P.Chidambaram just said in Kolkata.
What he did not say perhaps directly, but clearly implied, that the Congress is being swallowed up by the BJP in the states, not just where it was in power but also where it is in the Opposition.
It is no secret that since Prime Minister Narendra Modi moved to the national scene, the BJP attack has shifted almost entirely to the Congress as its principal foe in the states. Three years after he won the elections, the PM can sit back with a sense of satisfaction at having achieved the marginalisation of the Congress, faster than perhaps even he and his colleagues had anticipated. There is no organisation, as Chidambaram put it, to put up even a first hurdle to check the BJPs march forward.
In Tripura and Kerala, the BJP is working hard to emerge as the main Opposition to currently the Left front in power. The simmering violence in both states, erupting every now and again, is part of the strategy to occupy the Opposition slot as that always makes it easier to climb directly into the top posts. In Tripura, however, there is resistance from the Trinamool Congress that had enetered the state with similar ambitions, with the cadres of both the TMC and the BJP clashing yet again just five days ago in a series of such ‘encounters’ in what was earlier a peaceful state, focusing on development and amity.
That the Congress is in, to put it mildly, a dishevelled state is clear from these recent Assembly elections. It won in three states, and lost two almost immediately as it does not have an organisation, a leadership and hence no strategy to ensure that it made up the numbers necessary to form the government in Goa and Manipur. It basically floundered, did not even stake claim, and left the road open for the BJP to walk in with the help of its Governors.
In the North East the BJP is gaining ground steadily, at the expense of the Congress party. Manipur and Assam are a case in point. As a senior BJP Minister told reporters recently, “we find it easier to take on the Congress in the states as it barely offers a fight.” Unlike some of the regional parties, and even Aam Aadmi Party that was seen by the Minister as a bigger challenge than the Congress earlier, before it lost Goa and Punjab.
The Congress is in power in Punjab largely because of the peoples anger with the Akali Dal that is in alliance with the BJP, and Amarinder Singh’s own grasp on the state. The ‘Captain’ was able to steer the party and give it a direction lacking say, in UP where the Congress remained a bystander to its own leader Rahul Gandhi’s road shows.
In UP the entire party organisation was in shambles. It did not exist, with the candidates being left alone to manage what they could. Local UP leaders had not even been brought out into the field, with Prashant Kishor, Priyanka Gandhi determining what they thought was strategy that centred around Rahul Gandhi and the Alliance per se. A party that has no presence on the ground in UP wranged for over 100 seats, insisting on this even though in 13 Assembly segements it had to ‘borrow’ candidates from the Samajwadi party.
The Congress is shell shocked, but has reacted again in a predictable fashion. There has been no stock taking, no attempt to evolve a strategy with just two years in hand before the Lok Sabha polls. Rahul Gandhi has left for the US, UP Congress leaders are now hedging their bets, and what passes for the central leadership has dissolved into fragments, with every individual leader giving his own analysis of the results. To the point where a Mani Shankar Aiyar is countered in the public space, with an article by another Congress leader and so on and so forth.
BJP President Amit Shah has declared that he will be now looking at the states where the BJP does not have seats. And this of course includes Kerala, Tripura, Tamil Nadu etc. Not to mention states like Karnataka where the BJP is snapping at the heels of the Congress party in a concerted bid to win the next Assembly elections.
Congress and Opposition leaders spoken to offered and agreed to some extent on the following five measures that the Congress party needs to take almost immediately to save itself from the BJP:
1. Appoint a presidium of five (no more) working presidents, all of equal status divide India amongst them with a time frame of doables in each state; they should be advisors and implementers equal to any one from the so called First Family;
2. Appoint two dynamic young central leaders to revive a cadre based Sewa Dal and Youth Congress focusing on the Hindi states to begin with;
3. Use the Presidium and others to revive the Congress in UP, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand as a first go by forming cohesive organisations, party state presidents who are dynamic and young etc.
4. Focus also on the states going in for elections, starting with Gujarat and revamping the party leadership and Karnakata where the Congress in power is losing ground rapidly;
5. Connect with students and the new young leadership across the country.