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Four states & two styles await verdict

Dec. 7: Rahul Gandhi’s leadership qualities face a challenge with post-poll surveys indicating little hope for the Congress in Rajasthan, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

The outcome of the Assembly polls in five states, including Mizoram, are likely to be seen as a “semi-final” for both Rahul and BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi ahead of next year’s general election.

Rahul’s decision to give free rein to close associate C.P. Joshi in Rajasthan could come under scrutiny if Ashok Gehlot is ousted from power.

Joshi and his supporters have been claiming that the newly elected Congress MLAs will decide the chief minister if the party wins Rajasthan. Such a stand has bemused Gehlot and party workers at a time the incumbent chief minister has been offering sops to voters and promising a better future. Rahul has done little to check Joshi.

In Madhya Pradesh, Rahul turned a blind eye to allegations that the party MP from Ujjain, Prem Chand “Guddu”, had used subterfuge to get his son accepted as a Congress candidate.

Rahul’s Madhya Pradesh team — made up of heavyweights like Jyotiraditya Scindia, Digvijaya Singh, Kamal Nath and Suresh Pachauri — stood and watched when the Lok Sabha MP from Hoshangabad, Udai Pratap, defected to the BJP.

A day earlier, Pratap had gone to the Lok Sabha secretariat to tender his resignation but nobody — not even Kamal Nath, the parliamentary affairs minister — alerted Rahul or Sonia to make a last-ditch effort to retain the MP.

The Madhya Pradesh list of blunders does not end there. For reasons that remain unclear, Congress campaigners fought shy of targeting chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. There were no concerted efforts to highlight the income-tax and CBI raids on several bureaucrats and the charges of sexual abuse against former minister Raghavji.

Political analysts in Bhopal said the Congress’s failure to dent Chouhan’s image could prove crucial.

Questions on Rahul’s leadership persist in the national context too. With the general election less than six months away, Rahul would have been expected to engage the Prime Minister and the finance minister in articulating the party’s concerns over price rise and corruption.

On the other hand, when he did take a pro-active step in matters of governance, his comments about an ordinance being “nonsense” that deserved to be torn up and thrown away did more harm than good.

It isn’t that Rahul has been sitting idle. Sources suggest his hand in Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan getting in touch with industrial houses to cite the UPA’s efforts to provide a conducive economic environment amid a global slowdown.

Chavan has been shuttling between the Prime minister and Sonia Gandhi on one hand, and industry leaders on the other, to find out why 70-odd industrialists are rooting for Modi.

But Rahul’s biggest challenges continue to be the electorates of Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Bengal and Maharashtra, from where the party would need a large number of parliamentary seats next year.

Team Rahul believes that as long as the BJP does not win 40-plus Lok Sabha seats from Uttar Pradesh, even a modest show by the Congress can be offset by “doing business” with both Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav.

It even hopes to emulate this strategy in Bihar by fashioning a post-poll pact with the Janata Dal (United) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, with Ram Vilas Paswan playing peacemaker.