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Congress faces a year of poll tests

Elections due in Northeast, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, MP and Rajasthan
Preparation underway for the night stay of Rahul Gandhi and fellow Bharat Jodo Yatris at Mavikala village in Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat district.
Preparation underway for the night stay of Rahul Gandhi and fellow Bharat Jodo Yatris at Mavikala village in Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat district.
PTI picture

Sanjay K. Jha   |   New Delhi   |   Published 02.01.23, 03:29 AM

Struggling for revival through the most gruelling and gigantic mass contact programme that the Bharat Jodo Yatra is, the Congress will face critical electoral tests in 2023 that will set the stage for the final battle of 2024.

Soon after the Bharat Jodo Yatra ends late January, the Congress will get an opportunity to try to claw back some of its traditional political space in the Northeast, with elections coming up in Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya in March.


Two months later, in May, elections are to be held in Karnataka, a state where the Congress has high hopes and where a victory would inject new life into the demoralised organization.

The Congress has a strong organisation in Karnataka and the Bharat Jodo Yatra has smoothened the strained relations between the two big leaders there, Siddaramaiah and D.K. Shivakumar. Strong anti-incumbency against the BJP government should also help the Opposition.

A victory in Karnataka would not only help the Congress in Telangana, which goes to the polls in November-December, but it would also restore the party’s status as a national force capable of leading the battle against the Narendra Modi government in 2024.

December 2023 is crucial in the run-up to the 2024 battle, with elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh also due then. The Congress hopes to win Madhya Pradesh, where the BJP is in power now, and retain Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

The party has an established and credible leadership in Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh in Madhya Pradesh, besides a strong organisation, and Rahul Gandhi has predicted a clean sweep in the state arguing that there was a storm — not a wave — against the BJP there.

But Rajasthan, where the Congress is seen as having delivered excellent governance, remains doubtful because of the rift between chief minister Ashok Gehlot and his former deputy, Sachin Pilot. The party has not been able to resolve the leadership question and draw a clear roadmap.

Even Chhattisgarh, which looks smooth on the surface, could hurtle towards a crisis if the differences between chief minister Bhupesh Baghel and rival T.S. Singhdeo are not sorted out in time.

While 2023 can indeed be a harbinger of the Congress’s revival, it could also spell doom for the party if expectations crash in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. The inability to eject the governments in these two states will reinforce the perception that the Congress loses a direct battle with the BJP.

The Congress did defeat the BJP in Himachal in a direct fight but the presence of AAP in Gujarat destroyed its chances even before the electioneering started.

Unlike in Gujarat, the Congress has strong leadership as well as organisation in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh and a failure will be largely viewed as a tactical infirmity.

AAP has not been able to deepen its roots in Karnataka, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan but it did get manage to win 13 per cent of the votes in Gujarat even without an organisation there.

Although the Bharat Jodo Yatra has already reinvented the Congress, showcasing its determination and capability to undertake campaigns unprecedented in scale and impact, even the party leadership acknowledges that a lot of work needs to be done at the organisational level to translate the goodwill into votes.

While the AICC plenary to be held at Raipur in February is keenly awaited, many of the decisions taken at the Udaipur Chintan Shivir are yet to be implemented.

The new Congress Working Committee will be in place after the plenary but there is no buzz about other commitments made at the Udaipur conclave although the new president, Mallikarjun Kharge, has repeatedly said implementing the Udaipur vision will be his priority.

The Congress had promised critical changes in the organisational structure, including setting up a public insight department for continuous feedback from the ground, a performance assessment wing for office-bearers and 50 per cent reservation for the youth at all levels in the party.

The party used to hire professional agencies during elections to get feedback from the ground and the public insight department has been planned to keep its finger on the pulse of people across the nation 365 days a year.

The party also talked about the one-man-one-post principle and violated it by retaining Kharge as the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. The plan to expand the organisation by constituting Mandal committees between booth and block committees also lies in cold storage.

Kharge’s New Year message to the party workers on Sunday revolved around the narrative set by the Bharat Jodo Yatra. “Let this be the year that we work hard to raise the voice of every Indian, especially the weakest. The onus is on us to save our Constitution and democratic ethos. Let us be united and preserve our shared values, envisioned by our forefathers,” he said.

“Every Indian should feel that the Congress is the medium and vehicle in realising their dreams and aspirations of a secular, progressive and liberal India. Congress has always stood for India, and we need to strengthen this ideological bond and invaluable relationship. Let us resolve to make the year 2023 a year in which every Indian comes together and strengthens the bonds of amity and brotherhood. Nafrat Chhodo, Bharat Jodo.”

Kharge continued: “It is time to shed the barriers which divide us and rekindle in ourselves the values of love, compassion, tolerance and fraternity. This is the time to unify each aspiration and reinforce the civilisational ideals that bind us together. Let us reclaim the ideas and ideals of an inclusive society where peace and harmony prevail.”

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