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regular-article-logo Tuesday, 05 March 2024

Congress has itself to blame; party functionaries blame Kamal Nath’s arrogance in Madhya Pradesh

Gehlot-Pilot’s infighting and absence of workers on ground erode advantage

Sanjay K Jha New Delhi Published 04.12.23, 07:18 AM
A monkey plays with a placard on the lawns of the AICC headquarters in New Delhi on Sunday. 

A monkey plays with a placard on the lawns of the AICC headquarters in New Delhi on Sunday.  PTI picture

The Congress has achieved incredible success in resurrecting the fading “Modi Brand” before the big battle of 2024, pushing the morale and the prospects of the combined Opposition in jeopardy.

This is the death of hope. The meltdown in the Hindi heartland, which presented a cut and dried political advantage to the Congress, has exposed the main Opposition party’s inability to match the BJP’s election management.

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The defeats in all the three states — Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh — were inflicted upon itself by over-confidence and self-designed follies.

This hasn’t left only the Congress wounded. It has maimed the joint Opposition, so majestically named INDIA (Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance). While the unity of purpose among the secular parties had generated hope, and the Karnataka victory fuelled its ambition, an engine crash just before the final battle has dampened the spirit.

The unexpected victory in Telangana, which could have been a huge morale booster for the Opposition camp, was spoiled by the miserable performance in these three states, which sends 65 members to the Lok Sabha. While the BJP is already at a saturation point in these states in terms of numbers, the psychological advantage the results gift to Modi is incalculable.

The results show the Congress hasn’t mastered the technique of wrestling with the BJP in direct fights, although it did win Karnataka and Himachal. But the larger message that has got a rebirth – of Modi’s enduring popularity – has much wider ramifications. Modi turned the elections into a referendum on himself and showed that the strategy works where the BJP machinery is operational.

The Congress was itching to spread the message that the Modi magic is on the wane but the Prime Minister demonstrated the courage to test whether people still trusted him and salvaged the BJP’s most potent plank just before the 2024 battle. This message of Modi’s invincibility might weaken the resolve to confront him, affecting the working and attitude of INDIA partners. The centrality of the Congress in the Opposition camp will also come under a cloud.

The Congress has no one to blame but itself. Key functionaries know how Kamal Nath was overconfident in Madhya Pradesh, refusing to heed sane advice. While many senior leaders felt there were problems in candidate selection in 25-30 constituencies, the campaign was so disjointed that Rahul Gandhi was angry in the midst of electioneering.

The crisis of communication cannot be overstated. While the Shivraj Chouhan government’s Ladli Behna scheme created a noise across the state, a similar scheme of the Congress with a bigger monthly sum assured to woman failed to penetrate deep into the masses. The messaging was more Kamal Nath-centric and the Congress came as an appendage. While the BJP presented a collective leadership, pushing aside even the sitting chief minister, “Jai-Jai Kamal Nath” was the slogan reverberating in the Congress camp.

While it was impossible to miss BJP workers and supporters on the ground, it was difficult to find a Congress worker outside party offices. The Congress machinery was doubtless not spread across residential areas and villages to bring the voters to booths and the BJP’s mobilisation capacity remained unmatched.

There is a frozen BJP vote bank in Madhya Pradesh created by Hindutva politics. The Congress has failed to challenge the perception that Hindutva politics is not about Hinduism. The Congress has increased its presence on social media but the fact-checking and counter-attacks are limited to the BJP’s attacks on Rahul, while the BJP’s claims about Modi’s achievements and other issues largely go uncontested.

It is not open to dispute that large sections of people were angry, and corruption charges, coupled with unemployment and high prices, created a problem for the BJP. There were no indications of a BJP sweep anywhere but the Congress was still routed. It will be difficult for the leadership to lift the morale of the party workers and motivate them to resume the fight for 2024.

In Rajasthan, the political discourse revolved around the Gehlot-Sachin Pilot quarrel for almost four years. In the last six months, Gehlot desperately tried drag people’s attention towards welfare schemes and the revolutionary legislation his government had introduced. But the focused messaging couldn’t yield the desired results amidst the powerful BJP propaganda about emotive issues like the Kanhaiyalal murder and crimes against women.

The central leadership’s insistence on removing a large number of sitting MLAs, who faced serious anti-incumbency, was resisted by the chief minister. In Chhattisgarh, the Congress almost dumped chief minister Bhupesh Baghel after the Mahadev App scandal, with Rahul and Priyanka refusing to share stage with him. The campaign suddenly looked rudderless, creating doubts in the minds of the people.

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