For the Congress, the route to target the Narendra Modi-led BJP government emerges from the states.
Allegations of the corruption against the chief ministers of BJP-ruled Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh have given the beleaguered opposition party, which suffered its worst electoral defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the handle to attack Modi after he praised his government for a graft-free year in power.
The Congress has been demanding removal of Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje for her alleged business links with former IPL chief Lalit Modi.
On Monday, it asked the Prime Minister Modi to sack Madhya Pradesh’s Shivraj Singh Chauhan, who has been in power for the third term, over the multilayered state recruitment board, or Vyapam, scandal.
Maharashtra’s Devendra Fadnavis has become a target after reports revealed corruption in awarding contracts by his ministers. Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh, too, drew flak over a rice scam.
The Congress’s shift towards a state-centric line of attack comes in the wake of the Centre’s strong resistance to the opposition fire against Cabinet ministers Sushma Swaraj and Smriti Irani — one for helping Lalit Modi and the other for providing “misleading information” about her academic qualifications in election affidavits.
The strategy to mount pressure on BJP chief ministers could come in handy for the Congress in the Bihar elections, slated for September-October.
With the BJP-LJP coalition pitted against the Congress-Janata Parivar combination for what has been described as the “Battle of Patliputra”, the recent spate of allegations against the four chief ministers might prove the BJP’s good-and-clean-governance card hollow.
At the same time, the Congress’s biggest campaign against the NDA government —on the land bill — also has a key element related to state-level governance. Land is a state subject and the Congress’s “pro-farmer” stand vis-à-vis the land bill is aimed to get regional parties on its side.
The strategy has paid off so far as ruling parties such as the Janata Dal (United) in Bihar, Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh and even Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK in Tamil Nadu have expressed reservations on the NDA’s bid to amend the 2013 land acquisition law.
While the party remains committed to address its core constituents of rural and urban poor, it is also trying an image makeover to reach out to a wider constituency.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s meetings with home buyers and his interactions with start-up entrepreneurs signals a fresh bonding with the middle-class and business community — two key sections which contributed largely to the party’s Lok Sabha victory in 2009. But these sections later gravitated towards Modi.
At his meeting, Gandhi assured e-entrepreneurs that he was not against industries or even big business but would oppose crony capitalism. He clarified that he was pro-growth but it shouldn’t come at the cost of livelihood of the poor and farmers.
The party is determined to stall key economic and social sector reforms at a time the business community is clamouring for urgent reforms.
These initiatives actually kick-started during the UPA rule —such as the GST bill or the real estate regulatory bill — but the party lost the plot to the BJP. It is in no mood now to let its rivals walk away with the praise for some landmark laws that the UPA initiated.
The new strategy of “Opposition Package” could well be the start of a new era in the Congress.