Now that the dust has settled after elections to five state assemblies and the BJP has come out on top, in two states by fair means and in two others by nudging the Congress out through what can only be described as `jugaad’, it should be time for some serious introspection by the latter. But if their attitude towards their electoral failure, even in the civic polls in Maharashtra, is anything to go by, I am not sure the party has learnt any lessons — or even has the instincts anymore — to take on its political rivals and evolve strategy for the future.
There is only some idle talk without action — and talking to many Congress leaders, the consensus in the party seems to be that they must bring back all breakaway Congress groups, like the Nationalist Congress Party, the Trinamool Congress and even the YSR Congress of Andhra Pradesh into their fold — even if loosely, as a coalition of like-minded parties, before the 2019 polls. But there are many more states which will go to polls before then and Congressmen believe they must identify a local leader, a party ideologue a— like the committed Congressman Captain Amarinder Singh in Punjab – and not imports, if it has to turn the tide against the BJP in the coming years.
The tragedy with the party in Maharashtra is that they have no leaders — the last men standing in both the Congress and the NCP are Ashok Chavan and Sharad Pawar, but neither has the will or the inclination to take on the BJP. The only leader still cocking a snook at the ruling party is Uddhav Thackeray of the Shiv Sena — soon after the BJP’s victory in the UP assembly polls, his party posed a challenge to the BJP, “Now that you have a majority in both the UP assembly and the Lok Sabha, it is high time a date be set for building the temple in Ayodhya.” That could prove a googly for the BJP in the future, though the case is stuck in the Supreme Court and it will have to go by the apex court’s verdict.
However, there is another issue on which Uddhav has pipped the Congress to the post — that of debt-ridden farmers who continue to commit suicides in both Vidarbha and Marathwada. Understandably, the Congress cannot put the BJP on the mat over the temple issue, but I never cease to be amazed that a party which still prides itself on its rural vote base (the few seats its continues to win these days come from the hinterland), would lift no finger to take up their issues, on the streets and in the legislature. It was left to Uddhav to call upon his Shiv Sainiks to stall the proceedings in the assembly until the BJP government in the state waives off the loans of these farmers — something a state government is not entitled to do but it is an issue that carries with it a great emotional appeal.
With even Sharad Pawar failing on this score, it is obvious that the Shiv Sena will continue to be the main opposition in the state and will not allow the BJP to savour its good fortune in the recent elections, including the civic elections across Maharashtra. The BJP has taken a leaf out of its tormentor’s book and is continually on the Sena’s tail, hoping its attempt to set up a deputy lokayukta in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and bring issues of road contractors and the shoddy state of repairs of the streets year after year will be enough to make charges of corruption stick on the Shiv Sena and help it emerge as the best alternative to both the Congress and the Sena.
Sadly for the Congress, in this battle between the two friends-turned-foes, it has been left on the sidelines of the polity and is having to face growing doubts among even its own staunchest supporters if its leadership — both at the Centre and in the state(s) — is up to facing the saffron challenge posed by the two parties in the government.
For there is no doubt that both the Sena and the BJP will use a combination of polar and development politics to capture all the space going in the electoral field. The first test of this will be in Gujarat in November where the Congress is the main opposition to the BJP but the Sena plans to ride in piggybacking on Hardik Patel’s Patidar movement. And the Congress leadership there has its roots in the RSS. So, Congress anyone?
Also read: Shiv Sena believes in tit-for-tat approach