The assembly polls are upon Chhattisgarh and while the ruling BJP is working round-the-clock on the ground and online to woo voters, the Congress, shattered by the Darbha massacre, is struggling to get its own house in order.
On May 25, more than 100 Maoists attacked a Congress convoy near Darbha, 340 km south of Raipur, killing 20 leaders including state Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel. And though party leaders insist it has taken the loss in its stride, the fact is that the episode has altered the party dynamics and for the worse at that.
“The Maoist attack on our leaders was the biggest conspiracy to eliminate the Congress from Chhattisgarh,” said BK Hariprasad, party general secretary in charge of Chhattisgarh. “But thankfully, some of our leaders escaped the attack. There is no dearth of leaders,” he added.
Pradesh Congress committee chief Charan Das Mahant also rubbished all theories of a “leadership crisis”.
A more realistic assessment of the situation comes from political analyst Parivesh Mishra, “It was the middle order (of the Congress) that collapsed. But the leadership challenge persists.”
ALTERED PARTY DYNAMICS
The most apparent fallout of Darbha is infighting in the party. Previously, Patel was given a virtual mandate to chalk out all strategy and steer the party to polls, but now the party is divided into two factions — pro- and anti-Ajit Jogi.
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After Patel’s death Jogi emerged stronger. He visited the constituencies of his detractors and held rallies there. Hurt by Jogi’s approach these leaders came together to form a rival camp.
Another phenomenon that is visible post-Darbha is the party’s altered style of functioning. Now there is a parallel power structure in place, with the Centre actively participating in the election process. Previously Patel toured all 90 constituencies to identify, groom and promote leaders across the state. But now, the Centre is sending its own emissaries to spot promising local candidates. The arrangement, its pros notwithstanding, reads like a vote of no confidence from Delhi, keeping state leaders on tenterhooks.
THE MAOIST SHADOW
But the biggest fallout of Darbha has been the fear of campaigning among party leaders.
“Every Congressman will zealously work for the party as before. Senior leaders, including myself, will register our active presence during the election campaign in Bastar,” assured Jogi.
AICC spokesperson Bhakta Charan Das made an appeal to Maoists. “They should shun violence and come forward through democratic means.”
Brave noises apart, both the Congress and the BJP are dependent on grassroots workers to carry forward the party agenda. However, as a senior leader of the Congress pointed out, most of the grassroots workers are lying low out of fear. “We hope Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Bastar will galvanise the party cadres into action,” he said.