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Opinion | Priyanka Gandhi preparing UP for 2022, Rahul Gandhi, the Congress, for 2024

No one can grudge the Congress party’s desire to revive, but fighting the main enemy, in this case the BJP, and at the same time firing lethal rounds at allies has created bad blood among coalition partners.

analysis Updated: Apr 15, 2019 08:24 IST
Saeed Naqvi
Saeed Naqvi
lok sabha elections 2019,congress,rahul gandhi
Congress president Rahul Gandhi with his sister and party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra during a road show before filling his nomination for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh, on Wednesday, April 10, 2019. (Subhankar Chakraborty/HT PHOTO)

It is true that there are no permanent enemies or permanent friends in politics. But this Machiavellian law is clearly not applicable when a coalition of parties is in the midst of an existential battle.

No one can grudge the Congress party’s desire to revive, but fighting the main enemy, in this case the BJP, and at the same time firing lethal rounds at allies has created bad blood among coalition partners. Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav and Ajit Singh (BSP, SP, RLD) have spoken out in unison: “There is no difference between the Congress and the BJP.”

The other day ‘gathbandhan’ was in a huddle, counting the number of seats where the Congress has entered the fray “as a spoiler”. In Saharanpur, Kheri, Badaun, Sant Kabir Nagar, Sitapur, Bijnor and so on – the Congress is helping not the ‘gathbandhan’ but the BJP. Why is the Congress in this mode of double containment? One does not have to look far for hints and guesses: Priyanka Gandhi has, in so many words, clarified her party’s intention.

“We are preparing the ground for 2022” – the Assembly elections. In other words, for the Nehru-Gandhi parivar, the 2019 Lok Sabha elections are not a matter of life and death. Will Narendra Modi return signal the end of democracy, usher in Fascism and worse? The Congress is not taken in by such alarmist nonsense. The Congress has not been able to properly market some of its smart, double-edged moves. Fielding Rahul from Wayanad in Kerala has been criticised for the obvious reason: that Wayanad is a seat from where the Congress always wins. The unnecessary insertion of the Congress president in the battle has signaled the party’s antipathy towards the Left with which it had been in conversation for some co-ordination in West Bengal.

Also Read | Lok Sabha elections 2019: Calls for Priyanka’s Lok Sabha poll entry grow stronger

The Wayanad episode came on the heels of the West Bengal arrangement being spurned by the Congress.

The coincidence amplified Congress ambivalence, its inability to decide whether it should strengthen the opposition or weaken regional forces. It probably feels that it looks relatively more muscular for future” battles by undoing its own allies. What the Congress has not marketed is this: Rahul from Wayanad may block Congress candidates fleeing towards the BJP which is aching to open its account in Kerala.

Also the intellectual pool around the Congress president appears to have been influenced by the pro-Modi media which has projected 2019 as a presidential contest. This is not new.

During the 2014 elections, Arnab Goswami (news anchor) was on the same trajectory.

He attempted to lure Rahul into his parlour for a Modi-Rahul debate. It did not work out because Rahul was dreaming of building the party brick by brick, village panchayat upwards, a high pyramid with a wide base. In fact, Rahul had brought in a former election commissioner KJ Rao to organise a system of primaries for election to the Youth Congress and National Students’ Union of India. He sought expert help to select 16 untainted Lok Sabha candidates as a sort of pilot project. At this speed, one wondered, how long will it take Rahul to identify 543 Lok Sabha candidates?

On the pain of digressing a bit, there is a detail of considerable political import I would like to insert here.

What is the reason that the 2004 to 2009 was possibly the cleaner innings that Manmohan Singh played? One reason is that he had outside support of 60 Left Front members who enabled the Congress to keep the riff raff at bay. True, they had ideological objections to the nuclear deal with the US, but corruption was nowhere in the vicinity of that arrangement. Fierce Right Wing pressure resulted in the Left’s departure. The replacement of the Left by greedy interests, opened the floodgates of corruption on a scale that Modi, backed by the world’s most expensive campaign, harnessed to his advantage. Very few in the Congress remember: after the party turned its back on the Left, it came down to its lowest ever tally – 44 seats.

I have already dwelt on Rahul’s diffidence on the eve of 2014 elections, when his party had its best score in two decades – 209 seats. And now with merely 44 under his belt is it realistic to expect him to bust his guts for the ultimate trophy? Not surprising, therefore, that in the space of a month both Rahul and Priyanka have publicly backtracked. They have both said separately that they are preparing the ground, particularly in UP, for 2022.

Party men are thinking of 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

Had Congress played the game in good faith, the leadership selection phase would have been relatively smooth. Numbers would have influenced the outcome. But the manner in which candidates have been fielded by the Congress, particularly against Mayawati, ensures a messy endgame.

If the results are more or less even, this would, for the BJP be an excellent election to lose.

The Ram Temple remains unbuilt. Kashmir and the Pakistan cauldrons are bubbling over. On each one of these issues, the B team of the BJP, namely the Congress, will simply wilt. Pakistan PM Imran Khan was succinct: chances of an Indo-Pak dialogue are more likely in the event of Modi winning, because a weak opposition government would be too much in a state of funk to go against the current of anti-Pak nationalism.

(The writer is a noted journalist and author. Views are personal.)

For complete coverage of Lok Sabha Elections 2019, click here

First Published: Apr 15, 2019 08:23 IST