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Thursday, Sep 19, 2019

Wayanad: Rahul has opened a new front in the poll game

While the BJP is free to make the point that Mr Gandhi has opted for a relatively safe seat, to ascribe it to Muslim and Christian population and then seek to widen the communal divide is unacceptable. They are as much voters of India as Hindus.

editorials Updated: Apr 01, 2019 17:41 IST

Hindustan Times
Congress President Rahul Gandhi gestures as he speaks at a Congress-JD(S) rally ahead of Lok Sabha election, Bengaluru, March 31, 2019
Congress President Rahul Gandhi gestures as he speaks at a Congress-JD(S) rally ahead of Lok Sabha election, Bengaluru, March 31, 2019(PTI)
         

Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s decision to contest from Kerala’s Wayanad constituency — besides his traditional seat of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh — has created a stir among his supporters, prospective allies, as well as his critics. The first thing to acknowledge is that contesting from two seats is an established feature of Indian electoral politics. This is not necessarily a healthy practice, for a candidate gives up one of the seats if he wins both, necessitating a round of re-elections. But top leaders have often opted for it either as a way of conveying a larger political message or an insurance policy in case they lose in one of the seats.

Mr Gandhi’s motivations are clear. The Congress knows that the South is one region where it will do better than the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Despite the BJP’s efforts, Karnataka remains the only state where it is a serious player. In contrast, while the Congress is weak in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, it is a strong contender in Kerala on its own, Karnataka with the Janata Dal (Secular), and Tamil Nadu as a part of the DMK-led alliance. The Congress has also sought to construct an ideological platform in the South, which hinges on how the BJP is insensitive of the region’s languages, and cultural specificities. By contesting from the South, Mr Gandhi is signalling that he respects the region. He is also seeking to maximise the Congress’s seats in Kerala in particular, and the South in general. At the same time, the party could also have calculated that given the BJP’s Smriti Irani’s challenge in Amethi, it is best to have a back-up seat.

The decision has, however, prompted criticism from two quarters. The Congress’s friends in political circles have argued that Mr Gandhi should not have got into a battle with the Left — which will support a non-BJP dispensation after the polls — and instead invested all his efforts in fighting the BJP. This, they allege, is a part of the Congress’s general approach where it has not been sensitive to political strength of regional partners in its quest to build its own strength.

The Congress, however, argues that as a party, it needs to look out for its interests. And having a strong Congress is essential to having a strong non-BJP coalition. The other criticism has come from the BJP, which has pointed to the fact that Wayanad has a strong minority voter base. While the BJP is free to make the point that Mr Gandhi has opted for a relatively safe seat, to ascribe it to Muslim and Christian population and then seek to widen the communal divide is unacceptable. They are as much voters of India as Hindus. With his southern foray, Mr Gandhi has opened a new front in the electoral game.

First Published: Apr 01, 2019 17:40 IST