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Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019

With several claimants, Cong hedges on naming Gujarat CM candidate

The Congress is battling a problem of plenty in Gujarat with many claimants for the chief ministerial candidate’s title in the run-up to next month’s crucial assembly polls

india Updated: Nov 02, 2017 13:08 IST
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, seen at public meeting in Gujarat’s Dahod district, will need to hit the target precisely if the party has to return to power in the state after 19 years.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, seen at public meeting in Gujarat’s Dahod district, will need to hit the target precisely if the party has to return to power in the state after 19 years.(PTI file photo)

Too many cooks spoil the broth. Or so it seems for the Congress and best explains its dilemma in not naming the party’s chief ministerial candidate in poll-bound Gujarat.

A top-heavy Congress is wary that the move could backfire at a time when it has managed to create some political buzz in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi after 22 years.

Assembly elections in Gujarat will be held in two phases on December 9 and 14.

Congress general secretary in-charge of Gujarat, Ashok Gehlot, had spelt out the party strategy at the beginning of the campaign, asserting that all leaders should first “work unitedly to capture power” and then the high command will take a call.

The move resulted in the exit of veteran leader Shankersinh Vaghela who later vented his anger during the Rajya Sabha elections on August 8. In one of the bitterly fought contests, Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary, Ahmed Patel, snatched victory in a nail-biting finish to get re-elected to the Upper House for the fifth time.

That set the momentum for the Congress, which began to exude confidence that it could beat the apparently invincible BJP under Modi and Amit Shah after the saffron party’s 19 years of uninterrupted rule in Gujarat.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi had once said that too many leaders spoil the party’s chances in states.

The challenge for the party was to set its house in order and stem further divisions in the already faction-ridden unit in Gujarat. Not naming the face was part of the new tactics.

Political experts, however, don’t give an edge to the BJP on this aspect.

“While there is factionalism in Congress, the BJP too is at disadvantage this time. Chief minister Vijay Rupani does not have the stature of Modi. Both parties are facing the same problem,” said political analyst Achyut Yagnik.

Congress leaders admit that the problem of plenty had plagued the party in the past but claim that unity is the new mantra.

“Factionalism was rampant during Vaghela’s time. But this is not a factor now and, moreover, no Congress leader is powerful in individual capacity,” party spokesperson Kailash Kumar Gadhvi said.

“We are a democratic party and don’t have a tradition of naming the CM candidate. Legislators are given the right to elect their leader…It’s a team work,” he added.

But an overdrive to hard-sell the unity theme is unlikely to go unnoticed.

So, when Patidar quota agitation leaders and Hardik Patel’s associates visited Congress headquarters at Ellisbridge in Ahmedabad on Monday, the presence of Gujarat Congress chief Bharatsinh Solanki with two former state unit presidents, Arjun Modhwadia and Siddharth Patel, was ensured to drive home the message of concord.

While these three lack mass appeal, the other names such as Congress legislature party leader Mohansinh C Rathwa, his predecessor Shaktisinh Gohil and working president Tushar Chaudhary, son of former chief minister Amarsinh Chaudhary, too don’t evoke much enthusiasm among voters.

The Congress also cannot bank upon its central leaders hailing from Gujarat -- Ahmed Patel, Madhusudan Mistry and Deepak Babaria -- for a turnaround.

So much so that the party went into a tizzy when messages started circulating on social media that if the Congress manages to win the elections, “Ahmed Bhaijaan” will be its chief minister. A web poll asking who will be the better CM – Vijay Rupani, Ahmed Patel or Vaghela – has further triggered panic buttons in the Congress.

State leaders have suggested that Ahmed Patel should himself set at rest all such speculation, else it could hurt the party’s poll prospects. “It’s all baseless. BJP is visibly anticipating defeat and hence resorting to such dirty tricks,” he told Hindustan Times.

In absence of a mass leader at the state level, the grand old party has drawn up a campaign strategy that seeks to revive the legacy of Gujarat-born Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and at the same time showcases the present leadership.

The theme “Mahaan Netratava ki Mahaan Parampara (Great tradition of great leadership)” has the pictures of Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.

State leaders Solanki, Rathwa, Modhwadia, Gohil and Siddharth Patel figure in “Congress Aave Che — Navsarjan Lave Che (A Resurgent Gujarat under Congress)” campaign that also has the pictures of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.

Whether this balancing act works for the Congress or the BJP continues to reap rich electoral dividends from the Modi magic will be known after the grand finale of Gujarat’s game of thrones on December 18.

First Published: Nov 01, 2017 08:30 IST