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Congress now is a party by default

Mumbai city news: Maharashtra Congress chief Ashok Chavan seems to believe that the minority vote has decisively shifted back to the Congress ,and this time it is there to stay.

mumbai Updated: Jul 19, 2017 00:04 IST
Sujata Anandan
Sujata Anandan
Hindustan Times
Mumbai city news,Ashok Chavan,Congress
Maharashtra Congress chief Ashok Chavan.(HT File)

When the Congress won the municipal council elections in Bhiwandi and Malegaon last month, many critics attributed that victory, for the first time in months, to Rahul Gandhi - by default. Gandhi had not campaigned for those polls but he had been visiting a local court in Thane district on several occasions in his ongoing case wherein a BJP ideologue has sued him for saying that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was responsible for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.

In the early days of that suit, it looked as though he would not have the guts to stand by that statement. Indeed, some reports had even suggested he would apologise and withdraw the remarks as his legal team, led by former union minister Kapil Sibal, had advised.

That was a legal resort, however. Not a political one. And it reminded me of a conversation I had had with senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh a few years ago wherein he had been hopping mad at how the party had lost its killer instincts because it was now full of “bureaucrats and lawyers”, as he put it, who only knew the law and administration but had no political instincts at all. Obviously, Sibal was one of them and his presumed advice to Gandhi to apologise and get rid of the case would have been politically suicidal, even if legally sound.

But then Gandhi’s own political instincts kicked in and he decided to ignore that advice and fight back. With all that has been happening to Muslims in this country over the past couple of years, that decision to thumb his nose at the RSS, head on, went down well with the minority community and his frequent appearances in court seemed to have automatically won their hearts back again.

Now whether that assessment is true or not, state party president Ashok Chavan seems to believe that the minority vote has decisively shifted back to the Congress and this time it is there to stay. He also believes that farmers, too, are now in the party’s bag. But that also seems to have happened by default. The Congress and other opposition parties took up the Kisan Sangharsh Yatra demanding a farm loan waiver which, Chavan told me, had a direct bearing and influence on the farmers going on strike and compelling the reluctant government to write off their loans.

But when I asked him why his party was not more aggressive towards protecting its support bases, he said, “Oh, but we are – on the ground. Our problem is not just the fact that we have less money than the BJP but also that the media completely blacks out the Congress.”

As example, he quoted the visit of the non-NDA presidential candidate Meira Kumar to Bombay last week to campaign among Maharashtra’s MPs and legislators. “Was that not a significant event in itself, with 17 non-NDA parties supporting her? But there is this leading newspaper (he named it) which has published not a word of her visit – forget her meetings or statements, it has not even taken note of her presence in the city. Does that mean she never came here or never campaigned?”

Chavan believes that kind of blackout leads to the Ostrich-with-head-in-the-sand syndrome among certain sections but among the people who matter – like Muslims and farmers – the message has gone down loud and clear. And that the BJP too knows well enough that the storm clouds are gathering. Perhaps that is why the government is once again preparing to repeat its success at the municipal council elections last year by amending the laws to have sarpanchs in gram sabhas, due for elections in October, elected directly. Chavan is not unaware of the fact that many of his party’s winning candidates were appropriated by the BJP at the time and put up for direct elections to the positions of municipal council presidents on the BJP symbol. The same could happen with sarpanchs as the BJP has little or no presence at gram sabha levels and would need to pinch potential winners from the Congress and the NCP once again. So what are the two parties doing to stop this from happening? It would seem nothing. Neither party has enough resources to match the BJP and, in any case, both seem to have little political instincts remaining either.

But who needs those instincts when they seem to be winning, almost by default? Like I always say, only God stands between the Congress and its complete annihilation!

First Published: Jul 04, 2017 15:26 IST