Sunday, Jan 21, 2018 | Last Update : 12:15 AM IST

As 2019 countdown starts, 2018 spells challenge & opportunity for Congress

THE ASIAN AGE. | G.V. ANSHUMAN RAO
Published : Jan 4, 2018, 2:55 am IST
Updated : Jan 4, 2018, 2:57 am IST

It is clear that the BJP has planned to communalise the situation in the state, once hailed as its Gateway to the South.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi along with senior leader Ghulam Nabi Aazad and Mallikarjun Kharge and other MPs during a protest against Union minister Anant Kumar Hegde’s remarks on the Constitution, near the Gandhi statue during the on-going Winter Session of Parliament in New Delhi recently. (Photo: PTI)
 Congress president Rahul Gandhi along with senior leader Ghulam Nabi Aazad and Mallikarjun Kharge and other MPs during a protest against Union minister Anant Kumar Hegde’s remarks on the Constitution, near the Gandhi statue during the on-going Winter Session of Parliament in New Delhi recently. (Photo: PTI)

The political clock is ticking. With the ringing in of the New Year, just 16 months are left for the next Lok Sabha elections. Every second and every minute counts. More so for the Congress and Rahul Gandhi. One simply can’t rest on the laurels of Gujarat. It was a battle well fought. A general earns his spurs on the battlefield.

The battle to retain power in Karnataka just a few months away will be equally exciting for the Congress as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah can ill afford to give the initiative to a surcharged Grand Old Party.

If the BJP has to be humbled, then the Congress and its leadership should learn the tactics of Bajirao Peshwa, a general who was always on the go and known for taking his enemies by surprise with his speed and tactics. In his short life of 40 years, Bajirao fought 42 major battles and won each one of them.

Bajirao, whose name is etched on the heart of every Maharashtrian with “bravery of the rare kind” in war and in love, never lost a battle as he was always on the move and always thought of what the enemy might be thinking.

Like all great generals, he had rare rapport with his soldiers and was their darling. Bajirao is known as Bajirao I in Maratha history as his namesake some 100 years later brought doom on the empire.

Like Bajirao I, what is needed for Rahul Gandhi is to observe and understand what his political rivals must be plotting and how they could be checkmated. Gujarat has shown that Narendra Modi is not invincible if the right strategy and approach is adopted. It’s now time for the Congress to come up with a racy narrative to expose the BJP’s acts of omission and commission in the states ruled by the party, and they are many.

Unlike in the past, Rahul Gandhi had not gone on his usual yearend holiday — which is indicative that the Congress leadership is in a state of serious contemplation on the challenges ahead.

In politics, there are no enemies, only rivals. Rahul Gandhi showed it through his campaign in Gujarat. It’s great if the Prime Minister would have done the same by not lowering the standard of debate by making wild allegations against former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

In the states going to the polls in 2018, the Congress needs to prepare a detailed balance sheet of the work done in the states ruled by it, and the reasons for the failure to fulfil any assurances. This would help in states like Karnataka to help plan out a sober and effective campaign where chief minister Siddaramaiah has much to show for his years in office.

It is clear that the BJP has planned to communalise the situation in the state, once hailed as its Gateway to the South. Much has changed since then, and declaring B.S. Yeddyurappa as the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate despite the corruption cases pending against him is a good stick to beat the BJP with.

In other states, particularly in BJP-ruled Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the emphasis while preparing the balance sheet should be to dwell deep on the promise and performance.

Farmers’ distress in Madhya Pradesh has been evident from the police firing on agitating farmers in Mandsaur district. The story of neglect of farmers is similar in several orther states as the Narendra Modi government has not provided the desired attention to the countryside in this regard.

The Congress needs to be aggressive in the BJP-ruled states by raising penetrating questions over the issue of governance, or the lack of it. The campaign in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan could be very much like Gujarat, where the Congress exposed the futility of the “Gujarat model” from the word go. The fact is that the people are seeking a change — but that depends on whether they feel that the Congress is up to the task.

There is also the question of the party leadership in these states. In Rajasthan, the Congress has former CM Ashok Gehlot and PCC chief Sachin Pilot as a good combine of experience and youth that has the power to effectively checkmate incumbent Vasundhara Raje.

The Prime Minister saved the situation for the BJP in Gujarat, it being his home state, but he would find it difficult to stem the tide in other party-ruled states where its governments have been affected by anti-incumbency.

However, the biggest bottleneck for puncturing the BJP is the state of the Congress organisation. There are no shortcuts to success and no shortcuts to get the party organisation shipshape by removing factionalism and inertia. But how to do it is a million-dollar question — given the fact that in the last few decades, the culture of nomination has sapped the initiative of sincere workers. An instant but ad hoc and temporary solution could be one of holding closed-door “chintan shivirs” of leaders in election-going states, giving a full opportunity to state leaders to come up with innovative ideas and fresh thinking on how to put the house in order. It goes without saying that the major recommendations and suggestions need to be acted upon immediately.

Gujarat showed that the chink in the Congress’ armour is the organisation, or the lack of it. PCC chief Bharatsinh Solanki was not up to the task, and there were several suggestions from the AICC secretariat over a year back for the appointment of a working president in the state as Mr Solanki was not keeping well at that time. It was not acted upon.

Besides, a number of state Congress stalwarts, including Shaktisinh Gohil, Arjun Modhwadia and Siddhartha Patel, lost in the Assembly polls. This does not speak highly of the depth of the state leadership. Mr Solanki did not contest the polls.

The year 2018 is crucial for Rahul Gandhi to bring the Congress into the reckoning ahead of the “mother of all battles” — the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. With his spirited fight in Gujarat, he has put the fear of God into the BJP. But this could see a desperate ruling party unabashedly playing the communal divide card, as was seen towards the end of the Gujarat campaign.

In Chinese, the words “challenge” and “opportunity” are seen as synonyms. A great opportunity awaits the Congress to bring to the fore a new narrative — inclusive, humane, aspirational and forward-looking to slay the ghosts of the past. The time starts now.

The writer is associated with the Indian National Congress and is a former chairman of the Andhra Pradesh Electronics Development Corporation

Tags: lok sabha elections, rahul gandhi, narendra modi