Constantly playing catch-up with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress president Rahul Gandhi has a fresh challenge in hand.
Bharatiya Janata Party functionaries are in a tizzy ever since party president Amit Shah launched a public drive — Sampark se samarthan — during which they have been directed to contact one lakh public figures and opinion makers to inform them about the Narendra Modi government’s accomplishments over the past four years. Not only are they to call on these personalities but are also expected to provide photographic proof to Mr Shah that they have complied with his directions. Each party functionary has been asked to get in touch with 50 persons each. This diktat, aimed at the 2019 Lok Sabha election, has resulted in a virtual scramble in the BJP as its members, including ministers and office bearers, seek to outdo each other in contacting eminent intellectuals. The internal competition is so intense that party functionaries are loathe to even discuss their list with anyone in case his or her “contact” is “hijacked” by a colleague. As a result, writers, artists, sportspersons, mediapersons, academics and retired bureaucrats find themselves in demand, with some of them being honoured with visits by more than one BJP leader. The party’s media department has also been hyperactive as its members have been busy calling on editors and presenting them with booklets detailing the government’s achievements. Mr Shah himself kickstarted the exercise by calling on former Army Chief Dalbir Singh Suhag and followed it up with meetings with cricketer Kapil Dev, Bollywood actor Madhuri Dixit and industrialist Ratan Tata. It’s a different matter that he was snubbed by Kolkata intellectuals.
Mango diplomacy appears to be the flavour of the season. Ever since Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee came to power, the West Bengal government has been organising an annual mango festival in the capital to showcase varieties of the fruit grown in the eastern state. In addition, Ms Banerjee has sent packets of the state’s special mangoes to leaders across the political spectrum. The list includes political adversaries like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and Union home minister Rajnath Singh. Former Congress president Sonia Gandhi and other party leaders have also been gifted mango hampers.
With the Trinamul Congress chief taking the initiative in bringing together Opposition parties on a common platform, potential allies like H.D. Kumaraswamy, N. Chandrababu Naidu and Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar also figure on the list. However, it is not clear if Congress president Rahul Gandhi is among the favoured ones. It will not be surprising if the Nehru-Gandhi scion has been excluded since Ms Banerjee is not known to share a warm relationship with him.
The Congress had its share of good and bad news last week. The good news was that Congress president Rahul Gandhi finally gave in to the demands of party members and handed over charge of the important state of Maharashtra to senior leader Mallikarjun Kharge in place of general secretary Mohan Prakash. The party’s Maharashtra unit had been demanding Mr Prakash’s removal for the past several years now as he had failed to deal effectively with internal bickering among state leaders.
As a senior and seasoned player, Marathi-speaking Kharge is expected to have greater success in uniting the various factions in the state unit. While the Maharashtra Congress heaved a sigh of relief over Mr Kharge’s appointment, the party’s Madhya Pradesh unit had little to cheer when Rahul Gandhi-favourite Madhusudan Mistry was appointed the chairman of the screening committee, which will draw up the first list of candidates for the year-end Assembly polls. State leaders are worried as they will find it difficult to influence Mr Mistry in the distribution of tickets given his proximity to the Congress chief. Their constant refrain these days is to point to Mr Mistry’s previous stint as screening committee chairperson in 2013 when his choice of candidates resulted in a drop in the Congress’ numbers in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly.
Constantly playing catch-up with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress president Rahul Gandhi has a fresh challenge in hand. Addressing a public rally in Maghar, Uttar Pradesh, last week, Mr Modi first spoke in the local Bhojpuri dialect before switching to Hindi. Though he read the prepared text from teleprompters, Mr Modi’s use of Bhojpuri proved to be a real hit with the local population which cheered him lustily for this effort. This newly-introduced element in Mr Modi’s speeches should worry Mr Gandhi, especially if the Prime Minister makes it a habit to speak in the local language each time he addresses a public rally. As it is, the Congress president does not compare well with the Prime Minister as far as oratory is concerned. Though he has improved considerably over time, Mr Gandhi is clearly not comfortable while delivering speeches in Hindi. The Congress chief will have a tough time if he now has to speak in different local dialects during his campaign. Clearly, Mr Gandhi has a lot of learning to do before next year’s Lok Sabha elections. Or, like Mr Modi, he should also start using teleprompters to make his task easy.