The kind of campaign launched by BJP president Amit Shah in Karnataka is a clear indication of how much the BJP is worried for the 2019 challenges.
The post-2014 politics in India has seen challenging times as much for the Congress as for other regional satraps too. But the dynamism of politics is that one ought to fight. Admirably, the chairperson of Congress Parliamentary Party Sonia Gandhi is doing so yet again. Politically all the “battles” against the BJP and more so against Prime Minister Narendra Modi have become all the more important as people of India are looking for a change.
On this backdrop, it is correct to say that without Mrs Gandhi’s adroit leadership of the Congress, India’s political history would have taken a very different course. This column is thus an admiration of her ability to anchor not only the country’s oldest party but also the non-NDA forces.
By the turn of March-April 2018 — just a year before 2019 general elections — Mrs Gandhi has yet again given a fresh lease of life to the Opposition camp and their revival campaign. The dinner she hosted recently for leaders of regional parties displays her political acumen and the right sense of timing. Having said these, it is needless to suggest that with the exit of older generation of Chanakyas — the likes of Pranab Mukherjee and Arjun Singh — the Congress has to bank on a skilful and persuasive politician like Ahmed Patel. In fact, Mrs Gandhi would do well to set up a two-member team of Rahul Gandhi and Ahmed Patel going.
When the reference is about country’s mood for change, we must lay emphasis in understanding that the change may be of two varieties — if not more. One — that’s more understandable as change for the sake of it. The one that propped up Janata Dal leaders as Prime Minister(s) and the result is too well known.
The other — an effective change — that will address the grievances of citizens, wherein utter frustration has dawned on people about joblessness, sense of insecurity and farmers’ distress. Such a transition had come about in 2004 when Sonia Gandhi-led UPA was able to dethrone the BJP then led by touring person as Atal Behari Vajpayee.
Here lies the relevance of the Congress and the politics Mrs Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi should play.
The change in circumstances has made the coming Assembly elections in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan even more interesting. The kind of campaign launched by BJP president Amit Shah in Karnataka is a clear indication of how much the BJP is worried for the 2019 challenges.
In all this, there must be an added emphasis on the role Mrs Gandhi should play or has been playing. The dinner she hosted also carried a vital message, especially to ambitious regional leaders that they ought to keep aside all the differences at the “state level” and frame up a united approach to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2019 elections.
Having said this, one needs to caution the entire Opposition camp that ambitions and mutual rivalry of regional players will ultimately give advantage to Mr Modi and Mr Shah to take “advantage” of division of the anti-Modi votes.
Here also comes the key role Mrs Gandhi’s aide and time-tested leaders like Mr Patel should play. Even in the past, one has underlined the pivotal role played by Mr Patel in the running of Congress-led UPA.
A man of few words, Mr Patel has actually brought a new political narrative in the corridors of power. His emphasis was on “performance” rather than seeking media attention. Time has again come for Sonia Gandhi-Ahmed Patel duo to strike. In this the Congress must opt for a more aggressive setup under Rahul Gandhi-Ahmed Patel duo. In fact, Mr Patel with his master political strategy very silently gave a major jolt to the idea of a third front propagated by Telangana Rashtra Samithi chief K. Chandrashekar Rao to challenge the BJP-NDA in the 2019 general election. Mr Patel’s effort of making 20 parties attending the dinner hosted by Mrs Gandhi gave the clear message that without the Congress being the torchbearer any alliance to challenge Mr Modi-led BJP will not work.
Now the focus should be result-oriented both short-term and long-term. To a large extent the success of any campaign against Mr Modi in 2019 will depend a lot on how Rahul Gandhi-Ahmed Patel team actually can deliver.
That they make a good team is stating the obvious. In fact, the “hand” of Mr Patel was visible in Mrs Gandhi’s dinner too.
Hence, the focus of Mrs Gandhi’s leadership vis-à-vis the 2019 battle will be to ensure the effective communication among the regional leaders with Congress leadership, including Mr Gandhi. This is possible only when Mr Patel is assigned some specific and important role, especially in dealing with past and perhaps the future allies like Mulayam Singh Yadav or even his son Akhilesh Yadav.
The noises and flying visits being made by the likes of Mr Rao suggests the regional players will pursue their “narrow-minded” games often bordering along the line of selfishness and opportunism. Mr Rao actually owes an answer why he dashed off to Kolkata for a meeting with Mamata Banerjee and at the same time his daughter K. Kavitha and other TRS MPs in the Lok Sabha staged noisy protest helping the BJP not to allow a debate on no-confidence motion moved by the Telugu Desam Party.
There’s a gross double standards and perhaps a possibility of some deals between the TRS and BJP at least on the floor of the Lok Sabha. There would be other examples to strengthen the argument that some regional players can actually harm the Opposition more than help its cause, or fight Mr Modi.
Therefore, it goes without stating that the new “front” of regional leaders that will come up again will be like a last refuge of power-hungry state-level satraps. This brings us back to the critical aspect of underlining message in Mrs Gandhi’s dinner that regional parties, including the Leftists, need to come together and join hands with the Congress in projecting a purposeful and “united” face to take on Mr Modi. To be more specific, one must underline that the new front of regional parties should not happen.
If there has to be a front, it ought to be anti-Modi or anti-BJP and it should be inclusive of the Congress.
The war of 2019 will be perhaps less of “anti-BJPism” than being against the incumbent Prime Minister Modi. Hence all efforts must be applied to make the maximum of “anti-Moditva” politics. This is possible only when a large party with pan-India presence and permanent committed voters like Congress is at the centre of anti-Moditva movement.
If regional parties — even a handful of them — feel they can defeat Modi juggernaut without Congress’ help they are only indulging in wishful dream that will ultimately end up helping Mr Modi and his machinations at the national level.
But as we say this, here are few words of caution for the Congress too. Politics, the Congress leadership should bear in mind, is more about pragmatism than anything else. As part of that realistic approach, the Congress must not fight the regional players in their home turf just for the sake of it.
In other words, the Congress should not put up candidates against the Samajwadi Party or the Bahujan Samaj Party or at times even against the Nationalist Congress Party and the Trinamul Congress where the real polity is in favour of regional players.
We know sworn enemies like the SP and BSP may have to do business — brushing aside each other’s past legacy. This is not the beaten track but that is the future roadmap. Mrs Gandhi’s dinner will thus go a long way in bringing all regional and established anti-BJP players on one platform.
One needs to say that the likes of Mr Patel should have more important and vital roles. Someone needs to keep talking to perennial Prime Minister ambitious lot — the likes of Sharad Pawar, Ms Banerjee and even young turks like Akhilesh Yadav.
The writer is associated with the Indian National Congress and former chairman, Andhra Pradesh Electronics Corporation