16 December 2018 01:49 PM

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THE CITIZEN BUREAU | 18 NOVEMBER, 2018

Assembly Polls Reality Check: Congress Struggles to Cash In on Strong Anti-Incumbency

Tough contests


NEW DELHI: Rajasthan victory seems certain for the Congress, with the farmers stir and the work on the ground by leaders Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot adding to the anti-incumbency against BJP Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia. But in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, despite a similar sentiment against the ruling BJP, it could well be an opportunity lost for the Congress that has barely got its act together in these two crucial states going to the elections as well.

Visible fissures have been stemmed in Rajasthan by the Congress leadership by ensuring that both Gehlot and Pilot contest the elections, and thereby uniting the factions for an united fight against the BJP. The party organisation in this state has been revved up over the years, partly under Gehlot as Chief Minister and partly because of Pilots continuing efforts. Gehlot remains popular in the state despite having been called to Delhi and involved in work outside Rajasthan.

Sections of the BJP ares arrayed against Vasundhara Scindia who is finding it difficult to breach the divide. Despite working closely with the RSS, the Rajasthan CM has found it difficult to keep the party on her side with the allocation of tickets through which several leaders were guillotined, adding to her woes.

In Madhya Pradesh all spoken to admit of a strong anti incumbency factor against the BJP and Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan but admit that the Congress has not been successful “as yet” in capitalising on it. The party is split between Digvijay Singh who does not enjoy the confidence of the party top brass, Jyotiraditya Scindia who is close to party president Rahul Gandhi, and Kamal Nath who is noticed by his sheer ability to get the work done. New Delhi had tilted towards Scindia with the result that little was done on the ground, and it is only recently that it changed track and entrusted Kamal Nath with the responsibility of leading the Congress into the electoral battle for the state elections.

As seniors in the party admitted, “this might be too late and should have been done a few years ago.” Kamal Nath has pulled out the plugs but reports of resistance from those supporting Scindia continue to make the rounds. Digvijay Singh along with many other central leaders is supporting Kamal Nath who told The Citizen recently that he is certain of victory. However, sources in the state said this still remains far from certain, and the Congress while creeping up does not have an edge at this stage.

Chhattisgarh, however, seems to be gearing up for what excited Congress leaders feel could be a big surprise. Not really looking the state with 90 odd Assembly seats as seriously as it should have, the Congress finds the BJP to be suffering from anti-incumbency that seems to be the leitmotif of these Assembly elections. Unemployment has hit the youth, and the Congress is being looked at with some favour according to old timers in the party. Both the Congress and the BJP are wary of the third front that has risen under Ajit Jogi and Mayawati in the state, as it has the capacity to hit both in what is a closely contested elections. But significantly, the environment is such that Jogi --- after a casual ‘let us see’ statement’ about a post poll alignment with the BJP--- had to publicly retract and swear that he would not join the BJP no matter what. This in itself is an indication of the ground disaffection with the ruling party that swept the state in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

As a senior Congress leader said, “we are in the fight in Chhattisgarh with victory in sight.” Asked if the Congress would have won had it projected Ajit Jogi as the Chief Ministers face for the campaign he responded, “hands down.” But then the New Delhi leadership did not want to defy resistance from the state unit, and allowed the alliances to pass the Congress by. As a result BSP leader Mayawati is fuming, and Jogi is contesting the seats as a ‘third front’.

In Telangana, the dice seems to be rolling the Congress-Telugu Desam way all of a sudden. The advantage that Chief Minister K.Chandrasekhar Rao seemed to have secured for himself and his Telangana Rashtriya Samiti with the early dissolution of the House appears to be on the wane. And his strategy to catch the Congress of guard seems to have dissolved in the face of the Congress-TDP alliance effected at the instance of Chandrababu Naidu. As part of the strategy that seems to have misfired now, Rao had announced candidates for 105 seats on the day he dissolved the House.

Reports suggest that the peoples disaffection with the TRS is helping the new alliance gain momentum, More so after the local elections last month where the TRS did badly with its alliance with the BJP coming under question.

The Congress is contesting 90 of the 119 Assembly seats in Telangana, with the TDP and the CPI sharing the remaining number. From being on the backfoot this alliance is creeping up as a possible winner in the state. Several leaders from the TRS have joined the Congress or the TDP in recent weeks in yet another indication of the ground trend.

Mizoram is set to throw out the Congress and bring in the Mizo National Front. The Congress party is finding it difficult to retain control over the north-east states, The state goes to the polls on November 28 with at least two Ministers from the ruling Congress government having deserted the party. R.Lalzirliana who was the state home minister quit in September and was expelled from the party. The more recent resignation of former minister Lalrinliana Sailo from the Congress is seen as yet another setback for the party that is floundering in the state. Even more so after popular Aizawl football club president Robert Romawia Royte joined the MNF to contest the state polls.
 

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