A Confident Congress Ready For Battle?
Customised strategies for different state Assembly elections
After emerging as a principal challenger to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the five state Assembly polls next month, a confident Congress is playing soft Hindutva card in Madhya Pradesh. It's banking aggressively on its welfare programmes in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, and has emerged as an alternative to the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) in Telangana where the 10-year-old K. Chandrashekhar Rao government is facing anti-incumbency.
The Congress has won the first round of the battle after the BJP conceded that it does not have a chief ministerial face' in the five states. The BJP is thus compelled to fight the polls which are being viewed as the semi finals to the Lok Sabha elections due early next year, which it will fight in the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Congress party then acted swiftly. It intensified its attack on BJP and BRS. It also gave freedom to the party's regional satraps in the selection of the party candidates.
The Congress's soft Hindutva line in Madhya Pradesh is being viewed in the party circles, as a clever move to check the ruling BJP from consolidating its Hindu vote bank. While the BJP is a divided house not only in Madhya Pradesh but also in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
In MP it is not fighting the electoral battle under Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan despite him being the party's candidate. Although he is the BJP's pan-Madhya Pradesh face, the party is fighting the elections banking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Congress leader and former Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh told ‘Hindustan Times’ that the party would win over 130 Assembly seats, and will improve their performance in every region of the state. The Congress's 'face' in Madhya Pradesh Kamal Nath, also a former CM, has emerged as a ‘Hanuman Bhakt’ or devotee. So the state could witness a fight between 'Bhakts' of Rama and Hanuman.
The All India Congress Committee (AICC) has no objection to the soft Hindutva line taken by the state Congress leaders, as its top priority has been to defeat the BJP at any cost. The Congress's star campaigner Rahul Gandhi who has democratised the party, is backing the regional leaders, giving them full freedom.
This helped the Congress in Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka Assembly polls which saw the BJP's defeat. The BJP came to power in Madhya Pradesh through "Operation Lotus”, that is through defections and splits.
Interestingly, the BJP is not talking of a cakewalk in the Congress-ruled Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh polls because of the divisions and factional fights in its state units. In Rajasthan, the Congress's slogan is “Kaam kiya dil se,Congress fir se” (worked with all out heart, Congress [will win] once again).”
The party is seeking another term on the basis of welfare programmes undertaken by the Ashok Gehlot government for the youth, farmers, women, unorganised sectors and urban minimum income guarantee programme.The BJP high command tried hard in the last ten years to develop a strong second line in these three states but failed.
The BJP’s central leadership does not want a strong leader to emerge from states as he or she could then emerge as a potential challenger to the leadership. Its attempt to marginalise former CM Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan, and create a successor to Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh too did not go down well within the party cadres.
Voters in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh know who the Congress's Chief Minister will be after the polls. This would not be a major issue if the Congress defeats the BRS in Telangana. The BJP is not fighting the Telangana elections to form a government but to check the Congress which has emerged as a common rival of BRS, BJP and All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen abbreviation (AIMIM).
The BJP is unsure of how much its polarisation tactics can be effective in these five states. This is because the Congress has already set the tone of the polls, which is development and welfare programmes for all sections of the society. This promise got creedence as it is being seen on the ground level in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and now in Karnataka also.
If the Congress’ high command is treating heavyweight regional leaders as equals. However, the BJP high command is behaving in exactly the opposite way with its regional leaders.
Any interaction with them is a one-way exercise in BJP. Fiedling MPs, Union Ministers in the Assembly elections without taking them into confidence, shows a lack of trust on the state leaders.
Chhattisgarh has now emerged as the strongest state for the Congress among all five states in this battle, where the BJP was in power for three terms consecutively. Now, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel is promising farmers of another loan waiver if voted back to power.
He is also promising to set up a Chief Minister's Awas Yojna for 175 lakh poor families, free bus service for students in the state, implementation of the Old Pension Scheme, and rice procurement of 20 quintals per acre.
In Telangana, Rahul Gandhi has emerged as crowd puller during the party's during his “Vijayabheri Yatra”. While launching a frontal attack on the BRS chief and Telangana CM K. Chandasekhar Rao, BJP and AIMIM for the “misrule” and “corruption” Rahul Gandhi said the Congress's rival parties are “one and aiming to stop the Congress from coming to power”.
The united Andhra Pradesh had no history of the ruling government winning three elections consecutively. The BRS chief K. Chandasekhar Rao won two elections successively after the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh.
While promising six welfare programmes for women, girls and different sections of the society, Rahul Gandhi said the fight was between the `Dorala' (mukhiya/ leader) Telangana and `Prajala' (people, common man ). He assured the people that the party's programmes of Mahalakshmi, Indiramma Indulu, Guruha Jyoti, Yuva Vikasam, Cheyutha ,Rythu Bharosa can make the state glorious .
“The Congress Tsunami will sweep the state and deliver the dreams of Bangaru (golden) Telangana,” Rahul Gandhi said during the yatra.
These programmes and promises of bringing back the old pension schemes, pay Rs 2,500 to women per month and give free bus service, gas cylinder for Rs 500, Rs 5 lakh assistance to build a house, 250 sq yards land to Telangana movement fighters, 200 units free electricity, Rs 5 lakh assistance for college students, Rs 4,000 monthly pension for senior citizens, widows, disabled were also made.