Mahesh Trivedi | Clarion India
THE Congress in the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled western Indian state of Gujarat is in a shambles. Resignation of as many as 12 legislators in the past 14 months ahead of the June 19 Rajya Sabha elections has exposed the chinks in the armour of the Grand Old Party which has been out of power in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s native place since 1995.
True, the BJP has squandered million of rupees to poach greedy fence-sitters by blackmailing and threatening them, lack of resources and charismatic leaders as well as groupism and internal bickering have all smashed the party’s image to smithereens with no office-bearers and executive committee for the past seven months.
Time was when the Madhavsinh Solanki-led Congress strode like a colossus and walked away with a record 149 of the 182 seats in the legislative assembly elections in 1985. During 1985-90, however, the party was washed out and given a thumbs-down in the urban areas which boast 65 seats.
The anti-reservation agitation and farmers’ stir also took their toll and with the exit of the Chhabildas Mehta ministry in 1995, the BJP took up the reins of Gujarat and continues to rule the roost even as the Congress struggled to galvanise its grassroot workers in vain.
Indeed, even after the bloody communal riots in 2002, Sonia Gandhi’s party failed to take up the cudgels for the survivors and it was left to the NGOs and human rights advocates to lend them a helping hand. In fact, despite impressive performances in by-elections, the Congress failed to cash in on its popularity in the assembly polls held later in December that year in which it won only 51 seats while the BJP grabbed 127.
Unfortunately, the Congress, in the absence of any roadmap, never made all-out efforts to woo its loyal voters like farmers, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and minorities. Nor did it mobilize its Seva Dal volunteers as well as the youth and student wings with the result that due to lack of coordination, the workers are down in the dumps.
The rot in the party has set in in the past five years or rather after Modi left for Delhi to become Prime Minister in 2014 after 13 years as chief minister of Gujarat. The party’s popularity took a hit with some bigwigs working only for their respective communities, others manipulating to drive out the party’s own lawmakers who were thorn in their flesh, and senior and intellectual leaders like Arjun Modhwadia left out in the basket to twiddle their thumbs.
The Congress’s stars were in the ascendant after the Patidars pro-reservation agitation, demonetization, and the unpopular Goods and Services Tax scheme tarnished BJP’s image. In 2015, the party took rural voters by storm in local polls by emerging triumphant in 23 of the 31 seats in district panchayats and 113 of the 193 seats in taluka panchayats. The party was happy in 2016 that the ugly Dalit flogging episode in Una had brought a bad name to the saffron party.
No wonder, in the 2017 assembly elections, the Congress registered a spectacular show by clinching 77 seats—16 seats more than the last polls—and also stopping the BJP in its tracks at just 99, the saffron party’s worst-ever performance. However, a charismatic leader as state Congress president instead of a high-nosed Bharatsinh Solanki, aided by Rahul Gandhi’s marathon campaign, could have helped the party capture power in Gujarat but a golden opportunity was lost in 2017.
What’s more, the impressive gains in assembly polls proved to be a flash in the pan. With the weak party leadership failing o keep its flock together even as national president Amit Shah, a shrewd strategist, engineered defections. Since July 2018, when Saurashtra’s popular Koli-Patel leader Kunwarji Bavaliya quit Congress to join the BJP, as many as 12 MLAs have bid goodbye to the Grand Old Party which now looks like a dog’s breakfast with the central leadership not stirring a finger to set its squabbling Gujarat house in order.
The party has of late been desperately trying to remain in circulation with a COVID helpline portal, a digital membership drive, a visit to state-run Civil Hospital recording a majority of deaths, a memorandum demanding cash doles for the poor and the latest ‘Bolse Gujarat’ campaign to give voice to demands of the common man but all this has fallen flat.
Yet, all is not lost for the Congress in Gujarat. Taking advantage of the golden opportunity of the absence of Modi and Shah or any third political party, it is high time the party focused on mobilising youth and urban voters. On its part, the high command would do well to install a seasoned politician of high stature who can influence urban voters as the party is confident that it already holds sway in the rural pockets. Young, immature leaders like state Congress chief Amit Chavda and leader of the opposition Paresh Dhanani will just not be able to pull the party out of the woods.