Is Congress ready for a mid-term poll?

Himanshu Shekhar

The recent rout of Congress in assembly elections has put the oldest political party in a fix. At least from Congress point of view, dismal performance in Uttar Pradesh was not expected. Congress scion Rahul Gandhi was working hard in the most populous state of the country to regain the lost ground. But his partly somehow managed to improve its tally to 28 from 22. Congress lost Goa and did not manage to regain Punjab. The party managed to form the government in Uttarakhand with the help of independents and BSP. But the revolt of Harish Rawat, senior party leader and one of the strong contenders for the post of Chief Minister, provides enough reasons to suspect the stability of the government headed by Vijay Bahuguna. However, the most embarrassing thing for Congress is the bleak performance in UP despite the massive campaigning by Rahul Gandhi.

Initially, when Rahul came to active politics, he advocated of infusing new blood to Indian politics, which is considered as the most hated profession by a common citizen of country. Despite that Rahul went all the way and used all political gimmicks to improve the seat tally of his party in UP. While campaigning in Uttar Pradesh to garner support of voters, Rahul Gandhi, Congress General Secretary, got angry and tore of a piece of paper claiming that the Samajwadi Party poll promises are destined to be broken. He tried to give a message that the piece of paper was a part of SP manifesto. But some stupendous photo journalist exposed the Congress scion by revealing clearly that the piece of paper was not a part of SP manifesto but it was the list of Congress leaders, who were present on the stage of that particular election rally. The incident reflects that in the name of infusing new blood into Indian politics, Rahul Gandhi has learnt all political tantrums and gimmicks to earn electoral gains. But, the people of the most populous state of the country are not interested in the gimmicks of the Congress scion. That’s why they rejected the oldest party in assembly elections.

These assembly elections exposed the much hyped Rahul Magic and which is likely to result in long waiting period for Rahul to reach at the top post of the Prime Minister. Had Congress won in UP, the party would have been attributing this to Rahul Gandhi. Despite the exposure of Congress scion in recent assembly elections, most of the Congress leaders still love to term Rahul Gandhi as the future of nation. On the other hand opposition parties call him the face of dynastic politics. A section of media seems to be crazy in covering him and his activities. However, political thinkers as well as his political opponents are not ready to give him much importance because they are of the view that Rahul Magic cannot translate into votes and it has been proved again in assembly elections of 2012. However, it’s true that wherever Rahul goes, he receives overwhelming response in the form of huge gathering of masses. Some of young Congress leaders are projecting him as youth icon and the party is of the views that one day he is going to lead the union government as the prime minister of the world’s largest democracy.

Is he really ready to play a long inning? Are Indian voters really ready to bet on him? The dismal performance of Congress in assembly elections gives a negative answer. He and his mentors are trying to project him as a well wisher of the common man. That’s why; he seems to be quite quick in reaching to those places where an issue of mass interest appears to be ready to take-off. Niyamgiri, Bhatta-Parsaul and Azamgarh are few examples from long lasting list. It’s worth mentioning that UP is Rahul Gandhi’s political karmabhoomi. It is believed that he was working on Mission-2012 to regain the lost glory of Congress in UP. He and his associates were aware of the fact that without winning Lucknow, it’s quite difficult for Congress to rule Delhi on its own. In spite of that, they failed to deliver.

When Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) came back to power in 2009 each and every leader of the party started claiming that this is Rahul Gandhi factor which made a difference but it’s not true verbatim. Congress did well in North India and in UP Congress gain was unexpected. Congress was claiming that it was Rahul who decided to go solo in UP and Bihar, but this is totally wrong. In fact, Congress was trying its level best to forge an alliance in these states but it was newly emerged fourth front which forced congress to go solo in these states. In UP, Congress did well but we all know what happened in Bihar. In Bihar, Congress managed to win only two seats. In 2004 general election they were at three. This time only one sitting MP of Congress Meera Kumar managed to win from Sasaram of Bihar. Same is the story of Jharkhand. Congress was forced to go solo by RJD and LJP. In Jharkhand Congress won only one seat. Where was Rahul effect in these states? In Bihar assembly elections of 2010, Rahul campaigned vigorously but his party came a cropper with a humiliating tally of just four seats. So, Bihar and UP has rejected the magic of Rahul Gandhi and it’s just like a shock to the grand old party Congress because the top leadership of the party was terming Rahul as a trump card and they were planning to rule the country with the help of this trump card.

However, the shocker of assembly elections result also raised some serious questions over the survival of incumbent union government headed by Manmohan Singh. He is not very happy with the behaviour of Mamta Banerjee, Trinmool Congress (TMC) chief and Chief Minister of West Bengal. But, he and his party cannot afford to do away with TMC. Congress was expecting good performance in UP and the top leadership of the party was of the views that the party would be instrumental in forming a government in the most populous state and in return it will get extra number in centre. But, Samajwadi Party (SP) won majority of seats on its own and formed the government under the leadership of Akhilesh Yadav. Most of pre-poll survey predicted a hung assembly in UP and in that scenario Congress was expecting to gain some comfort in running the union government. Riding on the hope, even Manmohan Singh said once that we will try to push FDI in retail after the result of assembly elections.

What compounded the worries of the union government is the behaviour of DMK. However, PM assured DMK chief Karunanidhi on the issue ofSri Lanka but most of the political analysts are of the view that this party from Tamilnadu will keep haunting incumbent UPA. The results of recent elections are believed to be the beginning of the very tough time for the Congress led union government. Those who are aware of the nuts and bolts of Indian politics are repeatedly saying, the incumbent government is not going to live in years and months but its life will be calculated in weeks. Today, everybody is raising serious question over the survival of Manmohan Singh government. People started doubting over the prospects of Congress in next general election, which is slated for 2014. Keeping these things in mind, Congress president Sonia Gandhi made a statement and said that the incumbent union government is going to complete its term and there is no danger on the survival of Manmohan Singh government. Another Congress leader Jayanti Natrajan also backed Sonia Gandhi.

However, these efforts of Congress leaders are termed as face saving tactics by opposition parties. It has been proved again by the Congress that the party is playing safe. Otherwise, they would not have avoided a reformist budget and agreed to the demand of Mamta Banerjee to sack Minister of Railways Dinesh Trivedi for presenting a rail budget with such provisions of fare hike which was not approved by his party TMC. The government is not ready to break the policy paralysis just because numbers are not with the incumbent alliance. Mamta is opposed to FDI in retail. So, the plan of Prime Minister to push FDI in retail is not going to materialize.

Mamta is a hard political bargainer and she can not be taken for granted. It is believed that she can derail the union government any time. The speculation are rife of her support in forming a new political force with the help of Orissa’s chief minister Navin Patnaik and Andhra Pradesh ex-chief minister Chandrababu Naidu. However, a section of media is speculating that she is likely to go with NDA. In any case, one thing is for sure that her move is likely to be against Congress.

Is the country heading towards a mid-term poll? In a reply to the question Congress leader Jayanti Natrajan said, “There is no question of a mid-term poll. The Union government will last its full term.” However, political analysts are divided on this particular question. Those who are of the view of a mid-term poll are using the desperation of few regional parties for an early election to improve their numbers as a strong argument. According to a senior political journalist, among allies and regional parties that would love to see an early election are Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party, the Akali Dal and AIADMK. Neutral, but not against the idea of a mid-term poll, would be the BJP, Biju Janata Dal, Sharad Pawar’s NCP and the Janata Dal (U) of Nitish Kumar. On the other hand Congress, DMK and BSP will hate to see an early election. The main opposition party BJP is divided over the issue of early election. Advani faction comprising leader of opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj are open to a mid-term poll because it may provide octogenarian Advani another chance to reach at the top political post of Indian democratic system. On the other hand, faction led by Narendra Modi and backed by RSS is reluctant to face an early election. They believe that by passing of each day Congress will touch a new low and this is going to brighten the prospects of BJP in next general elections.

If a mid-term poll happens, Congress is likely to lose its ground. According to senior political analysts, dynastic obsession is a main reason of dampening the prospects of Congress. In Congress, no one can raise a question over the decisions made by Gandhi family. Congress performed very poorly in UP under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi but no one can, at least in party, raise any question over the leadership quality of Congress scion. However, it may be shocking for some senior Congress leader to know that in Dehradoon Congress worker and supporter of Harish Rawat raised slogans against Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi when party denied chief minister post to Rawat. This is the first time that in any state Congress workers raised their voice directly against Gandhi family. Sources close to Congress senior leadership are also saying that there is a sense of weakness in Gandhi family too. The main reason is the defeat of party in Gandhi family bastion Rai Bareli and Amethi. In these districts, not only Rahul but his sister Priyanka Gandhi was also campaigning and conducting rallies but the party got only two seats out of ten. Opposition parties are terming these results as a beginning of the end of the much hyped magic of Gandhi family.

The biggest test of the political management of Congress will take place in coming presidential election which is slated for July. In current situation, Congress can not ensure victory for its candidate without the support of TMC and SP. Out of total 10.98 lakh votes, Congress has only 30.7 percent. When we add the numbers of other allies of Congress, it comes to 40 percent. It clearly means that Congress should look for a candidate who could be used to make consensus or who could not be opposed politically. Names of incumbent vice-president Hamid Ansari and erstwhile president APJ Abdul Kalam are doing rounds. Hamid Ansari is from UP and he is a Muslim too. So, it’s not going to be easy for SP to oppose a Muslim candidate who hails from UP.

In parliament, SP and BSP are rubbing there shoulders with each other to save the union government but they are not considered as a reliable partner. However, they saved the government on the issue of NCTC in both houses but at a suitable time, at least, SP could play its card very politically and pave the way for early elections. The matter of severe concern for Congress is brewing factionalism in party. A section of Congress leaders under the mentorship of P. Chidambaram are pitching for sidelining Digvijay Singh, Congress General Secretary and UP election in-charge. But, Digvijay is considered to be very close to Gandhi family and his importance in Madhya Pradesh assembly election, which is slated for 2013, could save him.

Meanwhile, if early election happens, the oldest party of the country appears to be losing its ground. There are a number of corruption charges against Congress led UPA government and this is going to make a dent in the support base of the party. Some may argue that there is no impact of anti-corruption movement but they should take notice of the fact that the issue of corruption is very much alive and this is indirectly making a dent on those parties who are facing these charges.

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