Rahul Gandhi Must Win MP, Telangana Battles Before Riding to 2019 War With 'Saarthi' Naidu
If the final outcome on December 11 shows the Congress winning any other state in addition to Rajasthan and Mizoram, Rahul Gandhi would get the chance to fight another day, perhaps in great style too.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu presents a shawl to Congress president Rahul Gandhi during a meeting in New Delhi on November 1. (PTI Photo)
The outcome of five state Assembly polls in Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram has huge, personal stake for Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
Rahul would need something more than a Rajasthan to stay in contention for 2019 and beyond. A victory in Madhya Pradesh would be most crucial and if C-Voter pre-poll survey turns out to be accurate on December 11, victory in southern state of Telangana would be sweetest, making him an acceptable leader of sorts both in the Hindi-heartland and in southern India. It will set a tantalising Narendra Modi versus Rahul Gandhi narrative for May 2019 general elections.
With seasoned Chandrababu Naidu playing his saarthi (charioteer), a victorious Rahul will have a chance to queer the pitch for Modi. Notwithstanding the public posture that often sends out conflicting signals, privately, Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, MK Stalin, Akhilesh Yadav, Sitaram Yechury and Sharad Pawar and a range of other non-NDA opposition leaders are aware that Rahul does not fancy himself as a power wielder, but a trustee of power. In other words, the office of the Prime Minister is up for grabs for anyone among Mahagathbandhan constituents, provided they maximise electoral gains in their respective states.
The problem with regional satraps and the Congress has been the quest for rather indefinable equilibrium between the resurgence of the Congress and Mayawati, Mamata, Naidu and others in their respective states.
In this context, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and even Telangana offer tremendous opportunities. A Congress gain would hurt the BJP and its ‘more-than-tacit ally’, Chandrashekar Rao of Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS). If the BJP and its potential ally’s strength in these 82 Lok Sabha seats can be reduced from 74 to 30-odd seats, a Mahagathbandhan would automatically start taking shape in spite of its inherent contradictions.
However, a poor Congress showing in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Telangana may even rob him of high standing within the Congress. There are several reasons for it. In the Congress circles, there is a general sense of despondency and down-slide since 2014 general elections as Congresspersons at various levels of party hierarchy are unsure about Rahul’s ability to succeed the way his father, mother, grandmother or great-grandfather had succeeded.
The party’s failure to win Gujarat and emerge as the single-largest party in Karnataka was somewhat glossed over in the BJP’s political faux pas in Bengalaru during the government formation phase, giving Rahul an opportunity to hurriedly crown HD Kumaraswamy of the Janata Dal (S). The political map of India currently looks bleak for the Congress where it is ruling just a small slice of around of 3% against the BJP’s whopping 64%.
At another level, the contest in Madhya Pradesh is a make-or-mar moment for many in the Congress. The quality of state Congress leadership is better than any other state in the country. It has front-ranking leaders like Digvijaya Singh, Kamal Nath, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Ajay Singh, Suresh Pachauri, Arun Yadav, Satyavrat Chaturvedi and several others who represent various regions of the state. Among them, Digvijaya, Nath and Pachouri are in their early 70s and late 60s. It is their last chance to excel before age catches them staring at the political sunset. If the Congress fails to wrest Madhya Pradesh from Shivraj Singh Chouhan, it would mean curtains for seasoned campaigners like Nath, Pachouri and Digvijaya. Among the next-gen, except for Jyotiraditya Scindia or Jitu Patwari, the party is bereft of any promising leadership talent.
Nath is senior most MP in the 16th Lok Sabha. In 1970s, the slogan went “Indira ke do haath, Sanjay Gandhi aur Kamal Nath.” Nath had plotted the downfall of the Janata Party regime, discreetly meeting Raj Narain and Charan Singh to pack off Morarji Desai. In 2004, when he was pitted against a belligerent Prahlad Patel, Nath had advised his BJP rival not to “waste” money on taking out a jeep rally in Chhindwara (as a show of strength) as anyone owning a four-wheeler in his parliamentary constituency was personally known to him. The poll outcome on May 13, 2004 saw Nath beating Patel by over three lakh votes.
Digvijaya Singh holds a distinction of sorts for winning polls at all levels —from Nagarpalika to Parliament. The politician has not tasted electoral defeat in his entire career from 1960s till date. Pachouri, a former Union minister, excels as a backroom manager having cut his teeth under Arjun Singh, Ahmad Patel and others.
If the final outcome on December 11 shows the Congress winning any other state in addition to Rajasthan and Mizoram, Rahul would get the chance to fight another day, perhaps in great style too. However, a poor showing in these states may make Rahul’s task of protecting party-ruled states of Punjab and Puducherry difficult. In such a scenario, the uneasy ties between Rahul and Punjab chief minister Captain Amrinder Singh and the role of Lt Governor Kiran Bedi may come under close scrutiny in the run-up to 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
(The author is visiting fellow at the Observer Research Foundation and journalist. Views are personal)
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