Warning bells for Cong & Rahul, wake up call for BJP

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. (PTI photo)

The Maharashtra and Haryana Assembly election have provided food for thought for both national parties. The BJP-Shiv Sena alliance secured a majority in Maharashtra and the Saffron party emerged as the single largest in Haryana but was short of the requisite mandate. But the results should have a sobering effect on the BJP leadership and worry the Congress more.

In Maharashtra, despite a high voltage campaign by Prime Minister Narendra Modi (10 rallies), BJP president and home minister, Amit Shah (30 rallies), Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis (100-odd rallies) and union minister Nitin Gadkari (30-odd rallies), vast resources at its command, offering 12 per cent reservation to Marathas, a good monsoon, an emaciated Opposition, vicious in-fighting in the Congress, 40-odd leaders of Congress and NCP defecting to the BJP and the Sena on the eve of the elections, the BJP managed to squander more than 20 seats compared to its 2014 tally. It also lost the Satara Lok Sabha bye-election to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) four months after its landslide victory in the Parliamentary elections. It is apparent that the use of national issues like Kashmir, Article 370 and Rafale too did not resonate with the voters.

Old guard shows its mettle

However, in a curious turn of events Congress’s unexpected commendable performance in Haryana does not augur well for Rahul Gandhi personally. While in Maharashtra, a rudderless and leaderless Congress conceded defeat even before the polls – it was the 78-year-old gritty war horse, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, who waged a fierce battle to hold the Opposition UPA flag flying – in Haryana it was the 72-year-old former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda who saved the party from near extinction despite the election-eve revolt by Rahul protege, Ashok Tanwar.

Hooda’s performance has further weakened the Rahul camp as it attested to the fact that the old guard is far more consummate at electoral politics.

The NCP winning more seats than the Congress and emerging the third pole in Maharashtra (perhaps even second as it is neck-and-neck with Sena as of now), is not a good sign for the Grand Old Party. From holding the number one position till 1995, the Congress has now slipped to the number four slot, just as in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

The election results have further undermined Congress’s national leadership. Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her daughter and AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi were conspicuous by their absence in Maharashtra and Haryana while Rahul attended few rallies. Though Sonia’s absence on health grounds is understandable, why the party did not use Priyanka Gandhi for these elections is mystifying.

A proffered explanation is that her brief is Uttar Pradesh and the party does not want her to defocus from the heartland state. Instead of wasting its resources in a state like Uttar Pradesh where the Congress is number four and there is no immediate election, the strategy should have been to marshal all its resources in states where the party is a principal challenger to the BJP.

The Haryana outcome underlines the fact that the Congress does well where it has a tall regional leader. Earlier, in Punjab the party snatched victory from the jaws of defeat by removing young but ineffectual PCC chief Partap Singh Bajwa, a Rahul appointee, and giving free rein to Capt Amarinder Singh (77). In Madhya Pradesh the party had to fall back on 73-year-old Kamal Nath’s personal equations and resources to form a government with wafer thin majority.

It was only in September 2019, when the stung Hooda threatened to quit the Congress and float a new party, that an alarmed Sonia replaced Ashok Tanwar with Kumari Selja as the state chief. Hooda was made leader of the legislative party and chief of the election management committee.

When Congress appointed Sonia Gandhi as party president in August 2019 it was widely considered as an interim arrangement to facilitate Rahul Gandhi’s return at the helm when the dust settles down. But it looks increasingly difficult for Rahul to reclaim his position as the entrenched veterans under Sonia Gandhi’s patronage have since bolstered their positions.

The results in Maharashtra and Haryana indicate that voter fatigue is fast setting in and the national parties can ignore the fact at their own peril. Vendetta politics like letting Enforcement Directorate loose on Pawar and other Opposition leaders or engineering defections from rival parties have not helped the BJP either. The only silver lining for the ruling dispensation is that Opposition is not fully ready to capitalise on the voter discontent.

 
(Kay Benedict is a New Delhi-based independent journalist)  
 
The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH. 

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