Assembly polls: Can Congress finally turn the corner ?

The Congress is confident that enthusiasm among people for its policies will see the party prevail over the BJP in all the four states where the two parties are locked in a direct battle. In Telangana too, the grand old party is the main challenger to the ruling BRS. A report by Mudit Mathur

Emerging trends after the polling in four states and ongoing campaigning in Telangana hint at the strong possibility of the Congress putting up an impressive performance in all the five states. The positive campaign undertaken by Congress party and internal surveys indicate that the politics of polarisation has failed to create any impact on the voters.

The polling trends in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Mizoram show people’s enthusiasm for Congress party’s policies. Telangana pre-poll surveys predict revival of Congress party with big gains. These five states collectively send 83 members to Lok Sabha out of total 543 seats in the House; therefore these polls are dubbed as a semi-final before 2024 general elections.

The regional Congress leaders managed to put up a united show despite differences as they rallied behind their national leaders, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, who extensively campaigned in the states going to polls and addressed huge election rallies. The social media campaign led by Supriya Shrinate also played a crucial role as it steered clear of saffron party’s diversionary tactics and never deviated from the core issues relating to governance of Modi-led BJP government.

The Congress remained focussed on the fundamental issues of all time high unemployment, farmers’ distress because of unbearable burden of loans, unprecedented growth of a few select corporates at the cost of stressed out rural economy, steep price rise besides pitching for caste census to ensure more rights and benefits to deprived classes of the society.

The Congress highlighted the pressures on the sovereign functioning of democracy because of waning credibility of constitutional bodies and the alleged misuse of investigation agencies under its unitary supremacy system with an aim to target opposition leaders. The well calculated campaign in effect helped in overcoming the charisma of PM Modi without attacking him directly.

The Congress spelt out a clear vision about how it will deliver to improve the citizens’ living conditions and address the unemployment issue. The party showcased how the people of Congress-ruled states of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh have been benefited by the welfare schemes launched by the state governments there. The election manifestos of the party took care of all the sections of society with a promise of social justice to conduct a caste census to deliver the welfare scheme to the underprivileged people.

While targeting the alleged pro-Adani and pro-Ambani policies of PM Narendra Modi, Gandhi siblings, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi explained to the masses how their party implemented employees’ demand for Old Pension Scheme (OPS) in the Congress-ruled states. They promised farmers loan waiver up to Rs 2 lakh, two lakh jobs to youths every year, free bus travel for women, LPG cylinder for Rs 400, free electricity up to 100 units and half rates for electricity up to 200 units, free treatment for up to Rs 50 lakh, Rs 10K annually to female head of each household, legal guarantee of old pension scheme (OPS), right to housing, purchase of cow dung at Rs 2 per kg, MSP to farmers, Rs 2 lakh interest-free loan, laptops for college students, free education even in private schools and caste census for guaranteeing their rights to ensure social justice.

Addressing a massive rally at Palakurthi, Telangana, Priyanka said that Telangana is one of the states with the highest number of unemployed youth. Due to reasons like paper leak, exam cancellation, youths are committing suicide out of frustration and the BRS government is playing with the future of the youth, she said. “We will bring out the job calendar and provide two lakh government jobs. We will provide financial assistance of Rs 5 lakh to the students. International level schools will be opened in every district,” she announced.

On the other hand, the realisation of the ground situation in the BJP came a little too late for it to pick up fresh narratives as it was initially announced by BJP president J.P. Nadda that Modi would be the party’s mascot during the election campaign in the five states. But seeing the mood for change among people, both Modi and Amit Shah went on back foot and tried to shift the responsibility on the shoulders of their regional leaders to lead the campaign in their respective states.

Most of the regional leaders of the BJP refrained to offer their heads in possibility of a debacle as most of them have strained relationship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. These signals are quite visible in their private and public utterances including social media posts. Apparently, state BJP leaders like Raman Singh, Brij Mohan Agrawal, Vasundhra Raje Scindia, Shivraj Singh Chouhan were never on the same page with Modi and nobody is ready to own up the mess and possible defeat. The presence of the Modi-Shah duo was minimal in the last leg of the electioneering and the Prime Minister had even cancelled his rally scheduled in Mizoram.

In the high-stake Madhya Pradesh, the BJP is facing the anti-incumbency heat and perhaps this was the reason the party did not name Shivraj Singh Chouhan as its chief ministerial face for the fifth term. In a balancing act, it fielded many heavyweight national BJP leaders to contest assembly polls in order to overcome and nullify deep anti-incumbency developed due to prolonged rule of BJP.

Union ministers Narendra Singh Tomar, Prahlad Patel, Faggan Singh Kulaste, BJP’s national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, Jabalpur MP and MP BJP’s former president Rakesh Singh, Satna MP Ganesh Singh and Sidhi MP Riti Pathak were in the race of state elections. The state election campaign was coordinated by senior Union Minister Bhupendra Yadav and Railway and IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnav kept the Modi–Shah duo abreast of the ground situation on a daily basis.

In Chhattisgarh, the main thrust of the Congress government remained its welfare schemes, including direct cash transfer scheme, loan waiver and its regional identity card against the BJP’s corruption allegations against Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel and its Hindutva plank. Priyanka Gandhi while addressing a rally said, “We are all religious in this country. Whether we are Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist, everything is religious. But using religion in politics is a sin. The process of talking about religion should stop during elections. Your focus should be on your development, your future, your progress.”

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot announced two “guarantees” – cooking gas cylinders at Rs 500 to 1.05 crore families and an annual honorarium of Rs 10,000 to the woman head of a family. Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra slammed the BJP-led Centre, saying its schemes are ‘hollow’, whereas those framed by the Ashok Gehlot government in Rajasthan are being implemented on the ground.

In an apparent effort to create conflict among committed Gurjar community that constitute eight to nine per cent of the population and whose votes impact 30-35 seats, the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi while campaigning in Bhilwara district, declared the Congress is “victimising” its senior leader, Sachin Pilot, who is also Rajesh Pilot’s son.

But quickly countering the PM’s remarks, the Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot said, “The Prime Minister is now bringing the name of Rajesh Pilot into politics. In the name of late Rajesh Pilotji, the PM wants to provoke the Gurjar community. But, during BJP rule, bullets were fired on Gurjars 22 times… 72 Gurjars died.” He was referring to February 2008 clashes, when the BJP’s Vasundhara Raje was the Chief Minister of Rajasthan.

In Mizoram and Telangana, the BJP seems downbeat about its prospects of winning the polls. Telangana will go to poll on November 30 and results of five states would be declared on December 3.