Karnataka polls, presidential polls and Kashmir unrest: How Congress is attempting to regroup

Congress has not taken a break from being decimated in every single venture it undertook ever since the debacle of 2014 Lok Sabha Elections. When it lost power in 1977, 1989, 1996 and 1998, it still had the most MLAs in the land and the states always powered the party back to the Centre. This is the first time this is not the case. After its poll debacle in Uttar Pradesh and a clamour for restructuring, the Congress has said that it has already started preparing itself for the 2019 general election and will pose a "formidable challenge" to the BJP. Those reading this article might just snigger at that idea, however, let's bear in mind the fact that anything is possible in politics. That being said, let also bear in mind the fact that miracles are scarce in politics. It is all about strategy.

Senior Congress spokesperson CP Joshi recently said that the entire political narrative after 2014 elections has changed and have posed new challenges for which the Congress has to align with other parties across the country to take on the BJP.

"Since the BJP came to power under the leadership of Narendra Modi, we are facing a new narrative. We are preparing ourselves to meet the new challenges. I am hopeful that we will give a formidable challenge to Modi in 2019 under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi," he told reporters.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi. PTI

File image of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. PTI

Joshi also sprung to the Congress vice-president's defence and said that his leadership brought together various parties to fight against Modi and cited the example of Bihar. "In view of the new political narrative is that to meet challenge of the single largest party, we will have to ally and join hands with other political parties across the country and fight out.

"Rahul has played a major role in bringing parties together. Rahul was the leader who has changed the narrative in Bihar. We assure you that under the leadership of Rahul we will face the new narrative and we will deliver in 2019," Joshi said, adding that they will give no space to BJP in Bihar in 2019.

He said there are very good leaders in Congress who will come out, adding the role of Rahul must not be underplayed.

With the party reeling through probably what is its worst phase in history, leaders of the Congress are preparing for a "bounce back." The Congress is eyeing the upcoming Karnataka Assembly election, the presidential election and the big one — 2019 general elections. According to various media reports, Rahul has already set the wheels in motion in Odisha after meeting with party leaders to finalise an organisational revamp in the state unit. It recently also removed Digvijaya Singh as Goa in-charge after the senior leader failed to stitch an alliance and lost the state to BJP, despite being the majority party.

Here's how the Congress is slowly attempting to regroup:

Karnataka Assembly Election 2018 and a structural reijg

The Congress appointed a new-look team including 17 new office bearers out of which 10 are under the age of 50, reported ANI. The news was confirmed by Congress leader and spokesperson Randeep Surjewala who addressed a press conference on Thursday. According to PTI, Pritam Singh has been appointed as the new Uttarakhand Congress president and will replace Kishore Upadhyay. The decision might be a result of party’s failure to form government in the state after losing the assembly elections earlier this year.

In a similar rejig, Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge might be removed as the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), so that he can play a more active role in Karnataka politics. Basically, Congress is pulling all its big guns ahead of the 2018 Karnataka elections and Kharge, who is a stalwart in the state, might help fortifying the party's chances despite a cleaving state unit. Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah has been accused of authoritarianism in the party and the leader has faced resentment from within quite often.

In December 2016, 20 MLAs had revolted against Siddaramaiah, accusing him of corruption, however, the Congress high command was able to save the party from a mass defection. In March, 2016, many Congress MLAs had written to the central leadership to appoint someone from the Vokkaliga (second largest community) as the KPCC president to take on BJP's Yeddyurappa. Nearly 50 percent of the party legislators skipped Congress Legislature Party (CLP) meeting and a dinner hosted by Siddaramaiah.

rahul-PTI

The organisational revamp is also likely to bring to the fore young leadership as Rahul wants a new crop of leaders ready to fill in the shoes of Congress stalwarts, when the time comes. PTI

Another bout of discontent was triggered when Siddaramaiah rejigged the state cabinet in June last year. Many legislators were upset after losing their ministerial berths, but were later pacified by handing out plum posts in various boards and corporations. Ruling out any difference within the state unit, the party's new state unit in-charge K C Venugopal said "all the confusion" regarding the new Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) president would be cleared this month. "With the support of our leaders and workers and because of the people-friendly programmes of our state government headed by Siddaramaiahji, we are going to retain power in Karnataka," Venugopal said.

Karnataka is the last standing Congress bastion. It is only normal for the party to go all out to save the last shred of dignity left. Even though the news about Kharge moving to Karnataka is warming up, The Indian Express quoted senior Congress members saying no decision has been taken yet. However, it is expected that after the reshuffle, Congress chief whip in Lok Sabha Jyotiraditya Scindia and AICC General Secretary Kamal Nath will have larger roles to play. The organisational revamp is also likely to bring to the fore young leadership as Rahul wants a new crop of leaders ready to fill in the shoes of Congress stalwarts, when the time comes.

Preparing for a bigger role in the Kashmir issue

As India and the world reacted to the heinous mutilation of two Indian soldiers' bodies in Krishna Ghati sector in Poonch sector of Kashmir, political parties went into a huddle over how to dissipate the tension between the two countries. Major opposition parties — Congress, Left parties, Janata Dal (United), Nationalist Congress Party and Trinamool Congress — are planning to host a national meet in New Delhi to discuss the unending crisis in Jammu and Kashmir.

According to The Economic Times, JD(U) senior leader Sharad Yadav met with former prime minister Manmohan Singh recently and suggested that they come up with an alternative to defuse the tension in the Valley. Ever since the encounter of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani on 8 July, 2016, Kashmir has been a boiling pot of protests, unrest and stone-pelting which has resulted in several civilian deaths and questions being raised at Indian Army's role in the Valley.

The Modi-led BJP government at the Centre, which is also part of the ruling government in Jammu and Kashmir along with Mehbooba Mufti's Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has come under carping criticism for the way the situation is being handled in the extremely sensitive state.

Yadav said that the Opposition may use the opportunity to exchange "views with stakeholders, independent observers, intellectuals and activists" to come up with an alternative vision to alleviate the volatile situation in Kashmir and resume political initiative. "Given the grave situation in Kashmir and the failure of the NDA regime and PDP-BJP government to politically deal with it, there is a need for like-minded Opposition parties and other independent activists and observers of the Valley to jointly work and present before the nation an alternative vision for political initiative in Kashmir," The Economic Times quoted the senior JD(U) leader as saying.

Presidential elections

Just as the Congress is hoping to unite the scattered Opposition on the issue of Kashmir, the party is leaving no stone unturned to make sure that it is represented well in the upcoming and extremely crucial presidential elections.

Modi-tunnel1-PTI

In case of a presidential election, the BJP and its allies are about 25, 000 votes short. PTI

The Congress, till the 2012 presidential elections, always dominated the electoral college which is one of the reasons why former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee opted "the neutral" APJ Abdul Kalam in 2002. In 2017, however, BJP is leading the troika of Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and state assemblies and by default dominates the electoral college to push its own candidate. The Rajya Sabha is headed by the vice-president, so it will dominate that too in 2017.

To improve its chances and not be handed with another loss, the Congress is rounding up crucial Opposition leaders, including West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, to ensure, if not a win, then a tough fight to BJP. The Opposition leaders are well aware of BJP's shining chances, but according to NDTV their real agenda is the inception of a sprawling front to take on the ruling BJP in the general election that is two years away.

On Wednesday, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who is hospitalised for food poisoning, spoke to Mamata and agreed to meet in Delhi early next week, as part of Gandhi's efforts to forge a broader unity among Opposition parties against BJP and field a joint Opposition presidential candidate. In the wake of raging political confrontation between the Modi-led NDA regime and Mamata's TMC government, the Bengal chief minister is widely believed to be as anxious as Congress and many other similarly-placed Opposition parties for a united defence line against the Centre and BJP.

Sonia has already met with big guns like Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and chief of Nationalist Congress Party Sharad Pawar. Meanwhile, Rahul has met with CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury and ally Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav. The President of India is chosen by an electoral college consisting of national and state lawmakers. In case of an election, the BJP and its allies are about 25, 000 votes short. Should the BJP need more support, parties down south — ruling parties in Tamil Nadu and Telangana — can easily make up for the deficit.

With inputs from agencies


Published Date: May 11, 2017 03:41 pm | Updated Date: May 11, 2017 03:41 pm


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