What should the Congress Party do in Gujarat?

The state goes to elections in the next few days, and the party has no plan or idea.

We know this because one of its leaders, who quit the party last week, revealed this. Former Gujarat deputy chief minister Narhari Amin says he had a conversation with Rahul Gandhi in Delhi and was asked two things: Why wasn't Gujarat voting for the Congress any longer and what could the party do to bring voters back.

I think that's the wrong way of looking at it. The problem in Gujarat is that the Bharatiya Janata Party is ruling over a divided society. A strong current of anti-Muslim prejudice runs through the state, and it has taken the Supreme Court to give justice by sending in impartial investigating teams.

The Congress simply does not have a plan in Gujarat. PTI

The fact is that a minister in Modi's cabinet has been convicted of the slaughter of over 90 Muslims. Another minister has just come out of jail and is again contesting, despite serious criminal charges.

Remarkably, Sonia Gandhi has not raised any of this in her two campaign rallies in Gujarat, though these are very recent developments.

The reason for her reticence in bringing up such things is that she is being advised that Gujaratis are communal by nature and talk of such activity will only send them further towards the BJP.

The man giving her this advice is Ahmed Patel, a Gujarati who is her political manager. Patel last fought an election in the state 27 years ago and has since been in Delhi. He no longer has much first hand knowledge of the ground reality of the state electorally, but interferes in the distribution of tickets.

Under his tutoring, the Congress has made some dreadful mistakes, including putting a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh man, Shankarsinh Vaghela, in charge of the party's state unit. If Gujaratis want communal venom, they can get it from the BJP. No point in Congress peddling the same stuff.

Even after it has backed off from pointing to the awful communal record of the BJP in Gujarat, the Congress is losing. Every opinion poll shows that it will get creamed this week, and it has not won the state after 1985.

So, to return to our original question, what should Sonia and Rahul Gandhi do? I think they should forget about the election and do the right thing. They should ease the divisive current which is damaging Gujarat and provoking violence around the country. Even a decade after the riot in Gujarat, it is still used as the excuse by perpetrators of acts like the bombing of the German Bakery in Pune.

The attackers at the Taj in Bombay got local support, and one of the reasons this came to them was Muslim anger over the riots.
Whether or not one believes this is justified, the fact is that Gujarat, not Kashmir, has become the number one reason for terrorist violence against India.

And the cause is not far to seek. When Modi refuses to accept responsibility for or even the guilt of a minister convicted and sentenced for mass murder, when he stands by ministers just out of jail and accused of violent and hateful acts, he keeps the riots alive.

The Congress should forget about winning the election and make its priority restoring a normacy to that state. The party still gets about 35 percent of the vote in Gujarat, which would be a very handsome share in any other Indian state. In two-party Gujarat, it has meant being on the losing side.

But it also means that there is more traction for Congress here than in states like Uttar Pradesh where Rahul Gandhi has spent much time to no apparent benefit. A few months of full time work in Gujarat, healing and not politics, would have served him, and the state, much better.

Coming here for a couple of days every five years for a rally or two and then wondering why it is that the party doesn't win is selfish and shameful for the heirs of Nehru and Gandhi.

Watch Aakar Patel discuss his views on the Gujarat election in the Firstpost Live Debates series.  

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