After the poor performance in Uttar Pradesh bypolls, will Congress be ready to rise to the occasion in 2019?

Immediately after the Phulpur and Gorakhpur bypolls result was announced on Wednesday, Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted that it clearly showed people had anger against the BJP and they would vote for any candidate who would defeat BJP.

“Congratulations to the winners of today’s by-elections. It’s clear from the result that people are angry with the BJP and would vote for any non-BJP candidate with the potential to win. Congress is keen to rebuild the party in Uttar Pradesh but that would not happen overnight,” Rahul tweeted in Hindi.

But, is Rahul Gandhi-led Congress ready to rise to the occasion?

The BJP may have lost these two Assembly seats in Uttar Pradesh, but the performance of the Congress has been abysmally poor in this by-election.

Yet, given the present situation, especially with the results of Phulpur and Gorakhpur by-elections in hand, how good are the chances of Rahul Gandhi rebuilding his party and leading it successfully in 2019?

File image of Congress president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

File image of Congress president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

Once, Phulpur used to be a Congress bastion and none other than the country’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was elected Lok Sabha MP thrice from this constituency. After him, it was his sister and ambassador Vijay Laxmi Pandit who represented Phulpur.

But the dismal performance of Congress raises questions about the party’s strategy ahead of the 2019 general election.

Will Congress be able to lead the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) as in the past? UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, by hosting a dinner for the leaders of the Opposition and non-NDA parties on the evening of 13 March, tried to send a subtle message of strengthening of the UPA by bringing together anti-Narendra Modi forces.

But, whether Congress is in a position to lead the new coalition — if at all it takes shape – under the UPA umbrella is a big question.

The answer perhaps lies in Rahul’s tweet – “it would not happen overnight”. That means the Congress needs to chalk out its strategy both to strengthen the organisation and make itself capable to win seats in 2019 election.

Despite its miserable performance in Phulpur and Gorakhpur bypolls and in spite of its depleting strength in states, Congress can still lead the UPA, provided it performs better in at least four to five states in the forthcoming Assembly elections.

A good performance in Assembly polls will help the party in re-positioning itself during the general election.

The grand old party of India needs to increase its tally in the Lok Sabha from 48 to at least around 100. This will give Congress an edge over the others – its allies – by emerging as the biggest non-BJP party.

Unlike Rahul, who is quite a novice in coalition politics, his mother Sonia still commands respect and trust from leaders of other parties. But that’s a different story.

In today’s scenario, the objective before every non-BJP party which is not a part of the NDA, is to counter and stop the Modi juggernaut. One after the other, the Modi-Amit Shah duo has been winning one state after the other. The Opposition block needs a strong leadership.

In the face of such a tough challenge, the Congress has to emerge stronger through some smart number games in the Parliament, so that it can lead the coalition.

Political pundits feel that Congress needs to have a proper strategy to achieve the goal. Without a concrete strategy, it looks more like a confused party when it comes to allying with other parties at the state level. The regional parties like Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, Aam Aadmi Party in New Delhi, etc have captured the secular space in the states where Congress had once thrived.

First and foremost, a clarity is needed on part of the Congress on whom it should ally with and with whom it should not. It has to realise its strengths and weaknesses.

During the UP Assembly election in 2017, the Congress joined hands with Samajwadi Party (SP). Both Rahul and the then UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav displayed a strong camaraderie. But after facing electoral debacle, that alliance fell apart. In this bypoll, Congress contested independently and failed to cross even the 10,000-vote mark in both the constituencies. Candidates of competitors, the SP and the BJP, crossed one lakh mark. Had Congress supported SP here, it would have given a good message.

Similarly in Bihar during the Assembly election in 2015, Congress had allied with Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Janata Dal (United) against the BJP. But in this by-election, it contested on its own and was ranked way behind RJD and BJP.

The story was similar in West Bengal. Congress and CPM joined hands to take TMC head on. The outcome was disastrous, and both parted ways.

Secondly, despite winning a couple of by-elections, Congress ought to revamp itself by strengthening its grassroots connectivity. The BJP is way ahead when it comes to reaching out to the last man standing. The party has benefitted from the strong grassroots connectivity of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological mentor of the BJP. The recent success of the BJP in north eastern states is a case in point. Congress shall have to revamp its frontal organisations, especially Seva Dal.

Thirdly, to win Assembly elections especially in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, where it is in a direct fight with the BJP, the Congress will have to revamp and restructure its state-level leadership and put up a united fight. Rahul has to repose trust among voters to bounce back in his support.

Last but not the least, the Congress — under the new leadership of Rahul — has to ensure that no conflict leading to dissent takes place between the old guard and the young blood when it comes to contesting an election. Interest of the party should be at the top. The BJP has been successful in executing it ruthlessly with surgical precision when it comes to electoral politics.

Just surviving is not enough for the Congress, which, at one point of time, had its footprint almost in all the states across the country. It also needs to grow and march ahead.

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Updated Date: Mar 15, 2018 07:34:12 IST

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