Congress' inability to name CM candidates for Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan polls may cost it dearly

Failure to name chief ministerial candidates could leave the Congress defeated even before the whistle blows on the race for power in three states going to the polls over the next two months.

An internal party survey in Chhattisgarh, which votes for a new House in two phases on 12 and 20 November, has made clear the Congress’ chances of a victory hinge on its ability to pick a face to lead the campaign and also end factionalism — findings with significance for Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan too.

Put simply, the party’s problem is that there is more than one leader but no one tall enough to bring the factions together and take on the chief ministers, who are again leading the BJP’s charge in all the three states.

Ashok Gehlot is considered “mature” and Sachin Pilot an emerging leader by the cadre, the survey found in Rajasthan. But, party workers also acknowledge there is intense groupism among Gehlot and Pilot loyalists. The cadre insists the two must bury their rivalry to take on the BJP.

 Congress inability to name CM candidates for Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan polls may cost it dearly

Representational image. PTI

In fact, this is the Congress’ best chance. Rajasthan, which will vote on 7 December, is notorious for not returning a ruling party while Raman Singh is facing 15-year incumbency in Chhattisgarh. In Madhya Pradesh, where voting will be held on 28 November, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, aiming for a fourth successive term, is battling farmers' anger, corruption charges and widening caste differences over quota benefits.

But the Congress is in a fix.

A number of regional leaders hold the key to the party winning a state election but at the same time, it has been losing tall regional leaders. Only a strong central leadership will be able to divide the spoils among its satraps in these circumstances.

The other big factor is that the Congress is not on a winning streak. If it denies leadership to regional bigwigs, they switch over to rival formations or go on their own.

These problems are best illustrated in Chhattisgarh as the survey, commissioned by the Congress to an external agency that also interviewed BJP cadre, found.

Out of power for 15 years in the mineral-rich state, the Congress has weakened considerably and Ajit Jogi’s decision to walk out has dealt it a body blow, the survey and interviews with party cadre show.

While 24 percent of the cadre backs TS Deo as the chief ministerial face in Chhattisgarh, 20 percent want Bhupesh Bhagel, says the survey findings seen by Firstpost. This means the party can’t go into campaign projecting one leader as its risks upsetting the other and his supporters.

“Suppose a particular leader is selected as CM face by the party’s decision-makers at the centre and then you find he has lost election... So there is a practical approach here and we need to play a united game,” says a Congress leader.

Almost half of the party cadres say the leaders need to set aside their differences and work together to take on the BJP, echoing what the leaders in Delhi say.

Over 50 percent of the cadre are “neutral” on who the chief minister should be if the party wins. The decision, they say, should be left to the party president Rahul Gandhi and others in the central leadership.

There is a larger pattern here and the Congress has failed to address it.

Jogi is not alone. In 2013, Congress split in Andhra Pradesh after a faction loyal to its strongman YS Reddy, who died in a helicopter crash four years earlier, walked out. Reddy’s son Jaganmohan is now the leader of the YSR Congress. In Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma quit the party to join the BJP, which within months formed its first government in the Northeastern state.

A Congress leader admits that the “Jogi effect” will harm the Congress in Chhattisgarh but says the problem — inability to pick leaders — is also its strength.

Equations in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan are such that naming a chief ministerial candidate would lead to intense infighting. So, even if the Congress stands to gain from having a chief ministerial candidate, it will be unable to impose one leader on a state unit.

This also reflects the divergent organisational styles of the Congress and the BJP. “We cannot be like the BJP which is cadre-based, and as for surveys, they fall behind the times in the rapidly-evolving situation in each state,” says a Congress leader, who didn’t wish to be identified.

What he means is that even in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the Congress will pick a ‘winner’ depending on results.

Two other Congress leaders in Delhi point out that not projecting a chief ministerial candidate is part of the high command’s strategy, which it changes whenever necessary.

Updated Date: Nov 08, 2018 19:10:51 IST