With renewed focus on alliances, Congress breaks fresh ground with wins in two Assembly polls after Lok Sabha election loss this year
The Congress was trounced in the Lok Sabha elections but rose that defeat to be part of coalitions that wrested Maharashtra and Jharkhand from the BJP, riding to power with Sonia Gandhi in the saddle and pragmatism as the theme in a year marked by spectacular lows and modest highs.
With the two states, the grand old party, which switched tracks from going solo in the Lok Sabha elections to judiciously tying up with not-always-like-minded allies, now has seven states in its bag, up from a low of just two
The Congress story of 2019 essentially revolved around Sonia, who was back as party chief after her son Rahul resigned as Congress president
The change of guard in the second half of 2019 coincided with the upward electoral swing for the party, which has seen several setbacks since its 2014 General Election loss
New Delhi: The Congress was trounced in the Lok Sabha elections but rose that defeat to be part of coalitions that wrested Maharashtra and Jharkhand from the BJP, riding to power with Sonia Gandhi in the saddle and pragmatism as the theme in a year marked by spectacular lows and modest highs.
With the two states, the grand old party — which switched tracks from going solo in the Lok Sabha elections to judiciously tying up with not-always-like-minded allies — now has seven states in its bag, up from a low of just two.
The Congress story of 2019 essentially revolved around Sonia, who was back as party chief after her son Rahul resigned as Congress president. He took moral responsibility for the Lok Sabha poll defeat, the party's second consecutive loss in the General Election.
The change of guard in the second half of 2019 coincided with the upward electoral swing for the party, which has seen several setbacks since its 2014 General Election loss.
The Congress, which managed just 52 MPs in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections that witnessed the BJP returning to power with a bigger mandate, perhaps surprised itself with better than expected performances in the Haryana and Maharashtra Assembly polls. The year ended with the Jharkhand Assembly elections.
While power slipped away in Haryana, the Sonia-helmed party adopted a pragmatic approach to assume charge of Maharashtra and later Jharkhand.
The Maharashtra election results presented Congress with the opportunity to oust the BJP, which emerged as the single largest party in the state. Working closely with NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Sonia decided to ally with ideologically distant Shiv Sena to keep the BJP out.
The gamble worked.
The NCP-Congress combine not only formed the government in Maharashtra in alliance with the Shiv Sena but also ensured that the Sena, one of the oldest allies of the BJP, quit the NDA government as a quid pro quo.
The fracture of the Sena-BJP friendship, engineered by the NCP and the Congress, was seen in Opposition ranks as a major coup.
In a first, Sonia agreed to not only play a junior partner to the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha in a pre-poll alliance but also gave her nod to declare JMM's working president Hemant Soren as the chief minister face of the JMM-Congress-RJD alliance.
Congress veterans were surprised when Sonia conceded 43 seats to the JMM, keeping a smaller number for her own party.
The stratagem once again worked and the alliance swept the polls with 47 seats in an 81-member assembly.
This was another marker of the political gambit that boosted the morale of the Congress.
The shift in strategy was the result of a conscious rethink of the 2019 Lok Sabha eve strategy of alienating potential allies.
Sonia engaged the Congress Working Committee actively in 2019 to get people like AK Antony, previously opposed to the alliance with Shiv Sena, to see reason and come around.
The CWC ultimately gave the party the green signal to join the Sena-NCP government in Maharashtra even though the powerful Kerala Congress lobby remained opposed to the idea.
Party leaders credited the move to Sonia practical politics, a contrast to the AICC's 2018 political resolution that spoke of aligning with like-minded parties to defeat the BJP and the RSS.
The resolution adopted at the 84th plenary session in March 2018 said Congress will forge workable alliances with like-minded parties and take a pragmatic approach while striking electoral pacts with all like-minded parties and evolve a common workable programme to defeat the BJP-RSS.
But the Congress president told the CWC clearly that the BJP was a bigger ideological rival than the Shiv Sena and needed to be kept out of power.
According to Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, 2019 was the beginning of the end of the destructive politics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP and also the resurrection and reaffirmation of faith in the Congress party by the people of India. He also spoke of multiple shades of political opinion assimilating under the umbrella of Congress pluralism.
"The future is defined by two linear lines — one of innate negativity and division signified by Modi-Shah duo and the other of hope and persistent perseverance depicted by Congress and other opposition parties. The year 2020 will define India's mood in favour of positivity, cohesion and progress delineated by pluralistic and liberal India espoused by our founding fathers," he told PTI.
The sore spot for the Congress this year was Haryana where the party bagged 31 seats out of 90 with virtually no preparation. But it was too little too late, party insiders said.
It was only after Sonia assumed charge of the party in August that she appointed former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and former minister Kumari Selja as state legislature party and unit chief, respectively.
The newly appointed team worked up a decent performance in barely 47 days to the polls.
Most Haryana Congress leaders said the Congress could have won the state had it prepared in advance.
The CWC in 2019 was quick to bank on Sonia — who had vacated the post in 2017 after 19 years — to steer the party back to battle readiness.
By the end of the year, she had successfully revived the party and scripted a new political narrative by seizing the leadership of the ongoing anti Citizenship Amendment Act protests across India.
She even recorded a rare video message to express solidarity with the protesters.
Be that as it may, the party continued to debate the perennial question of organizational leadership with speculation rife about a potential return of Rahul to the helm.
The talk gained momentum after AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra described her brother Rahul as “my leader” at a party rally held in November.
But there is no official word on any such transition. With the tussle and friction between the old and the new generation continuing, the year saw Priyanka assume an active political role.
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