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Vision And Aggression, Not Defensive Politics, Key To Congress’ Comeback

The party needs to promote leaders working on the ground and prevent Delhi based sycophants from hijacking its campaign.

These are excellent times for the Congress, and particularly for its leader Rahul Gandhi, who has shown in the past four years his incomparable capacity to remain graceful in the face of electoral setbacks and the worst personal attacks. The grand old party has given tough competition to the BJP in direct contests, more notably on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home turf Gujarat, while also attracting strategic allies in important states. As the masses reel under economic slowdown and a real scrutiny of Modi’s performance begins, a tremendous opportunity awaits the Congress.

Unlike the BJP, which can gravitate the public mood towards itself by raking up polarising issues, the Congress has only its past record of good governance to sell to people. This needs a meticulous door-to-door campaign. A grassroots activism is also needed to debunk PM Modi’s lies and expose the failures of his flagship programmes. And for this, the party needs to promote leaders working on the ground and prevent Delhi based sycophants from hijacking its campaign.

The Congress has overwhelming prospects of toppling the Modi government in the next elections but the campaign has to be more voter-centric. The mood of the voter can be learnt from local leaders rather than from some Delhi-based spokies of the party who have no idea what strategy or caste arithmetic would be decisive in a particular constituency. Their ignorance comes at a cost. They thread campaign strategies that are removed from what people in a given region expect of the Congress.

The party high-command, driven by the feedback of AC war-room analysts, fails to attract the electorate in the way that it could if grassroots workers are given due importance while scripting a constituency-focused campaign. There is a systematic attempt by some dead wood leaders to keep grassroots workers distant from the leadership. Their personal ambition to aggrandise power and increase their profiles is responsible for the Congress failing to utilise the full potential that has been thrown to it by the Modi government’s many failures.

Right now, farmers are looking up to Rahul Gandhi with hope. The middle class is also keen to give Gandhi a chance. Minorities see a saviour in Gandhi and disillusioned unemployed youths have begun to connect to him more readily. Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Haryana and Punjab are states where the Congress can easily trample the BJP. With good alliances in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, the North-eastern states and Maharashtra, the UPA can make Modi bite the dust. But are we prepared? The way to success is a bottom-up campaign where more and more of the Congress cadre and local leaders directly and fearlessly send inputs to Rahul Gandhi and if the alphabets of the campaign are picked up from there.

Rahul Gandhi did an excellent job in Gujarat and Karnataka, by launching scathing attacks on the BJP instead of playing the defensive card. He attacked Modi at his citadel Gujarat and successfully dismantled it. The same aggression was visible during the Karnataka polls when he challenged Modi for a debate and said in no uncertain terms that he is prepared to shoulder the country’s top job. The confidence paid off. Not only did the Congress polled in the highest percentage of votes in Karnataka, but Gandhi’s personal ratings also shot up. An ABP News-CSDS survey of 24 May shows that he has gained 15 percentage points since May 2017 as the PM choice, as Modi’s favourability dropped by 10% in the same time.

But some Delhi leaders harp back to the defensive mode when faced with attacks by the BJP. When the BJP and some of its pet news channels tried to attack me in the middle of the Gujarat elections, dubbing me an ‘anti-national’ and accusing Rahul Gandhi of keeping a ‘separatist bhakt,’ some Congress leaders proclaimed that I am not associated with the party. This was the worst kind of mistake.

Such excuses only mounted speculation that Rahul Gandhi is surrounded by questionable people and he is trying to disassociate himself when caught. The situation should have been handled more pragmatically. The response to an attack is a counter-attack. The correct response should have been two-fold.

First, instead of the fake tweets attributed to me, they should have asked for concrete evidence to prove that I am a separatist. Second, we should have pointed out that it is the BJP which has joined hands with people with separatist backgrounds in Jammu & Kashmir. For example, ex-separatist Sajjad Lone, whose wife is a JKLF Member and brother is in the Hurriyat. Former J&K chief minister and Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, who has remained loyal to the idea of India for 45 years, is labelled ‘anti-national’ by the BJP which terms a former separatist Sajjad Lone, a hero.

The 2019 elections are not far away. Before that, there are crucial elections in Rajasthan, MP, Chhattisgarh and Jammu and Kashmir. In this time of photo-shopped journalism, the BJP and some of its bhakt-journalists will do everything to show the Congress in poor light. The mantra for success is counter-attack and not meek explanations.

The author is a columnist and a Congress politician.

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