The Congress leadership’s advice to party workers to focus on key issues roiling the nation such as price rise, unemployment and inequities in society rather than fall into’ irrelevant traps’ set by the BJP and react to subjects such as the Sanatan Dharma controversy is a step in the right direction. The BJP’s ability to distract from real issues is well known and it has so far succeeded in swaying the electorate by its polarising narrative ably supported by a pliant media. For the Congress and the INDIA alliance to counter this will take a herculean effort but the best way forward is to ignore divisive issues and harp on those things that affect the common man the most such as rising prices of essential commodities and the serious lack of employment opportunities for a vast section of the population.
The reconstituted Congress Working Committee, which met in Hyderabad over the weekend ahead of the five-day special session of Parliament from 18 September, resolved to make the INDIA alliance an ideological and electoral success to free the country from divisive politics. At the two-day CWC meeting called to discuss preparedness for the upcoming elections in five states as well as the 2024 general election Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge stressed on unity and discipline, something that has been sorely lacking in the party for some time now. But winds of change seem to be blowing in the Grand Old Party with the reconstituted CWC itself being a prime example.
It has accommodated those who have rebelled against the high command such as members of the G 23 including Anand Sharma and Mukul Wasnik. Shashi Tharoor, who contested against Kharge, the official candidate for the election to the Congress president’s post, has also been included in the CWC. The demographic of the working committee is younger now, indicating that some lessons have been learnt from the BJP.
Kharge’s focus on poll preparations from the booth level and seeking names of probable candidates from state leaders is quite different from the top heavy approach to candidate selection practiced by the Congress so far. The well-attended Congress rally in Hyderabad is another indicator that it is a serious contender in the forthcoming Telangana elections where it had suffered a rout in previous elections. The welfare schemes announced by the party along the lines of those being implemented in Karnataka may well prove to be a game changer just as they did in the neighbouring state where the Congress handed the BJP a resounding defeat.
That the party is making a concerted effort to bounce back after its two electoral debacles in 2014 and 2019 and a string of defeats in the states is no longer in doubt. Since the Bharat Jodo Yatra of Rahul Gandhi and the election of Kharge as party chief, the Congress has tasted electoral success in Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh. However, for any meaningful attempt to oust the BJP a concerted Opposition effort is necessary and the INDIA alliance has to sort out all its inner contradictions as soon as possible.
That the Congress will be the fulcrum of this alliance is not in question but as the single largest party of the bloc it has to take the other parties along, accommodating them as much as possible and refraining from playing the big brother. The party has already indicated that in states where it is not a big force such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand, it is willing to play second or even third fiddle where seat sharing is concerned. However, its state leaders need to be cautioned against shooting their mouths.
Several months ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, the Haryana strongman, has already announced that the party will contest all 10 parliamentary seats in the state, exacerbating tensions with the Aam Aadmi Party. It is no secret that AAP, Trinamool Congress and Samajwadi Party are wary of any Congress domination. Opposition unity is a tricky balancing act as is evident from the different voices emerging from the INDIA alliance over the boycott of 14 television anchors.
Decisions need to be taken jointly and nowhere will this be more visible than in the ongoing special Parliament session. The CEC Bill and the one nation, one poll proposal are being fiercely opposed by the INDIA grouping. Will their voices be heard or is the government likely to bowl a fresh googly?.