Stanly Johny

A scribe by sheer accident, Stanly Johny is a PhD in international relations from JNU, and keeps an eye wide open for politics, and the other for almost everything else under the sun.

Stanly Johny

Has the Congress already given up?

| Updated on February 03, 2014

The Congress’ long-term strategy is to build brand Rahul afresh, and it has already unveiled campaign posters projecting him as an anti-corruption crusader.

Explaining her decision not to name Rahul Gandhi as the prime ministerial candidate of the Congress, Sonia Gandhi told the core committee on January 16 that the party doesn’t have a tradition of naming a prime ministerial candidate before the elections.

This can well be a technical explanation of the party’s position. But what the Congress President forgot, or chose to forget, was that she herself had named Manmohan Singh the party’s PM candidate for the 2009 elections. While releasing the Congress manifesto on March 24, 2009, Sonia Gandhi had said: "There can be many candidates for the post of prime minister but nobody stands in front of Manmohan Singh.” A month prior to that, Rahul Gandhi, then general secretary of the Congress, had said Singh was “my prime ministerial candidate for the coming Lok Sabha elections”.

Not just that, Sonia had said in December, after the Congress suffered a huge setback in the Assembly elections, that the party would announce “a PM candidate at an appropriate time”, fuelling speculation that Rahul Gandhi will be elevated to that spot soon. To be sure, there was growing clamour among the party rank and file for naming the Gandhi scion the PM candidate. Still, the Congress president decided to take a U-turn from what she herself had said earlier and send the party to the polls without a PM candidate.

Though it’s clear to everyone that Rahul Gandhi is the party’s future leader, why the leadership shies away from officially naming him the PM candidate? The talk about the Congress tradition doesn’t offer a political explanation. One possible interpretation of the Congress stand is that the party leadership is analysing the country’s political situation realistically, rather than optimistically. It realises that the Congress doesn’t stand a chance this time and there is no point in throwing Rahul Gandhi to the ire of the electorate.

In other words, there is a growing sense of defeatism within the Congress camp. This was visible during Prime Minister Singh’s January 3 press conference. During his 75-minute-long interaction with the media, the Prime Minster, besides boasting the high growth rate his Government achieved, at least twice talked about being “unsuccessful” in tackling economic challenges. He first used it referring to unemployment and then to inflation – two of the major reasons for the strong anti-incumbency wave prevalent in the country.

Sonia Gandhi’s speech at the AICC session on January 17 was another example. She was focussed more on the past glory of the Congress party than on its prospects in the coming elections. In fact, she sent a veiled message to party workers that they should be prepared to accept any outcome. “Whether we win or lose, our party is the only one present in every village, every street. We have seen ups and downs, victory and defeat – these are inevitable in politics. But I hope that in coming days our resolve to meet these challenges grows," she said.

Plan B?

If one puts together these statements, the picture that emerges out of it is that of a less confident Congress grappling with a mammoth challenge. The Congress’ long-term strategy is to build brand Rahul afresh, and it has already unveiled campaign posters projecting him as an anti-corruption crusader. Of late, Rahul has tried to distance himsefl from the policies of the Manmohan Singh government. If the party emerges into a position to form the next Government after the polls (which is unlikely), the prime minister will be Rahul Gandhi. Party General Secretary Janardan Dwivedi has already hinted that.

But what if the Congress’ numbers are too low, as predicted by the opinion polls? Then the immediate strategy could be to keep BJP’s Narendra Modi away from the top office, provided the NDA doesn’t win a majority on its own (which is also unlikely). To put it differently, its own weakening, combined with the Modi factor may push the Congress to play the king maker role in 2014. Is a window of opportunity finally opening for the Third Front after a gap of 16 years?

Published on February 03, 2014

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