Barring Kerala, where the party feels it is poised to defeat the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), the Congress is beset with ally troubles in all other poll-bound States – Assam, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu – and the Union Territory of Puducherry
NEW DELHI, Feb 28: The Congress is hoping to benefit from the anti-incumbency factor as well as the public protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and agri laws in the upcoming round of assembly polls, but still faces an uphill task in the coming days.
Barring Kerala, where the party feels it is poised to defeat the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF), the Congress is beset with ally troubles in all other poll-bound states – Assam, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu – and the Union Territory of Puducherry.
In West Bengal, the party’s seat-sharing talks with the newly formed Indian Secular Front (ISF) are still underway with the Left-Congress alliance keen to have the fledgling party on board to pocket some of the 30 percent Muslim votes in the state.
In Assam too, the party is yet to finalise the agreement with Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF, its main ally in the polls.
In Tamil Nadu, the Congress is banking fully on DMK to dethrone the incumbent AIADMK, while in Puducherry the grand old party is left with hardly any core strength after the recent fall of the government to face an aggressive BJP, which is leaving no stone unturned to make inroads in the eastern and southern belts.
Though seat-sharing talks have started, the Congress is demanding over 50 seats this time which the DMK is reluctant to give.
Sources say that DMK is citing the Congress’ poor performance in recent polls as well as in the 2016 assembly elections when it won just eight seats out of the 41 it contested.
Winning at least one state full steam is key to the revival of the sagging morale of Congress workers and the credibility of Rahul Gandhi as the numero uno in the organisation, observers say.
Only yesterday, top Congress dissenters expressed lack of confidence in Rahul Gandhi’s leadership when they said in Jammu that the party was weakening and they had taken upon themselves the responsibility of rebuilding it. Rahul Gandhi and his strategists hope to wrest Tamil Nadu and Kerala as power switches sides in these states every five years. They also believe they can upset the incumbent BJP in Assam.
That explains why Congress has announced “mission 100” in Assam which has 126 assembly seats. But this time, it does not have a stalwart like former chief minister Tarun Gogoi who passed away in November last year.
BJP leader and Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has, however, dared the Congress saying, “A Congress tsunami can only come in Bangladesh”.
The grand old party also faces a major challenge in West Bengal where the TMC and the BJP having long launched their poll slogans, while the Left and Congress are still dithering on their joint strategy.
The eight-phase elections in West Bengal are likely to witness a keen contest between the TMC and the BJP, with the Left parties seeking to regain control after allying with the Congress.
In 2016 assembly polls in Bengal, the Congress-Left alliance bagged 38 per cent votes, seven percent less than TMC. But in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP emerged as the main rival to Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and the combined vote share of the Congress and the Left plummeted to 15 per cent.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal push in all the poll-bound states is making the road to victory even more rutted for the Congress.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has already started a high-pitched campaign in the southern states and has also toured Assam. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is also set to join the party’s campaign in Assam on Monday and Tuesday, where she is likely to address smaller meetings as well as a big rally in Tezpur on March 2.
Rahul Gandhi’s recent remarks in Kerala about “South Indians being deeply interested in issues unlike North Indians” are being used by the BJP to spin an anti-Congress narrative.
The grand old party is attempting damage control by saying Gandhi was talking about the need for people to debate national issues and not superficial matters.
With elections announced and seat-sharing details in poll-bound states yet to be disclosed, it remains to be seen how big the turf the Congress gets to fight on as it struggles to retain its pan-India electoral footprint, having lost governments in MP, Karnataka and Puducherry.
The Congress party is in power on its own in Punjab, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and in an alliance in Maharashtra and Jharkhand.
The grand old party faces the challenge of performing well at the hustings in these polls or run the risk of losing its relevance as the principal opposition party, a leader said. – PTI