Before it's over in UP, Congress starts work on Gujarat election strategy

Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Photo: PTI)
Hopeful of winning the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls in alliance with the Samajwadi Party, Congress managers have started working on a plan to wrest power from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Gujarat. The western state is slated to go to the polls later this year. The BJP, which has ruled Gujarat for about two decades, won 116 seats in the 2012 election, while the Congress got only 60. Business Standard does a reality check on the Congress’ prospects:

Opportunity

There is an opportunity for the Congress, but the grand old party needs to put in place a solid action plan to oust the BJP. According to Congress managers, the Gujarat BJP leadership has weakened after Narendra Modi, who served as the Chief Minister from 2002 to 2014, became the Prime Minister. 

The Congress leadership feels that Modi’s successors Anandiben Patel and Vijay Rupani lack the appeal of the former chief minister. Besides, a lot of discontent is said to be brewing in the state BJP. A win in Gujarat is vital for the Congress as it will boost the party’s morale ahead of the 2019 general elections.

Preparedness

Getting the right candidates will be crucial for the Congress. AICC in charge of Gujarat affairs Gurudas Kamat has urged party vice president Rahul Gandhi to finalise the nominees as early as possible, so that they can work on the ground. The screening committee for the state polls may be set up by the end of March, sources said, adding that applications from all those wanting to contest the election have been invited. 

Also on the cards are some changes in the state- and district-level units to prepare a new team for the assembly polls. However, infighting continues to be a big challenge for the state Congress.

Congress managers derive satisfaction from the party’s success in the parishad seat in the state, against BJP’s 29, in 2010, but the scenario changed to 23 for the Congress and seven for the BJP by 2016. However, the BJP did much better than the Congress in the panchayat polls last year.

Strategy

The Congress hopes to gain from the “unrest” among farmers, the poor and the communities that have been neglected by the BJP governments, particularly the resourceful Patidars or Patels. Aware of the deep distrust the Patels developed for the BJP government, the Congress is trying to woo the community leaders and has deployed Siddhartha Patel, son of former Chief Minister Chimanbhai Patel to do the spadework.

In order to consolidate its traditional tribal vote bank, the Congress is planning to launch an “Adivasi Vikas Yatra” in March-April. Tribals form around 14 per cent of the voters and the BJP has been trying, of late, to make inroads into the community. Rahul, who was earlier scheduled to launch the yatra at Ambaji, will perhaps join it in between.

Contest

Though the political battle in Gujarat has mainly been between the Congress and the BJP, AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal has also announced his plans for the coming polls. How much resources and energy will AAP invests in Gujarat will depend on the new outfit’s performance in the Punjab and Goa assembly polls.

Amid a wedge between the BJP and the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, the latter recently announced that Hardik Patel, who led the Patidar movement in the past two years, will be its face in the state but the young leader quickly denied the same.

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