But why have the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its leaders suddenly turned on the Congress president with their diatribes? Because they realise that in the upcoming elections, Gandhi will lead the party, reeling from factionalism.
Gandhi’s visit and the programmes were organised in a manner that connected him with the people and the rank and file of the party. The programmes concentrated on pockets where Congress stalwarts in the state are dominant. “The Congress president knows the political equations in Chhattisgarh and hence is projecting himself instead of local leaders to take on the BJP,” says political observer Sudeep Tripathi.
Gandhi, besides others, focused on Sarguja, Korba and Durg districts, where three Congress big guns are projecting themselves as chief minister-in-waiting. The party is cautious and hence did not bet on any single leader. For, weighing in in favour of one would mean alienating others.
All senior party leaders stood behind Gandhi, and, if this continues, BJP poll managers will have a lot to worry about. The 50-km roadshow in the state and interaction with party workers were a clear indication that the state has political significance for the Congress.
The Congress president has succeeded in energising the grassroots workers. And he knows the party workers and not the leaders can help the Congress throw the BJP out of power. Despite a narrow vote difference of less than 1 percentage point, the Congress failed to defeat the BJP in the last three polls.
Gandhi has succeeded in putting the house in order and the cadre in election mode. Besides, his larger focus is on farmers, tribals and the urban population, where the BJP is losing its grip because of local issues. He has also initiated the process of joining hands with parties opposed to the BJP.
“The Congress is trying an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party in Chhattisgarh in its efforts to consolidate the anti-BJP votes,” says former minister and political commentator Virendra Pandey.
The alliance will bring scheduled caste votes to the Congress kitty. Or else the votes will go to the Chhattisgarh Janata Congress of rebel Congress leader Ajit Jogi.
Another move by Gandhi to strengthen its base in the tribal pockets saw some movements during his visit. The Gondvana Gantantra Party (GGP), led by Hira Singh Markam, and the Ekta Parishad’s Rajagopal, shared the dais with the Congress president. Both are working for the tribal rights in the state.
Arvind Netam, a powerful tribal leader from Bastar who quit Congress, also returned to the party fold in the presence of Gandhi.
Though the efforts to consolidate the anti-BJP votes have started, the Congress chief should be wary of the move. “Markam, who has been a BJP member earlier, cannot be trusted blindly and can jump ship,” says Pandey. Markam has said his party will field candidates in 10 seats.
Above all, the Congress chief should not bluntly close the door for Jogi, whose party has plunged the otherwise bipolar politics
in Chhattisgarh into a three-cornered contest.
Karnataka should be a lesson in dealing with the anti-BJP forces.