ith the principal Opposition, the Congress party, bracing up to fight the coming Lok Sabha polls – as also polls to four state Assemblies – the mood at the Sardar Patel National Memorial in Ahmedabad was less than inspiring, Tuesday. Neither UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi nor Congress president Rahul Gandhi demonstrated a much-needed fighting spirit to take on the BJP bandwagon at the hustings as they spoke at the crucial working committee meeting. Worse, the new face that was hoped to launch a thousand fresh ideas, in the person of party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, did not seem to inspire or get the party out of a new sense of despondence.
The very choice of Ahmedabad for the high-stakes working committee meet, followed by a rally that formed the launch-pad for the principal Opposition’s LS poll campaign, was definitely a calculated move. Gujarat is the state where the Congress narrowly missed the bus in the last Assembly polls, though it gave some breathing space for Rahul Gandhi to claim his strategy for the polls in that state had paid dividends to the Congress. When some senior leaders desert a party before the polls to join the rival camp, it exposes the ground realities and hints that the greener pastures are on the other side of the hill. As many as three MLAs have quit the Congress in Gujarat in recent days. This should be a matter for worry for the tricolour party, also as the BJP will use the powerful Patel card to full effect this time in the name of a statue there.
Overall, it is clear that the Congress’ launch pad for the LS campaign was itself on a rickety ground. To take on a formidable enemy like the BJP, it is important for the principal Opposition to go the whole hog and demonstrate a killer instinct. The issues that were identified by the party for campaign focus, as explained by Priyanka Gandhi, were the oft-repeated ones — of women safety, joblessness and farmer woes. These do become very important as the average voter, probably lost in wonderment of a war that never was, needs to be reminded of harsh realities. There may be no element of surprise or freshness to these issues, yet she has cleverly stressed that there should be no attempt to rake up so many other issues at the hustings this time. Questions might arise as to why Rafale, allegedly a scam of epic proportions, does not figure in the main campaign themes. In the minimum, by targeting the BJP on Rafale, the Congress with past scams on its shoulders could have gotten even with the saffron side and punctured Modi’s claim of being an incorruptible leader. By going soft at the launch-pad of the campaign, the Congress has, most likely, failed to steal the thunder.
This is a time when Prime Minister Modi and the ruling BJP are trying to divert attention from the major failures of the NDA government, including the problems caused by demonetisation and GST rollout in a half-baked form. Despite the negatives, Pulwama — followed by Balakot — might have come to the advantage of the ruling side. This is time to retrieve the lost spirit for the Opposition. Leadership is all about ideas – ideas that can inspire the people, as Indira Gandhi did by raising the slogan of ‘Garibi Hatao’ at a time when she felt the political sands were slipping from under her feet. With a team of three popular faces vying for additional attention, the Congress can take the fight at the hustings to a higher pitch only if it comes up with new slogans to inspire the masses. The days of ‘Garibi Hatao’ might be over, as was evident from the failure the Congress faced in 2014 despite the free foodgrains scheme it introduced for the BPL families. For the Congress, this is not the time to yield further ground, but to fight back with grit and gain more ground.