Congress outwits BJP in utilising ongoing political game

By: Shubham Ghosh
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The Presidential and Vice-Presidential elections due to come up shortly have given the Congress a fresh opportunity to experiment with its pre-poll strategy by fathoming the prevailing political mood. The Congress, one must say, has utilised the opportunity much better than the BJP, which has struggled to put things together on many counts.

Both the UPA and the NDA have shown signs of fissures in the run-up to the presidential election but the Congress has managed to turn things in its favour while the BJP has finished among the also-ran. The Congress must thank its ally Mamata Banerjee for giving it an opportunity to evade further embarrassment for a government which has already witnessed a massive erosion in its popularity in recent times. And a divided opposition in the BJP helped its cause more.

Cong drubbed Mamata in presidential nomination...
In the presidential candidate nomination episode, Mamata Banerjee's same-side goal gave the Congress a chance to not only hit back at the maverick leader who rocked the senior ally in quite a few instances, but also cornered her in a decisive manner. The Congress found a 'more reliable' partner in Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and the two sides were found engaging in a political quid pro quo after Yadav committed support to Pranab Mukherjee, the UPA presidential candidate whom a complacent Mamata stubbornly opposed.

The TMC chief, who was left licking her wounds, clearly lost her position of advantage in the UPA, much to the relief of the Congress. It wasn't costing the Congress exhibiting 'goodwill gesture' to the Trinamool after it had pocketed the bigger battle. The ball is clearly in Mamata's court and she does not have much freedom to manoeuvre apart from finding solace in the Facebook 'likes'. She even publicised the letter Pranab written to her seeking support in the presidential poll. The TMC chief is clearly buying time to find an escape route from the mess she put her in the capital last month.

... and clearly is at an advantage with the V-P nomination

The Congress, despite its 'goodwill gesture' to the Trinamool, has backed Hamid Ansari as the vice-presidential candidate with a long-term strategy in mind. Just like Mulayam in case of the presidential poll, the Congress's calculation has the Left Front in the scheme of things in the vice-presidential election. The Left found itself divided in supporting Pranab but in case of Hamid Ansari, who was also supported by the Left in 2007, the Left has a comparatively better unity. This would also give the Congress another possibility to cultivate in the post-2014 Lok Sabha elections scenario.

The Congress, nevertheless, will remain grateful to the Trinamool for giving rise to all problems for this has diverted the public focus from many of its failure. The party covered the facts that Pranab Mukherjee was the man under whose finance ministership did the country's economic fortunes took a nosedive. It also put the threat it perceived in Andhra, the vital state where it suffered a blow in the June by-elections, to the backstage for the time being. The arrest of Abu Jundal, one of the accused in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, has also given the Congress some breather by turning all vigilant eyes across the border to Islamabad.

The BJP has not helped its cause

As it is said opportunities are never lost, the Congress made use of the opportunities which the BJP could have utilised to its favour. In a last few events crucial from the national perspective, the BJP has not acted as fast and decisively as it should have. In the presidential election, after adopting a prolonged 'go slow' strategy, the saffron party decided to back PA Sangma. The party, in an effort to expose the UPA, ended up witnessing serious fissures within the NDA ranks.

The JD(U) and Shiv Sena have supported Pranab while the JMM and All Jharkhand Students' Union, who are part of the BJP-led coalition government in Jharkhand, have also expressed inclination towards Pranab Mukherjee. The BJP's calculation that Sangma's tribal identity would earn him support in a tribal state like Jharkhand has failed to deliver. Even people like BS Yeddyurappa and Maneka Gandhi pitched for Pranab, which clearly exposes the lack of unison in the party and a poor leadership to arrive at a uniform decision.

The only possibility that the BJP was looking to utilise for the 2014 polls was to inch closer towards parties like the BJD and AIADMK by deciding to support Sangma. However, party like the JD(S) said it would clarify its secular credentials in order to establish its distance with the BJP, something which again hints at the latter's limitations.

Alliance tussle over projecting Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 elections and the endless imbroglio over the political crisis in Karnataka also left the BJP much exhausted to concentrate more effectively on the presidential election.

The BJP's historic limitations would also deprive it of any support from the Left and Mamata and even as it was found wooing Mamata to support both its presidential and vice-presidential candidates, the West Bengal chief minister has a lot in stake politically to ally with the saffron party.

Tactical error?
A section in the BJP felt that the party would not gain much by fielding Jaswant Singh as the vice-presidential candidate. Jaswant Singh, who was once expelled from the party for eulogising Mohammad Ali Jinnah in his book, got the backing of veteran Lal Krishna Advani. It might be a chance for Advani to establish his hold on the party but inside sources say had the party decided to support Sharad Yadav of the JD(U), it could have been helped minimise gap with Nitish Kumar, who is likely to back Ansari.

In projecting Singh, however, the BJP could also aim to make some impact in the northern parts of Bengal for the veteran vice-presidential nominee is an MP from Darjeeling and try minimise its gap with Mamata.

The BJP, at the moment, is trailing the Congress, clearly.

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