Did Rahul Gandhi Just Blow It by Running Down Regional Parties?
'It is a fight of ideologies. Regional parties have their space but they cannot defeat the BJP because they do not have that ideology. Only the Congress has a centralized ideology and approach.'
The Congress Nav Sankalp Chintan Shivir in the Lake City of Udaipur which ended on Sunday has given out mixed signals. Confusing would be a better word to describe it perhaps. If the effort was to rejuvenate and re-energize the party cadres of the Grand Old Party (as articulated by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi), one should wait for a while before concluding whether this happens or not. But on the other question of future alliances and political equations, party leader Rahul Gandhi seems to have blown it even before the efforts could bear fruit. His comments on regional parties, made on the concluding day of the conclave, have strengthened rather than dispel the impression that Congress continues to harbor delusions of grandeur at a juncture when it must stoop to conquer.
Rahul Gandhi remarked, 'It is a fight of ideologies. Regional parties have their space but they cannot defeat the BJP because they do not have that ideology. Only the Congress has a centralized ideology and approach.'
To be fair to him, Rahul Gandhi's or the Congress first family's dejection at losing the pole position in Indian politics is understandable. More and more parties have started openly questioning the Congress' ability to stand up as the prime challenger to Narendra Modi and the BJP's electoral juggernaut. Mamata Bannerjee and Arvind Kejriwal being the most vocal among them.
Under the circumstances, it was expected that the Congress top brass would stress on the need to align with other non-BJP forces while maintaining the centrality of the party as the binding force. Perhaps, some of the opposition parties were also looking at the Congress with the same hope of steeping up to the challenge.
But Rahul Gandhi's blunt remarks on regional forces may even antagonize those leaders who were so far agreeable towards the Congress. For instance, the Congress shares power in two states, Maharashtra and Jharkhand with parties like Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party, and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. In Tamil Nadu it is in alliance with the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam though not in govt. These parties have been around for decades and their influence in their respective states or region cannot just be discounted.
Likewise for Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal or Telugu Desam Party. Also, is it the Gandhi scion's argument that stalwarts like NT Rama Rao, Kanshi Ram, CN Annadurai, Mulayam Singh Yadav or Biju Patnaik had no ideology? Or is social justice, linguistic and regional assertion not an 'ideology' in the eyes of Rahul Gandhi?
The truth is that a quick chat with a common voter in any corner of the country will show that it is Congress whose ideological moorings appear foggy and confused. Random conversations through a dozen elections in the past few years have underlined that the Indian voter doesn't know anymore what the Congress really stands for.
The other argument put forth by Rahul Gandhi, that of taking on the BJP electorally, is even more unconvincing. Just a cursory glance at election results in the last eight years will prove that it is the regional powers who have managed to halt the Modi juggernaut wherever they could. Mamata Bannerjee, Arvind Kejriwal, MK Stalin being the real players in the arena. Congress leaders before and during the Chintan Shivir kept underlining the need to bring together all 'like-minded' forces and forge an umbrella alliance to take on Narendra Modi in the upcoming assembly elections and the penultimate battle in 2024. Rahul Gandhi's remarks on regional forces reflect just the opposite.
(Smita Mishra writes on politics and current affairs)
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