Congress is adopting a new strategy in Gujarat. Will it work?
The Congress has changed its strategy drastically in Gujarat and it seems to be paying off. Observers say that the party has managed to penetrate areas it had never expected to in the past. Even in BJP bastions, people are coming out to listen to what the party has to say. Many feel that the conditions are favorable for the party this time around.
In terms of strategy, observers say that the party is now hunting in a pack. “Since the local leadership of the party did not have the stature to match Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) icon Narendra Modi, they were never accepted as mass leaders with a pan-Gujarat image. But led by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, the leaders are moving around in a group and sending the message that the party is united,” said an observer based in Ahmedabad.
“The scenario has changed since the election of senior party leader Ahmed Patel to the Rajya Sabha polls in August. Having succeeded in demolishing the game plan of BJP's national president Amit Shah who pulled out all stops to ensure Patel's defeat, the Congress party came out with loads of political energy. The irony is that the same Ahmed Patel stands on the sidelines of the party campaign at this point of time,” he added.
Many people now actively working with the Congress, say that even the departure of Shankersinh Vaghela from has proved to be a blessing for the party. “Narhari Amin left the party in 2012 and now the departure of Vaghela has paved the way for others. By Vaghela's departure it is the workers of the original Congress who stand galvanised,” said a Congress worker in the Shah Alam area of Ahmedabad.
But the thing which seems to be working for the Congress the most is the strategy of addressing dedicated groups by Rahul Gandhi and other leaders separately instead of organising large rallies. They have been addressing students, teachers, Aanganwadi workers, ASHA workers, Dalits, industrialists, fishermen, traders etc giving a patient hearing to these groups of people on their specific issues and making promises that are relevant to them.
People are still talking about how former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his interaction with the businessmen, had managed to tear apart the BJP narrative on economic issues on November 7 at Sardar Smarak in Ahmedabad. He had made a strong political statement attacking Modi, “Bravado and drama are poor substitutes for courage with conviction to execute policies.” This quote is being remembered verbatim by many.
Similarly a picture of Rahul Gandhi hugging a teacher who had aired her woes at a meeting in eastern part of Ahmedabad was widely circulated by the people even as some of the prime dailies gave very little space to it. “These things help strike a chord with the masses. The picture had gone viral on social media,” said a party worker.
“For the last two and a half decades I never saw any Congress workers campaign in my locality. The Congress would just hold a road show on the main arterial roads. But this time there are Congress workers going door to door with the party agenda,” pointed a resident of Odhav locality which has been a BJP stronghold over the last three decades.
The same holds true for localities like Nikol that have been the citadels of hardcore Hindutva organisations. “Till now the Congress never organised any event in this area. Rahul Gandhi interacting with groups of people at well attended events and women, particularly from the Patel households, attending them was unimaginable till some months back. This has made the BJP very worried,” said a resident of Nikol whose family has had long term affiliation with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).
The BJP efforts to convey to the Patel residents of these localities in Ahmedabad that the Congress promise of giving them reservations would not bear fruit as it won't stand legal tests is being met with counter questioning. “They are telling the BJP campaigners that you also promised all these years on building a Ram Temple when the party came to power and we patiently supported you. Why can't we give them a chance to implement their promise,” informed a local resident. It has been residents of localities like Odhav, Ramol, Naroda, Vatva, Isanpur, Bapunagar etc who have always participated in mass mobilization programmes of the BJP and even gone to Ayodhya for Kar Sewa on different occasions.
Rahul has been candid in telling the people that the Congress leadership cannot deliver flowery speeches like Modi. He had said this in South Gujarat adding that it would take ages for the Congress to learn this trick. But he has been promising access to the people and saying that the Congress would listen to them and work for them.
Many observers say that his speeches now are calculated and he has picked up the art of drawing answers from the masses during his speeches when he goes around questioning Modi's Gujarat developmental model.
But at the same time there is a point of view that the Congress needs to ensure that its campaign does not get monotonous. “They have to keep raising people-centric issues. Talking only about crony capitalism does not make much headway in a state like Gujarat, which has a mercantile ethos. It would be far better if Rahul talks about the contribution of the Congress governments in Information Technology and telecom where maximum job avenues emerged over the last two decades,” points out a senior media professional based in Ahmedabad.
Whatever the results may be, the Congress has evolved in the state where it had been lying defunct for the last several years. The fact that the party seems to be giving a fight itself seems a big achievement.