Gujarat Congress readies itself to take on the BJP. Will its game plan work?
Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel's victory in the high octane Rajya Sabha contest has breathed fresh life in the grand old party's Gujarat unit.
The Congress seems upbeat about ending BJP's 22-year rule in the poll-bound state. With only a few months left for the assembly elections, the party has upped the ante and put forth a detailed election plan to ensure its revival in the state.
Whether this plan succeeds or not will only be known once the results are announced, but senior leaders are convinced that these elections would not be a cakewalk for BJP.
To start with, Congress has made major organisational changes in the poll-bound state and included several new faces while giving prominent positions to senior leaders. Moreover, special attention have been paid to ensure there are representations from all caste and creed.
Even the disgruntled leaders have been accommodated in different capacities within the party to avoid a Shankersinh Vaghela like situation. Vaghela had earlier quit the party with his faction and made every effort to sabotage Patel's victory in the Rajya Sabha polls. His exit has created a leadership vacuum in the party which now has no face with mass base to take on BJP which will unleash Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah as its star campaigners.
To start with, Congress has appointed four working presidents who will assist state president Bharatsinh Solanki in taking forward the party's election campaign.
Keeping the caste factor in mind, these four working presidents have been carefully chosen to ensure representations from sections that constitute a major section of the state population. These newly-recruited working presidents include a Patel, Adivasi, OBC and Dalit leader who are expected to lure voters of their community to Congress fold.
The party has also announced members of its campaign and screening committees and senior leaders like Shaktisinh Gohil, Arjun Modvadhia, Siddharth Patel have been appointed in these panels.
In addition, appointment of additional office-bearers, executive committee members and presidents of the districts and City Congress Committees for Gujarat Congress Committee have also been made. Modhvadia claimed that these appointments will strengthen the party's organisational structure which suffered a massive blow after Vaghela's exit.
Moreover, efforts are being made to rope in 24-year-old Patidar leader Hardik Patel and 36-year-old Jignesh Mewani.
Both Patel and Mewani have been vocal critics of the government and boast of a major following within their own communities. Patel has been at the forefront of Patidar agitation in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh and his support would be crucial since Patels comprise of 14% of the state population.
Traditionally, Patels have backed BJP. But this no longer seems to be the case especially after the 2015 quota agitation led by Hardik. The agitation led to BJP agreeing to give 10% quota to Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs) which was out-rightly rejected by Hardik, leading to Congress promising to increase it to 20% if it manages to win polls.
Meanwhile, Mewani, who is at the forefront of the Ambekarite movement in the state, has emerged as a prominent anti-BJP Dalit face in state politics. Dalits constitute nearly 8% of the state population and their support would be crucial for Congress to ensure a revival of any sort.
Support from top brass
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi has also been holding a series of meetings with Gujarat leaders to brainstorm about the strategy needed to take on the BJP.
In one such meeting, held on 17 August, it was decided that the Gandhi scion would hold an extensive campaign in the state and stay there for an extended period of time as witnessed during the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.
Gandhi would kickstart his campaign from Ahmedabad on 4 September where he will interact with party workers. It is expected that the party manifesto for the upcoming elections could also be unveiled at the same time. Moreover, the party has also decided to hold a mega rally of like-minded parties in in Padri, Gujarat on 1 September.
However, National Congress Party, which contested the 2012 state elections in alliance with Congress, will not be invited for the Opposition rally. Hurt by NCP's decision to vote for BJP during the Rajya Sabha polls, the state leadership has asked the central leadership to take a decision on severing all ties with NCP.
Gujarat Congress president Solanki has clarified that the party would not fight the elections with NCP and went on to the extent of calling NCP the B-team of BJP. “The decision to not have an alliance with NCP at the state level has been taken but the final decision of having any alliance at the national level rests with the high command,” informed Modhvadia.
Even NCP boss Sharad Pawar's decision to skip the 11 August meeting called by Congress president Sonia Gandhi had led to speculations of NCP cosying up to BJP. In absence of an alliance, NCP has threatened to contest on 50 seats which could split the anti-BJP votes thus hurting the Congress in process.
These developments suggest that Congress is desperately trying to put its house in order to present a united front but whether this will translate into votes remains uncertain. BJP has made it a habit of winning Gujarat and this time around its president has set an ambitious target of winning 150 seats of the 182 in his home state.
The odds are placed against Congress and only time will tell whether all these meetings and strategies will yield the results that the party is hoping for. At present, BJP seems to be the clear favourite with Congress expected to warm the Opposition benches for five more years.