Pulse of the people: UP to see Chane Pe Charcha with Rahul
Chane Pe Charcha - that is how the Congress plans to reach out to rural voters of Uttar Pradesh. The initiative is meant to counter Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Chai Pe Charcha campaign.
In terms of the number of legislators, the Congress stands a dismal fourth in UP. Add the fact that the party managed just two parliamentary seats in 2014, and it isn't difficult to understand why the party sees the assembly election in 2017 as a do-or-die battle.
According to sources in the state Congress, the party "will try every formula that is likely to bring good returns". Chane Pe Charcha is one such.
Plotting the way back
The sources say there could soon be a major reshuffle in the Congress' state committee. Its rival, the BJP, has just done so.
Congress leaders feel only a good showing in Uttar Pradesh, the electorally most significant state, can give the party a decent shot at power in the next general election in 2019. And to this end, the party is ready to chew chana.
Rahul Gandhi's social media campaign for the UP polls will be centred around Chane Pe Charcha. The Congress Vice President will also apprise voters about his party's poll agenda through this campaign.
But why chana?
Like chai, chana or gram is deeply ingrained in rural India's consciousness. It's precious to a vast population, being as it's the only source of protein for many of them. It is so integral to rural society that it has inspired proverbs such as "Akela Chana Bhaad Nahin Fod Sakta (A lone gram can't bust the oven)" and "Thotha Chana Baje Ghana (A hollow gram makes more noise)". And during the freedom struggle, leaders made light of their incarceration by saying "Jab tak jail main chana rahega, aana jana bana rahega (As long as they serve lentils in there, we will keep going to jail).
Prashant Kishor wants to use this idea to connect with the grassroots voters, the Congress sources say. He has successfully employed such campaigns in the past. Indeed, the sources pointed out, it was "under his guidance" that Chai Pe Charcha and Nitish Kumar's Ghar Ghar Dastak became popular.
But then, in the BJP and the JD(U), Kishore practically was his own master. Although the Congress brass, too, is believed to have reposed full faith in his abilities, voices of dissent are being raised in the state unit, including by at least two senior leaders. The disapproval of his style of functioning is also reportedly coming from Rahul's own Amethi constituency.
Discord in the ranks
The critics feel Kishor's strategy is not "rooted in ground realities". They say Kishor is employing the same strategies he did in Bihar even though the UP's "polity is entirely different", so, obviously, they are not going to work.
Kishor, on his part, tried to placate the dissidents during his recent two-day visit to Lucknow, but to no avail.
The party leadership is unlikely to be swayed by Kishor's critics given that, as one leader put it, "the same coterie of leaders has miserably failed to stop the downfall of the party over the past two decades". So, the leadership is in no mood to again trust them with the poll strategy. Indeed, the sulking lot has been bluntly told that the high command won't entertain any lobbying against Kishor.
The top brass has clearly conveyed to the state unit that Kishor is there to "resurrect" the party in UP, and all workers must follow his orders. Yet, the dissidents have torpedoes all efforts by Kishor to resolve differences during party meetings. At a recent meeting, party workers openly complained that the Congress has no chief ministerial candidate unlike other parties, which has made it difficult for them to go among the masses.
As for Kishor's latest initiative, some party leaders point out that Chai Pe Charcha worked because of Modi's forceful personality and gift of rhetoric. But without such a frontman - Rahul apparently is no match for Modi, and Priyanka clearly won't take the job at the expense of her brother - Chane Pe Charcha may not have the same impact.
The symbolism of tea helped propel Modi to the country's top post. It remains to be seen whether chana would be as lucky for the Congress.
Edited by Mehraj D. Lone
More in Catch: