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Shaky Congress decides not to decide anything

The Congress Working Committee’s (CWC) move to defer party polls till May 2021 and beyond is status quoist in nature and a setback to pro-party reform elements, namely G-23, or the group of dissenters. The term of various state assemblies or their poll schedule is a well-known cyclic fact, therefore, the move to defer party’s organisational polls on this ground is flimsy, if not entirely ridiculous.

The political import of today’s CWC is simple. While there are many claimants for the top party post, nobody wants to get the blame for the poll outcome of Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry. In other words, when in doubt, let the status quo continue. This has been the sum and substance of today’s meet.

The second big takeaway is that Rahul Gandhi, the most likely suitor, would prefer to return as 87th AICC chief if the Congress does well in Kerala, becomes part of a winning alliance in Tamil Nadu and retains Puducherry. Rahul Gandhi ‘dobara’ as party president (elected or through a consensus) followed by an electoral setback in Kerala or Puducherry had serious potential of dubbing Rahul as a ‘no-hoper’ in the eyes of even a die-hard Congress supporter.

In the Congress scheme of things, the outcome of Bengal Assembly polls is interesting only in terms of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s ability to beat the BJP on her own strength or seek Congress-Left support in the post-post scenario. In Assam, though the Congress has stitched up a ‘grand alliance,’ it is not optimistic about the outcome.

The G-23 has a genuine reason to feel dejected. In their follow-up deliberations (after Sonia Gandhi’s meeting with a group of G 23 on December 19, 2020), KC Venugopal and Priyanka Gandhi had reportedly given an assurance for a future ‘roadmap’ that clearly had entailed party poll schedule for AICC chief and the CWC. There was also a talk of veteran Congress leader Sushil Kumar Shinde becoming interim chief and Priyanka Gandhi becoming an interface between the party and the leadership. Now for the next 150 days or so, everything will be in limbo.

A spate of ‘Mood of the Nation’ TV news surveys has come pointing at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s continuous popularity even as the BJP, particularly in some states, seems struggling. One can go on challenging the sample size, findings or even the motives of such exercises, but it has to be kept in mind that these biannual surveys have been conducted for years now by TV news channels that put their credibility at stake.

A big takeaway from these surveys is the gap between the prime minister and the prime ministerial candidates. In terms of vote shares etc, the BJP-NDA is much below 50 per cent mark and the combined strength of Congress-led UPA and others continues to be at least 13 per cent more than the BJP-NDA. In theoretical terms, Modi and the BJP can be beaten. But then, politics is not arithmetic even though the democracy barometer hinges upon the numbers.

A section of Congress insiders feels the party’s obsession with the leadership issue is inconsequential as the voters’ concentration is on the prime ministerial nominee. If Rahul is not confident enough to match Modi or unable to get the backing of non-NDA others, such as Mamata Banerjee, Naveen Patnaik, K Chandrashekhar Rao, Akhilesh Yadav, and a number of other regional players, the party needs to look beyond the Gandhis. But this is something easier said than done.

(Journalist Rasheed Kidwai is the author of 24 Akbar Road and Sonia A Biography)

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