What seemed virtually unachievable until a few months ago—the defeat of the BJP in the 2019 general elections—is today a theoretical
possibility with the seemingly strong winds of anti-incumbency blowing across. It is not as though the Congress has risen to formidable heights or that its leader Rahul Gandhi is a man transformed. It is just the weight of disillusionment that has set in against the NDA government at the Centre coupled with a new impatience for change.
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It is unrealistic, uncanny, but true. Yet, the charisma of Narendra Modi is a force to reckon with and he is fully capable of turning the tide singlehandedly when he campaigns.Besides, the Congress is fully capable of committing harakiri, with Congressmen hungry for power and
infighting staring at the party in the face.
In a party steeped in sycophancy and a body politic that is out of date with reality, there is a mood of anger against the current establishment that could catapult a ragtag coalition of anti-BJP forces to power. This is not to say that this is waiting to happen but only that this is a possibility, though a remote one.
The Congress is avoiding appointing shadow chief ministers in BJP-ruled states, fearing a backlash from those who are left out. The Opposition that is in cahoots with the Congress too is silent on who they want as prime minister in the event of the BJP being displaced in the electoral battle.
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Former Union minister for finance and later home in the erstwhile UPA government P Chidambaram’s recent statement that the Congress party
would decide after the elections after consulting its allies as to who it would opt for as prime minister if it is in a position to form the government.
This could mean one of two things—either he is, at the instance of the Congress, seeking to molly coddle the allies who want an alternative to
Rahul Gandhi or he has been told by some allies that they could well support a Congress-led coalition if Rahul is not the leader.
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At the level of the states that are scheduled to go to polls in the next two months to elect their assemblies, the reluctance in states to name the person on whom the mantle would fall if the BJP is voted out of power has to do with fears of desertion and dissidence by the ignored contenders.
Take Rajasthan for instance, a state in which the Congress is currently deemed capable of upsetting the BJP. While Sachin Pilot is a rising star who is meritorious and popular with the masses, there is also old warhorse Ashok Gehlot who is equally keen to don the mantle and doubtlessly liked by the masses by and large.
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At the other end of the spectrum is Vasundhara Raje, the current chief minister with whom the State’s Rajputs are angry with their anger
further fuelled by the way Jaswant Singh was treated and how his son Manvendra has left the BJP to embrace the Congress.
If Sachin Pilot and Gehlot bury their differences they could pose a major challenge to the BJP, but will they go along together except outwardly?
In Madhya Pradesh, where Shivraj Singh Chauhan is fighting for his fourth term in office, there are two formidable challengers from the
Congress—veteran Kamal Nath who is the PCC chief and Jyotiraditya Scindia, a popular torchbearer of the youth brigade. If they work at
cross purposes as initial indications are, they could ruin the chances of their party.
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As for Chhattisgarh, with their former chief minister Ajit Jogi having deserted the Congress, there is a dearth of acceptable leaders. Two men who are vying for the chief ministerial chair are TS Deo and Bhupesh Baghel both of whom command grassroots support. If they undercut each other, the obvious beneficiary will be Chief Minister Raman Singh.
The challenge for the Congress therefore lies in closing ranks and putting up a united front against a well-entrenched BJP in all states where they are pitted against each other directly. If it fails to do so it will lose a golden opportunity to bounce back into reckoning nationally.