Rama Krishna Sangem
Chintan Shivir of Congress party at Udaipur in Rajasthan this weekend will pave way for Rahul Gandhi’s return as its president by October this year. Rahul who gave up as the party president after the 2019 parliamentary elections debacle is expected to respond to pleas of party seniors, around 400 of them, at this Shivir. “Bring back Rahul” campaign that is there for the last two years will become shriller now.
Acting president Sonia Gandhi’s message to the conclave is loud and clear – that unless all the leaders and cadre get into missionary mode, Congress may not do well in 2024 parliamentary elections, two years away from now. Her honest admission that the party currently faces its biggest crisis is an indication that ruling BJP led by PM Narendra Modi is in a formidable position now.
Congress top brass which includes Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi is of the view that some urgent steps must be taken to revive the party’s falling electoral fortunes. The coming elections to Karnataka, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh this year and Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Telangana next year are very crucial to the existence of Congress as a major political force.
Congress for the first time is facing challenges not only from ruling BJP, but also from other fellow opposition parties too for its survival. Congress is under poaching from regional parties like TRS and TMC since last few years. Congress will have to fight not only to emerge as the next alternative to BJP at the Centre, but also to retain its leadership space in the opposition camp.
Very poor show of the party in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Delhi in recent elections has made Congress a marginal force in the Hindi belt politics. Now no one takes Congress seriously in this part of the country. The party invariably will have to make its presence in other areas – like Karnataka, Gujarat and Telangana where it once enjoyed a greater clout or Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh where it won last assembly elections.
Except Karnataka, the situation is not encouraging elsewhere. Even to cross 100 Lok Sabha seats in 2024, the party will have to sweat it out. Even in the coming President and Vice-Presidential elections, the party will have struggle a lot to secure support of other opposition parties. Other opposition leaders like Mamata Banerjee of TMC or KCR of TRS may insist on fielding non-Congress candidates for these posts and demand Congress support.
We don’t know whether Sonia will contest again from Rae Bareli seat in the coming LS elections, but Priyanka along with Rahul may test her electoral fortunes from somewhere. It’s unlikely that three of them – Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka – will be in the LS field next time. If necessary, Sonia may go to Rajya Sabha after the 2024 elections, depending on the need to guide the party.
Udaipur conclave has done some good to Congress. The G-23, or Group of 23 dissident leaders, have almost fallen in line with Sonia-Rahul leadership and are ready to work with them till 2024. If the party fares well and crosses 100 MPs mark, they will be silent. Otherwise, the dissidents will rear their heads again, this time strong and aggressive. Congress has also passed the test of times created by Prashant Kishor, aka PK, in April. Congress skillfully avoided PK’s entry.
There may be a formal declaration at the end of Udaipur conclave. The declaration is expected to call upon people to defeat BJP’s communal agenda, while asking other secular political parties to back its leadership in the opposition camp. Already, NCP, Shiv Sena (is it secular?), DMK, JMM and RJ(D) are with Congress. As senior leader Mallikarjun Kharge said, this is not the time Congress should waste in search of new allies.
It should strengthen itself first.