Tuesday, Dec 26, 2023

Congress takes small steps, but will they be enough to escape the long winter?

The recent reshuffle of the AICC Secretariat was a non-event, but there has been some plain speaking and a recalibration of expectations

congressCongress President Mallikarjun Kharge with party leaders Rahul Gandhi and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, DMK leader Tiruchi Siva, CPI General Secretary D. Raja and others during a protest of Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) at Jantar Mantar, in New Delhi (PTI)

The winter was harsh. Can the summer bring relief or cheer? Or is it going to be the continuation of a long winter for the grand old party?

As the Congress kickstarts its Lok Sabha election campaign with a rally in Nagpur on its foundation day later this week – amid plans by Rahul Gandhi to embark on yet another yatra – the mood in the party is somewhat gloomy.

There is anxiety over how the seat-sharing with INDIA partners will play out. There is unhappiness over the periodic comments from leaders of the DMK, which is giving the BJP an easy handle to paint the alliance as anti-North. Then there is another argument that the leaders of the North are indifferent to the people of the South.


There is restiveness over the leadership’s inability to ideologically frame the battle with the BJP for the audience in the Hindi heartland, as well as over the lack of change in the party. The recent reshuffle of the AICC Secretariat was a non-event, with many saying it was more like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

The CWC meeting, held to take stock of the party’s preparations for the elections and introspect on the recent defeats in the key heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, saw some plain speaking from Rahul Gandhi. But a stray remark from Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge at the CWC meeting mounted more anxiety.

Festive offer

Sources said Kharge mentioned that the Congress will focus on 260 seats, surprising many leaders. Those present at the meeting said he corrected himself some time later, when one of the leaders went up to him and relayed some message.

The Congress president then said that what he meant was that the party is in direct contest in 260 seats, and that it would put its best foot forward and contest in many more depending on the seat-sharing in the INDIA bloc.


Many leaders believe the Congress – which had contested in 421 seats and won 52 in 2019 – may contest in far fewer seats this time. However, as one leader said, “Contesting less than 300 seats would prove to be a death knell for the party. It will be like the 1996 alliance with the BSP in Uttar Pradesh. We contested in just 126 seats… there are no Congress candidates in as many as 13 districts of the state.”

Another pointed out that Kharge had corrected himself. “Had he left it uncorrected… we could have come to the conclusion that the party may be contesting in only 260 seats. (But) We may still contest fewer seats than last time,” he said.

Sources close to Kharge added the resource angle. “I don’t know how that line crept into his speech. But it is clear that the party, even if it contests in more seats, may focus on 260-odd seats, where it will put all its might and resources. Resources, after all, are finite. These will be the A category seats,” one leader said.


Whatever the case may be, the Congress is despondent after the Assembly election defeats. In fact, many of the leaders including Rahul told the CWC that the defeat in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh was unexpected. The party perhaps misread the discontent among the tribal community and overestimated the impact of polarisation in Madhya Pradesh.

Referring to the three states, Rahul said the leaders were not grooming young faces and not letting them into leadership roles. It was a hint at the fact that in all the states, the party revolved around a few leaders – Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan; Bhupesh Baghel and T S Singh Deo in Chhattisgarh; and Kamal Nath in Madhya Pradesh. He was also critical of state units for resisting efforts to make seat adjustments with smaller parties. Incidentally, in Madhya Pradesh, Kamal Nath was openly accused by the Samajwadi Party of stalling seat-sharing.

However, the measures taken apparently as part of preparations for the Lok Sabha elections, don’t inspire much confidence. For example, the revamped AICC Secretariat does not have many new faces, besides general secretaries Sachin Pilot, G A Mir and Deepa Dasmunsi. Many leaders have been given additional charge of states too.

Plus, pointedly, there is no clarity on the role of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. Party leaders argue that she has been “freed” of organisational responsibilities as she will be campaigning all across the country.

The chatter that she will contest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi from Varanasi or make her electoral debut from Rae Bareli, Sonia Gandhi’s Lok Sabha constituency, remains just that – chatter.


While the Congress also set up a high-level national alliance committee, leaders don’t expect the seat-sharing to be completed by the middle of January, which can be frustrating for allies who have been pressing for a faster pace.

The committee, comprising Gehlot, Baghel, Mukul Wasnik, Salman Khurshid and Mohan Prakash, has met once and has decided to hold meetings with state leaders over the next two weeks.


For now, all hope seems to be on Rahul’s Bharat Jodo Yatra 2.0, of which Priyanka too may be a part.

First published on: 25-12-2023 at 19:54 IST
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