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Do-or-Die battle for the Congress

Toughest of all elections
It cannot afford a loss this time
Priyanka hyper active in Uttar Pradesh
(Anita Saluja, New Delhi)
With the countdown having started for the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur, the political future of all the national leaders, particularly the Congress siblings, is at stake.
For the Congress, this is the toughest of all elections, where out of the five States, at least in three States of Punjab, Uttarakhand and Goa, they cannot afford to lose. In Uttar Pradesh, Priyanka Gandhi has been hyper-active for a long time and if she is unable to raise the tally of seats in the Hindi-heartland from 7 seats to at least 25, the Congress will be disillusioned as never before. More than Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, the Congress leaders and workers have pinned their hopes on Priyanka Gandhi to steer them out of their difficult times.
Punjab and Uttarakhand never gave chance to incumbent
As far as Punjab and Uttarakhand are concerned, the people in these States always elect an alternate government, never giving a chance to the incumbent government. In Uttarakhand, as far as the Opinion Polls go, the BJP is expected to retain power, giving a jolt to the Congress leaders, who think it is their turn to come to power. Though the BJP has replaced two Chief Ministers in five years, people are still disenchanted with the Congress due to their inner-party wranglings.
It was very recently that Congress Chief Ministerial Candidate Harish Rawat in Uttarakhand had hung up his boots in the campaign for the party, after he was ignored by the Congress High Command. With the party totally in a mess in the State, it will be no surprise if, again, people reject them.


In punjab Siddu at logger heads
In Punjab, the Congress has become a laughing stock, with PCC President Navjot Singh Siddhu always at logger-heads with State Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi. The latter, who has just taken over the reins from Amrinder Singh, is unsure whether the Congress High Command will allow him to continue as the Chief Minister, if at all, the party succeeds in coming to power. Unlike in the past when the Congress was on one side and the SAD-BJP combine on the other, this time round, four political parties are contesting for the Chief Minister’s post. In addition to the Congress, there will be BJP-PLC (Punjab Lok Congress headed by Amrinder Singh), SAD-BSP, SKM (Samyukta Kissan Morcha) and AAP (Aam Aadmi Party).
Hung assembly a possibility
A Hung Assembly is expected this time, though AAP has a bright chance to take the lead. AAP has been campaigning in Punjab for a long time and has made several inroads, the latest being its spectacular performance in Chandigarh Municipal polls. The desertion of Amrinder Singh from the Congress has left the party with non-serious players, who are busy in confronting each other, rather than concentrating on the functioning of the government and the party’s poll prospects. The faux-pas committed by the Channi Government on the breach in the security of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has only tarnished the image of the Congress Government.
However, since the BJP is a non-player in Punjab and Amrinder Singh is a spent force, it is unlikely that the Punjabis would be carried away by him. They, in fact, would rather prefer the SKP (the conglomeration of 22 farmer groups out of 32), who have struggled for the last one year, protesting on the Delhi borders against the three so-called “draconian” farm laws.


AAP and Kejrival have bright prospects
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his party, AAP, have bright prospects, not only in Punjab, but also in Goa, the two States, where they have been focusing, besides Gujarat, where elections are due at the end of this year. Besides AAP, Mamata Banerjee’s party, the Trinamool Congress, has also set its sights on the small State of Goa. Though both the leaders, Arvind Kejriwal and Mamata Banerjee, are considered to be good friends, both are competing with one another for more seats. The contest is primarily between Congress and the BJP, but AAP and TMC may play spoilsport, by splitting the secular votes and thus benefiting the BJP.
The political wizard Prashant Kishor has been camping in Goa for several months, strategizing to garner a sizable number of votes for Mamata. Both the regional parties are struggling to become national players, in the fight to fill-up the vacuum, being caused by the waning popularity of the Congress.
With the Election Commission banning political rallies, the elections will be fought for the first time in social media and virtual conferences. Though the BJP has an edge over other political parties, due to their wider outreach, eventually it is the performance & the ideology of the political parties in the last five-years that really counts. The issues that will weigh over the minds of the people are the issues relating to inflation, communal harmony, how the government dealt with the Covid crisis, national security, law & order, empowerment of women, youth’s employment, inflation, etc. Depending on which party you are siding with, you will accordingly see whether the glass is half-empty or half-full. The last-minute campaigning does not really make a difference except for the miniscule fence-sitters.


Politicians entire future in stake
Though for most of the Indians, especially for the elite, elections have lost major significance, for the politicians, their entire future is at stake. These Assembly elections will decide whether the charisma of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is still intact, or is he losing his popularity and whether the performance of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is up to the mark or has he failed to perform.
The popularity of Arvind Kerjriwal and Mamata Banerjee will also be on test, both of whom are looking beyond their States. However, for the Gandhi siblings, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi, their future trajectory depends on these election results. If they fail to dislodge the BJP from Uttarakhand and if they perform miserably in Punjab, Goa and Manipur, they themselves may be kicked-out from their own party.
The Congress rebels, the G23, are waiting anxiously to strike and with the failure of the Congress in the Assembly polls, their task of replacing Rahul Gandhi with a person outside the Gandhi dynasty will be much easier. The Congress Presidential elections are due in September and by fielding a dynamic leader in front of Rahul Gandhi, they may get rid of the Gandhis for forever.


Gandhis cannot win them elections now
Gandhis have been a guiding force, who have acted as a glue to keep the party united. However, if the Gandhis cannot win them elections, the party workers will be left with no option but to look beyond the Congress First Family. Senior leaders in the party have been unhappy with the functioning of the Gandhi siblings. While some leaders have been candid to disown them, others are being patient so far. However, their patience is running out, as not only is the very existence of the party at stake, but also their own individual careers. Not all are like Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jitin Prasad, Hementa Biswa Sarma and others, who can easily desert their own party, looking for greener pastures.
For the Congress, the post-election scenario will be interesting to watch. With the debacle in most of the States, either the party will split, with Rahul Gandhi on one side and Rebels on the other; or party leaders will all fall in line if Rahul Gandhi finally accepts the post of Congress President. He has been dilly-dallying to take up the responsibility for over 2 years now.
There is also a third option, where Rahul Gandhi refuses to take up the mantle and the family baton is passed to Priyanka Gandhi by her mother Sonia Gandhi. It is a Do-or-Die Battle for the Congress and the Gandhis.
(The writer is Delhi-based Senior Journalist and Political Commentator)

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