The Congress made a strenuous effort to energise its workers for the electoral battles ahead at the party plenary that concluded on Sunday, pitching itself as the real alternative to BJP while also expressing its willingness to cooperate with like-minded parties to unseat the Modi government in 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The session, with fiery speeches of Congress President Rahul Gandhi and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, gave an inkling that the 2019 battle will be keenly fought and the campaign could get bitter as the election approaches.
The Congress gave indications that it will run a relentless campaign, try to set the agenda for the polls ahead and seek to put the Modi government on the defensive on various issues.
Amid calls for sustained hard work to make Rahul Gandhi the Prime Minister in 2019, the party signalled it would not shirking from a presidential-style contest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Much will depend on the outcome of the verdict in states going to the polls this year, Karnataka first and Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh later this year. Except for Karnataka, the Congress and BJP are locked in a direct contest in the three other states.
The three-day plenary took place at a time when efforts are underway to forge a third front of parties opposed to BJP as also the Congress.
The speeches and the resolutions adopted at the plenary were a reaffirmation of the Congress claim of being the natural leader of the grouping of anti-BJP parties.
The Congress faces a stupendous challenge of building a counter-narrative against Modi to weaken his credibility among the people, win back sections that have drifted away and match the BJP’s deftness as a poll-fighting machine. But it also has a natural advantage as a challenger to the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and to the Modi government in 2019. In these battles, the BJP will be tasked with defending the performance of its governments and beat anti-incumbency. The Congress is also keen to make Modi’s 2014 pitch of ‘acche din’ an albatross around the BJP’s neck.
Rahul Gandhi, who took over as party chief in December from his mother Sonia Gandhi, sought to energise the party rank and file and promised to address their grouse that well-connected within the party often ‘parachute’ down at the time of ticket allocation at the cost of genuine, dedicated workers.
He also promised to make party leaders more accessible to workers by breaking the ‘walls’ and giving more tickets to the youth.
With several state units plagued by factionalism, Gandhi indicated that he would enforce discipline so that party’s effort at winning elections is not wrecked in any way.
He framed the 2019 battle as a fight for truth by the Congress and for power by the BJP, likening it to the clash between the Pandavas and the Kauravas during the Mahabharata battle.
The ‘worker-centric’ gathering was held in a different format than the past plenaries with leaders were not seated on the stage.
Rahul Gandhi said he had kept the stage empty for talented youth from within the party and outside.
Sonia Gandhi exhorted party rank and file not to think of personal egos and ambitions and work with determination to face challenges that are not ordinary. While the party’s political resolution talked of adopting a pragmatic approach for cooperation with all like-minded parties and evolving a common workable programme to defeat the BJP-RSS in the 2019 elections, its leaders, in their speeches, exhorted workers to work for party’s victory in the general elections.
They also said that Congress was the only party that can reverse the ‘ill-effects’ of BJP’s economic policies. There was hope that Rahul Gandhi would unfurl the Tricolour from the Red Fort in 2019.
There was also hope that Congress will ‘once again’ become a party that represents the aspirations and expectations of all the communities and is the anchor of the political and social dialogue.
While the party’s four comprehensive resolutions, political, economic, foreign affairs and on `agriculture, unemployment and poverty alleviation’ sought to address concerns of various sections of society, Rahul Gandhi, in his concluding speech, focused on youth and farmers, two sections that are perceived to be getting disenchanted with the Modi government and represent a vast section of population. More than half of country’s population is dependent on agriculture for livelihood and almost two-thirds of the population is below the age of 35.
The Congress has suffered a string of reverses after its debacle in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls but its performance in Gujarat assembly polls and victory in Lok Sabha bypolls in Rajasthan has boosted the morale of party workers.