Where is Congress during bulldozer drives? Exactly where it should be | Views

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It’s been long since the Congress managed to score a big electoral win. Despite going all out in Uttar Pradesh, the party was faced with an embarrassing defeat. After a drubbing in the assembly elections in five states, including Punjab where the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) toppled its government, it seems the party is latching on to its last hope — Rahul Gandhi.

The Congress pulled all its strings in UP. From being there with the families of the Unnao rape victim to meeting the kin of victims in the Lakhimpur Kheri incident, the party left no stone unturned to make a mark in the crucial elections. From being detained to being put under house arrest, Congress leaders were in no mood to relent in the state. But the result was far from what anybody expected, even as the ruling BJP was under fire for a ravaging Covid pandemic and massive farmer protests. However, despite all that, the Congress managed to win only two seats.

Questions are being asked of the Congress about its absence on the ground during demolition drives in several states in the wake of communal clashes. Even though the youth wing of the Congress did stage demonstrations, an organised protest was missing. But nothing more should be expected as the party itself is in tatters with leaders jumping the ship and veterans demanding changes. It is wiser for the Congress to focus on the Gujarat polls, where it made significant gains in 2017 with 77 seats while the BJP won with 99 seats. Even if the Congress were to protest on the ground, one cannot say with certainty that it would have been able to make any difference.

Comparisons were drawn to Brinda Karat who blocked a bulldozer in Delhi’s Jahangirpuri recently, but the diminishing Left with no hope of returning to power could risk that, not the Congress. If the Congress had done so, the ruling BJP and most probably even the public would not have held back from accusing the party of backing rioters. At a moment when the party badly needs some numbers, it’s foolish to expect that kind of commitment without votes. In an ideal society, Rahul Gandhi should have stood before a bulldozer. In an ideal society, houses would not be razed without due process. But this is not an ideal society and utopian ideas won’t help get votes.

The perception of the Congress has become that of a party that engages in mere lip service on Twitter in times when support is needed on the ground. But, can the party afford to be on ground zero? Maybe not, and here’s why.

Several leaders of the Congress have jumped ship to join the BJP. With months ahead of the Gujarat polls, it lost its Patidar leader Hardik Patel, who recently joined the BJP. There’s infighting within the Congress with the group of G-23 leaders openly criticising the grand old party, and seeking organisational reforms. A mere few members are loyal. At this moment, right ahead of the Gujarat polls, when interim president Sonia Gandhi is struggling with health issues, it’s madness to expect the Congress to stand in front of bulldozers instead of standing with Rahul Gandhi.

With a few loyal leaders, consecutive poll drubbings and an unwell Sonia Gandhi, the party would be nothing short of a headless chicken without Rahul Gandhi. But it should also have been present at demolition drives to at least build a better public image. While the BJP tore into the Gandhi scion for partying at a friend’s wedding when communal clashes raged in Rajasthan. But the timing of the ED probe right ahead of the Gujarat polls could also be questioned. It cannot be ignored that several opposition parties have accused the BJP of using central agencies to its benefit ahead of crucial elections.

Read: Nehru’s National Herald to Gandhis’ Young India. Why ED has gone for big game hunting

Similar raids were conducted on the aides of Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav ahead of the UP elections. Ahead of the Punjab elections, it was former Punjab Chief Minister and Congress leader Charanjit Singh Channi who was under the radar of the probe agency. The Central Bureau of Investigation had issued summons to top TMC leaders, including MP Abhishek Banerjee in separate cases ahead of the Bengal polls.

Polarisation is also another talking point. What kind of message would it send if the Congress were to obstruct the demolition drives in UP and Delhi post communal clashes? Such a position, which could be portrayed as an affinity towards a certain minority community, could have hurt the Congress in the upcoming Gujarat polls. Even Kejriwal, ahead of the Delhi polls, refused to visit Shaheen Bagh which was the hotbed of protest in India against the NRC and CAA.

But, everything aside, the Congress has scope to improve when it comes to the optics game. It was not wise to be seen partying when Rajasthan, a state ruled by the party, was witnessing communal violence.

It must also be considered that Rahul Gandhi lacks Nehruvian popularity. Unlike Jawaharlal Nehru or Indira Gandhi, he does not have the support of the masses on the ground. When a Mamata (Banerjee) is attacked, the mass rallies behind the leader, but for Rahul Gandhi, it is only Congress workers. If the probe on Rahul Gandhi failed to garner any protest or show of support, that would have further diminished the fading image of the Congress. The party has a tough task at hand to build a larger public acceptance of its leader.

However, the public is also largely divided. While one group is attacking the Congress for its lack of presence on the ground, the other is cheering and lauding the ruling government’s ‘swift action’ against rioters. If the Congress were to criticise, the odds are more that it would score another self-goal. At a time like this, when the public consensus on the issue of bulldozer drives stands largely divided, coupled with the boiling political cauldron of the nation, nothing more should be expected of the Congress other than keeping its party alive.

Sandwiched between the aggressive BJP and the AAP, and with a limited number of MPs, the Congress is just hanging by a thread. The perception of the party has already been tarnished. Now, it has no option other than staying close to Rahul Gandhi.

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