Elections 2019: Confused Congress sending mixed signals

If you cannot confront your enemy, confuse him. This seems to be the strategy of the Congress, though disastrous, in the electoral war for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

The Congress party president Rahul Gandhi’s statement that he is not fighting the Communist Party (Marxist) in Kerala and that he will not utter a word against the “brothers and sisters” of the CPM has tied both the Left Front and the United Democratic Front in knots.

While the Left was first confounded, it was quick to regroup and throw out Rahul’s offer; the state unit of the Congress was confused for an answer. In a late reaction, the local unit too has rejected their party president’s stand and has decided to fight the CPM tooth and nail in every constituency.

Rahul’s candidature in Wayanad too sent out confusing signals. Was he fighting the Left or the BJP? The Congress chief said he is fighting Narendra Modi. But neither Modi nor the BJP is a force in Wayanad; it is the CPM.

“I know that CPM and Congress are locked in a fight in Kerala and this fight will go on. But I want to make it very clear to my brothers and sisters in Kerala and to my brothers and sisters in CPM, I understand that the CPM has to attack and that they have to fight, but I am not going to say a word against the CPM. I am here to send a message for unity and to send a message that South India is important.”

Rahul Gandhi

That left everyone confused. If a message had to be sent out, why not from Karnataka or Tamil Nadu?

The attitude to confuse and make parties wait seems to be ingrained in the genetic makeup of the Congress. But it is expressing itself more under Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. This has made regional and ideological partners angry and fed up with the Congress.  Many, including the Left, are upset at the Grand Old Party’s big-brother attitude.

Here are some examples of how mercurial and indecisive Big Brother can get:

In Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) have started showing signs of irritation over ‘my way or highway’ attitude of the Congress.

In West Bengal, the Left Front parties were puzzled by the Congress’ delay and evasiveness over seat sharing. One day the Congress was all for an alliance only to call it off the next day.

In Delhi, the Congress played cat and mouse with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Fed up, AAP then decided to go it alone. Even after the AAP decided to contest all seats, the Congress sent out a message that it was still mulling on whether to ally with AAP or not.

In Karnataka, the Congress is sending out confused signals. In some constituencies, its party workers are known to be working against candidates put up by alliance partner- the JD(S). Though Gandhi shared dais with JD(S) supremo HD Deve Gowda and Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy last week to assure that every Congress worker will work for the JD(S), the ground reality is otherwise.

A classic case is Mandya where Congress party workers are openly campaigning for independent candidate Sumalatha Ambareesh and not Nikhil, the son of Kumaraswamy who is the JD(S) candidate.

On the national canvas, the Congress party’s inability to make up its mind and the overarching desire for the prime ministerial chair led to the collapse of the ‘Mahagatbandhan’. Many regional parties are angry with the Congress for becoming an impediment in forging a viable anti-Modi, anti-BJP alliance. The Congress either thought it humiliating to step down a bit or had the attitude that it was a national party ordained to set the agenda for others.

Smaller regional parties like the TDP, JD(S) and DMK grudgingly concede that the Congress is a key player in Opposition unity. But they too feel that the Congress should be willing to negotiate and concede some ground or even be willing to play second fiddle to the other anti-BJP parties.

Part of the Congress problem is due to the deep divide within the party. There is one group that favours alliances and the other, mostly the old guards, which wants the party to regain its ‘glorious days.’ As the Congress fights its internal battles, caste and social groups, once supporters of the Congress have drifted to other parties – the Dalits to the BSP,  upper-caste brahmins, especially in Uttar Pradesh, to the BJP, the Muslims to the SP-BSP combine.

Old guards feel that the Congress should not give too much space to regional parties because the party will then cease to exist. It happened in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Odisha.

The central question is what kind of party the Congress should be. Once that is resolved, the confusion may end.

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