New Delhi: The sudden developments in the Gujarat government where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had changed the chief minister and the entire cabinet, have also brought the spotlight on the other political formation of Gujarat, the main opposition party Indian National Congress (INC), as since the last 30 years, Gujarat has remained a bi-polar polity with the BJP and the Congress as the principal players. In the last three-and-a-half years, the Congress had lost its momentum which it gained in the 2017 Assembly polls and the recent municipal elections validate that as it not only lost badly, but also a new entrant, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), had started threatening its opposition space. Congress, which fought the 2017 Assembly elections with all its might, was successful in winning 77 seats in the Assembly of 182—22 short of the ruling BJP which won 99 seats. In the recent episode, the Congress targeted the ruling BJP, arguing that the removal of the entire cabinet had proved its charges that the government had failed on all parameters of governance, including Covid mismanagement, and is going to defeat the BJP in the upcoming polls which is 15 months away.
But, experts and analysts of Gujarat politics believe that to even put a formidable fight in front of the BJP in Gujarat, which is also the home state of both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, the party needs to put its own house in order first.
Anjani Kumar Misra, a political observer based in Gandhi Nagar and who had covered the state for more than 15-years, said: “Since the death of Rajiv Satav during the second wave of Covid, the high command had not appointed All India Congress Committee (AICC) in-charge for Gujarat. The reason that Congress was able to get 77 seats and perform well in the last Assembly poll was that the then AICC in-charge for Gujarat Ashok Gehlot was a very experienced person. He toured the entire state, energized the rank and file of the party, tried to correct the faults within the organization and roped in the anti-BJP social groups under the banner of Congress. But, would the new AICC in-charge be capable of that or would he get that time to understand a complicated state like Gujarat which is the fiefdom of the BJP’s top brass?
The name of Sachin Pilot is making the rounds for the job, but the high command hasn’t taken any decision. After the party’s debacle in the local body polls, the state Congress chief Amit Chavda and the leader of opposition (LoP) Paresh Dhanan quit their posts, taking responsibility for the loss, but after that the party had not appointed a full-time Congress president and its leader in the Assembly. Capable leaders like Hardik Patel who have potential to revive its fortune in the state have openly questioned the decision making process in Gujarat Congress. Therefore, the Congress needs a clear and aggressive Gujrat strategy. Moreover, Ahmed Patel is absent, which is a major setback for the party in the state.”
Congress leaders agreed that they need to overhaul the state organization as the elections are not far away. A senior Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) from the party, who is winning for three terms and wished to remain unnamed, said: “We are getting late in the run-up to the polls. After the somewhat satisfactory show in the last election, we lost the plot. The situation during the second Covid-19 wave, where the health system collapsed, had given us every chance to corner the government, but for that we needed to make key appointments in the state Congress. The BJP had realized it, but when would we realize it is the question. But, I am still hopeful. The loss of Ahmed Patel is big as he used to manage many things for the legislatures and leaders. Now, everything needs to be put in order in the next couple of months and we need to focus on rural constituencies.”