Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s image is at stake in the southern state.

 

New Delhi: There is no denying that the Kerala Assembly elections will, to a great extent, determine the political future of former Congress president Rahul Gandhi who happens to be the Lok Sabha MP from the southern state.

Interestingly, the Left is in direct contest with Congress in Kerala, while the former is an ally of the latter elsewhere. What has been seen is that Kerala elects LDF and Congress-led UDF every five years alternatively. This is one of the reasons why the Congress is hopeful of returning to power in the state.

However, the preliminary report does not augur well for the Congress. Taking cognizance of these indications, Congress interim chief Sonia Gandhi has given Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot the responsibility to improve party’s poll prospects in Kerala. Gehlot has been made senior observer. Gehlot has started his campaign as well. He recently visited Kerala and met leaders, giving them instructions about how to consolidate the party position.

The impact of Gehlot’s visit is visible as the Congress in Kerala has launched a massive campaign against the ruling LDF. The CLP leader Ramesh Chennithala has launched “Aishwarya Kerala Yatra”, taking all the leaders together. This march will conclude by the end of this month. Congress leaders in Kerala are being united with the help of this yatra. In fact, the Congress in Kerala has been divided into two factions. CLP leader Chennithala leads one group, while the other faction is led by former Kerala CM Oommen Chandy.

What is giving the Congress anxious moments is that the BJP is also sparing no effort to consolidate political ground in Kerala. The saffron outfit has been making efforts to make its presence felt in the state since 2014. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has been quite active in the state. Though the BJP is not in a position to make it big in Kerala, it might cause some damage to Congress in the elections. A defeat in Kerala will lead to Congress workers getting demoralized, which might have its bearing on its performance in other states. The prestige of Rahul Gandhi, who represents Wayanad Lok Sabha seat of Kerala, is also at stake. What is also of significance is that the election for Congress president will follow the five assembly polls which are to be held in the next couple of months.

Congress poll managers believe that if the party performs badly in Kerala then it will adversely impact its electoral prospects in big states such as Uttar Pradesh which will go to polls early next year. Congress does not seem to be doing well in the other four states, namely West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry which will go to polls along with Kerala. Apart from Rahul Gandhi being an MP from Kerala, key office-bearers of AICC such as KC Venugopal, Oommen Chandy and A.K. Antony are also from Kerala. The Congress stalwart Gehlot has also been assigned the task of Kerala. But despite all this, the Congress’ way forward in this crucial southern state is not easy. What is also being said is that the central Congress leadership could not gauge the fast changing ground political situation in Kerala.

The other problem for the Congress is its ally Muslim League. The BJP anchored its politics in Kerala on the issues which have a lot to do with religious sentiments. The Left also changed its political discourse, as a result of which the Congress got a massive setback in local body elections  recently. What is worrying the Congress strategists is that if Muslim Leagues insisted on contesting on more seats then the grand old party could suffer big electoral loss. In the last polls, Muslim League had contested 24 seats and won 22, whereas the Congress could win just 22 out of 87 seats it fought. That is why Muslim League is seeking more seats this time round. Congress wants to reduce the number of seats to be given to it.