By choosing former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar as the joint Opposition nominee to take on the ruling dispensation’s candidate, Ram Nath Kovind, for the Presidential polls, the Congress, which played a stellar role in convincing its 16 allies, seems to have erred badly. The move is unlikely to reap political dividends, since Kumar, unlike her father, the late Babu Jagjivan Ram, is a lightweight, who, in spite of holding prominent positions, has been unable to garner support across party lines. In fact, her projection has ensured that Kovind may win the elections with a higher number of votes than even Pratbiha Patil and Pranab Mukherjee in 2007 and 2012 respectively as a consequence of cross voting in parties backing her.

The Congress, in particular, should have played its cards keeping in mind its consolidation plans for the future, instead of remaining trapped in the Dalit-Minority mindset that has not yielded results in the past several years. The Dalit vs Dalit contest suits the BJP significantly more than it fits into the game plan the Congress would like to adhere to for the forthcoming elections. It has been observed that the Dalits have demonstrated a clear preference for other parties over the Congress and in Uttar Pradesh have thrown their lot behind Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj Party. Similarly, Muslims have opted for the Samajwadi Party, the BSP and other regional outfits, rather than supporting the Congress, which continues to suffer on account of the prevailing perception that it had tilted towards the minorities in the past few years.

It is evident that the Congress has lost the initiative and has been driven into making choices by its associates, who have their own political agenda and ideological scores to settle. The Lalus and the Yechurys are shrewd politicians, who have managed to take advantage of the political ambiguity of the Congress high command. Inside the Congress, a handful of advisers of party president Sonia Gandhi have apparently cast a spell on her to persuade her to agree on matters that are not in the immediate interests of the organisation.

The top leadership of the Congress has arrived at the decision without giving a toss of a thought over the fallout of the presidential contest. When the BJP, primarily an upper caste party, announced the name of a Dalit nominee, the Congress should not have fallen into the trap by doing likewise declaring a Dalit candidate. It was under no duress and coercion of any kind and should have instead made a politically prudent decision of wooing back its Brahmin vote bank, which stood by it during Indira Gandhi’s time till P.V. Narasimha Rao’s prime ministership. Therefore, the party, in a carefully calibrated move, should have declared a prominent Brahmin as its candidate. This would have sent a redoubtable signal to the Brahmin community, which continues to wield considerable influence in a caste surcharged political atmosphere. An upper caste contender too would have had an appeal in sections of the Sangh Parivar in general and the BJP in particular.

It would have gone in the favour of the Congress if it had taken into account the mood within the Sangh Parivar following the stupefying declaration of Kovind. It is beyond doubt that not everyone is comfortable within the BJP with the choice and if there is pin-drop silence it is because politicians have perfected the art of often swallowing the bitter pill. Most politicos also lack the pluck to express themselves openly. Since the NDA has the numbers on its side, it would have not been about winning the polls, but in reclaiming its lost ground amongst communities which once formed the backbone of the Congress.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is an astute politician, who visibly comprehends the chinks in the armour of his opponents. His moves are well thought through and are aimed at astonishing even his closest supporters. He is determined to make the Prime Minister’s Office and position count in the scheme of things, in sharp contrast to the situation as it existed during the UPA regime, where Dr Manmohan Singh played second fiddle to even Rahul Gandhi.

On the other hand, Sonia Gandhi, who led her party to victory in two successive Lok Sabha elections and Assembly polls in more than 16 states during her career, continues to be the prisoner of her coterie. She has failed to correct the perception against the Congress, which is publicly seen as an outfit that abandoned its balanced secular credentials by careening heavily towards the minorities and Dalits, resulting in the alienation of other castes and communities. It makes no difference to her whether any candidate she supports has been a Congress loyalist or not. Most of her picks are from among people she chose after assuming the office of the party chief. In plain speak, she is a confirmed status quoits, so much so she has not been able to give up her own position to make way for her son, Rahul Gandhi, who continues to wait in the wings to be her successor.

The presidential polls are the precursor to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The Opposition is groping in the dark, while Modi is conquering one frontier after the other. Meira Kumar is a non starter and Kovind will win hands down. Between us.

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