Rahul Gandhi’s recent observation, which sought to compare voters of his previous constituency and the present one, has been widely criticized within Congress circles. The former party chief had stated that the voters in Kerala were more perceptive and took issues seriously, which was in sharp contrast to the superficial manner in how the voters in Amethi addressed important matters.
Although Rahul has not clarified the context in which the statement was made, yet the impression is that he was unnecessarily creating a divide between the North and South. Several senior leaders are of the view that unlike the BJP, the Congress has never pursued divisive politics, particularly of creating a wedge between the electorate of the North and South.
The general opinion is that the mandate of the people should always be respected regardless of the region, and no attempt should ever be made to belittle one part at the cost of the other. Aditi Singh, a dissident Congress MLA has sought Rahul’s apology for running down the people of Amethi who had thrice elected him, and since 1980 had by and large stood with the family and the party.
Rahul, it appears, is oblivious of the fact that if the Congress does not have any government in the South, it has to blame itself. Both in 2004 and 2009, the UPA came to power on the strength of the overwhelming support the people of undivided Andhra Pradesh provided to the grand old party. However, after the tragic demise in a helicopter crash of Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy in 2009, the party high command made one mistake after the other.
To begin with, it decided to divide the state despite the fact that there was no vocal support for the creation of Telangana at that point of time. Shortly before midnight on Sonia Gandhi’s birthday on 9 December 2009, P. Chidambaram declared that the state would be bifurcated.
The party had, after YSR’s death, alienated his family and had appointed K. Rosaiah, who during his younger days had abused Indira Gandhi, as the Chief Minister. The unsubstantiated allegation was that Rosaiah had no support on the ground but was anointed the Chief Minister, after his community coughed out a lot of money.
Rosaiah was later replaced by a one-time YSR loyalist and cricketer Kiran Reddy, but the slide had already begun. YSR’s family was being targeted by the ruling dispensation of that period and Jagan Mohan Reddy and his mother both faced hostile government agencies. Telangana was created leading to strong resentment in what was left of Andhra Pradesh. Thus in 2014, the Congress lost its biggest vote bank in the South when it lost both the states.
Karnataka was another region which had a strong Congress presence. In 1999, in the epic electoral battle between Sonia Gandhi and Sushma Swaraj from Bellary, the electorate had chosen the then Congress president. Even in the late 1970s, when Indira Gandhi was being hounded by the Janata Party, she was elected to the Lok Sabha from Chikamagalur defeating Veerendra Patil, though Parliament expelled her despite her resounding victory.
Both Karnataka and Andhra had backed the Congress even in 1977. In fact, barring one seat in Andhra which was won by Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, all others were bagged by the Congress at that time. In Karnatake, the late Devraj Urs, the then Chief Minister stood like a rock behind Indira Gandhi till they parted ways subsequently.
In Tamil Nadu, the Congress played the balancing game between the two Dravid parties. It had a substantial vote share that could tilt the scale in favour of one party or the other, particularly during the Parliamentary elections. That advantage which the Congress enjoyed is no longer there. In adjoining Puducherry, the party till last week had a government in place which it lost in a floor test, primarily because of its own carelessness.
Kerala has always voted alternately for the Congress led front and the Left coalition. However, things are changing their rapidly and the current Chief Minister, P.Vijayan, has administered the state with exceptional ability. Political pundits do not rule out a fightback by the Congress but the general belief is that the Left Front is poised to retain the government. If that happens, the Congress will continue to be in the wilderness so far as South is concerned.
What should be worrying is that Rahul’s irresponsible statement could have wide ranging repercussions in the North, where the Congress needs to increase its numbers in 2024, if it wishes to revive itself. The party appears unprepared to take on the well-oiled BJP election machinery and it is unlikely that the status quo so far as the Lok Sabha goes would change drastically. In Uttar Pradesh, which goes to polls next year, the party’ strength is dwindling. Though Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has been made in-charge, she would have to do far more than what she is doing now to bring the party into any kind of reckoning. It would be a good idea to project her as a possible Chief Ministerial candidate but it is evident that she is looking towards larger objectives.
At present, Punjab and Haryana are the only two states where the Congress may do reasonably well. For this trend to continue, the high command must back Captain Amarinder Singh and Bhupinder Singh Hooda. There should be a larger role in the party for both Kamal Nath and Ashok Gehlot. Otherwise it is cul-de-sac. Between us.