The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cannot afford the Congress stimulus and will do anything to keep it on a ventilator. Two events are in the works for the do-or-die battle for the future of Congress. How they unfold will determine whether the party survives. The BJP will no doubt go to great lengths to undermine them.
The first event is the Congressional mega-rally against rising prices and rising unemployment scheduled for Sunday, September 4. Just three days later, Congress will launch its biggest mass mobilization effort in recent times – a 3,500km march, dubbed “Bharat Jodo Yatra” (BJY) from Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu to Srinagar in Jammu and Cashmere. He hopes that by channeling support from unemployed youth, farmers and workers across the country, the way will be paved for its revival and set a new political agenda for the party.
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The BJP will surely try to create a series of counter narratives using friendly media. Distractions will be fabricated to divert public attention from the economic and social issues raised by the BJY. Some elements of the BJP’s strategy are slowly revealing themselves.
Congress rebel Ghulam Nabi Azad could be an important cog in this scenario. He continued to attack Rahul Gandhi and Congress despite his exit from the party. He has now announced the launch of his new party in Jammu on September 4, the same day Congress begins its ‘Mehangai par halla bol’ or anti-price hike rally at Delhi’s iconic Ramlila Ground. Coincidentally, Azad’s exit from Congress on August 22 was timed to clash with the Congressional press conference on his plan to rally against rising prices. Azad’s five-page resignation letter abusing Rahul Gandhi managed to hijack the event. Its subsequent meetings attacking Congress also coincided with congressional media briefings in various states, listing the dates and locations of public BJY meetings. Azad’s shadow hanging over every event associated with the BJY suggests that it is not just in Jammu and Kashmir that he is ready to be the BJP’s cat.
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The Azad rally in Jammu precedes the Congress anti-price rally in Delhi on the morning of September 4 by hours. a few hours before. The mainstream media, eager to please the regime in power, will be very happy to capitalize on juicy commentary and amplify it to crowd out a debate about rising prices, unemployment and the economy. These are issues on which the Modi government is backtracking.
Azad’s rally could further undermine the Congress rally in Delhi if national leaders associated with the G-23 Congress rebel group were to share the platform with Azad in Jammu.
To make its Ramlila Ground rally a success, the Congress will mainly depend on gathering crowds from neighboring Haryana as around 40-50% of the audience at such rallies in Delhi are usually from Haryana. The mobilization of Rajasthan and Delhi comes just behind. The party will have to count on the support of Haryana’s Congress leader, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who is nevertheless an original member of the rebel group G-23. He even visited Azad days after planning his exit from Congress. If Hooda shares Azad’s apprehensions and fails to rally crowds for the Ramlila Ground rally, the BJP’s propaganda machine will go into overdrive to declare it a failure. A ripple effect could be felt on the BJY as Sunday’s anti-price rally should provide momentum for the long march of Congress.
However, such tactics may not completely bombard the BJY. The march will begin in Tamil Nadu, with the participation of the state’s chief minister, MK Stalin, and where the BJP does not enjoy a significant mass base. It then passes through several states in South India, where the Congress has a substantial framework and is expected to organize a successful march because of this. The tone and political narrative of the BJY will therefore be set long before it moves north, where its support is weaker. Hopefully, the momentum generated in the South will propel its success nationwide.
Will such logistical planning ensure the success of the BJY? Whether he succeeds in generating a new political narrative will largely depend on whether Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is willing to follow his chops. Will he compete in BJY all the way, without the sudden breaks he was criticized for earlier? If his participation is consistent, he will have refuted the BJP’s propaganda of being a reluctant politician who is erratic in his political engagement. If, however, he were to leave the yatra suddenly or take a break, then the consequences for him and Congress would be disastrous – reinforcing all negative stereotypes about his leadership of the party.
The Long March is taking place simultaneously with the Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat elections. Although the BJY bypasses these states, it will have a direct impact on the campaign and election atmosphere there. The Congress requested and apparently received the promise of the participation of certain NGOs and civil society organizations. This could be a boon both in terms of mobilizing attendees for the BJY and broadening the political appeal of the Congress. The BJP can be expected to ridicule supporters such as the “Urban Naxals”. But once again, if it is not coherent, Congress risks losing the support of civil society, which is essential to restore it to good political health.
This is clearly a watershed moment for Congress and its leaders. As the BJP tries its best to thwart them, can they rise to the occasion?
(Bharat Bhushan is a Delhi-based journalist)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.