Monday, February 27, 2017

Don't Ignore The Wake-up Call

Pankaj Sharma |  26 Feb 2017 |  
New Delhi 

It is a wake-up call for the Congress in Mumbai. Going down to its worst ever performance in Brahanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections in the past two decades and losing various civic bodies across Maharashtra which were past Congress' strongholds is a clear sign of the ground level situation. Despite the Centre's harebrained demonetisation exercise, if the Bharatiya Janata Party can increase its tally by three-fold in the financial capital of the country, I must say, either the economists predicting dark days are half-literate, or the electorate has no sense of responsibility at all, and therefore, they have a government they deserve. But on top of this, it's time for Congress leadership to act decisively. BJP not only got 82 seats in BMC but was a winner in 8 out of 10 municipal corporations. It also won Congress and NCP strongholds like Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad. BJP has also emerged a clear winner in most of the 147 municipal councils that govern the small cities of Maharashtra. Congress and NCP were ruling the majority of these councils till now. The results from Mumbai and rest of Maharashtra are significant as the elections were held amid cash crisis caused by demonetisation. Unable to take advantage of the distress among the people and make a political comeback, anti-BJP forces, especially the Congress, will have to prepare a reliable roadmap to streamline states. The move of demonetisation has severely affected the rural areas. But the results from Maharashtra do not show many indications of people's subtle anger. Though the decline of Congress in urban parts of Maharashtra is also something which goes against standard logic, its decline in agricultural fields is beyond imagination. BJP and Shiv Sena parted ways bitterly before the municipal elections, but Congress and NCP utterly failed to capitalise on the public spat between the decades' old allies. If not the state leaders, who else is responsible for the lethargy flowing in the veins of Mumbai and Maharashtra Congress? An absence of dynamic leaders, uncontrolled inner-party squabbles and a crumbling organisation have all contributed to a recent situation in a state that had been a strong base of the Congress party even at the worst of times. The Congress party is passing through a situation for past two and a half year where President Sonia Gandhi and Vice President Rahul Gandhi seem to make every effort to revive their organisation, but some of the influential satraps seem indifferent. Rahul has been trying very hard to revive Congress by touring across the country. He paid numerous visits to Mumbai and districts of Maharashtra and interacted with different sections of the society and held meetings with the district and block-level leaders. He also had discussions with elected Congress members of BMC as early as in March 2013. I recall Rahul interacting with the students of Mumbai's Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies in the third week of January 2016 where he told them, "when I was younger and sitting where you are I used to think lots of things need to be changed and change is relatively easy.   Now, with experience, I know that change is not that easy". The realisation in him was indicative of the fact that he has not been getting the expected results out of his herculean efforts to rejuvenate his party. But it never affected him. With time, Rahul emerged as a larger-hearted, more forgiven, and flexible person. He granted the current chief of the Mumbai Regional Congress Committee a reprieve even after the publication of an article in the official party journal that showed Nehru-Gandhi family in a poor light. He had also warned the warring party leaders during this visit and told them that "My job is to help increase the peace, but if anger increases then my job will be to discipline you all". Rahul again visited Mumbai in the third week of April in 2016 when he toured the Deonar garbage dump yard, and it made headlines. His visit exposed the several fires that were broken out in the eastern suburb over the last few months and how the people of the area were living under the layers of thick, toxic smoke. 12 million tonnes of garbage had piled onto 300 acres of land and Rahul's visit had the potential to make it a major campaign point for BMC elections. No one knows if local leadership could take up the responsibility to keep the issue alive after Rahul left the city or not. Factionalism in Mumbai Congress was giving sleepless nights to the Central leadership of the Congress party that Rahul called the warring factions to Delhi in the second week of July last year and apparently told them that they must work together ahead of crucial civic polls as he would ensure accountability if BMC results are not favourable. In the two-hour long meeting, Rahul gave Mumbai leaders a well-designed strategy plan that can enable the Congress to have unprecedented gains in the backdrop of bitter quarrels between Shiv Sena and BJP. Had the plan been implemented with full honesty, BMC results would have been different. Had the state leaders made honest efforts, the results of the civic bodies and Zila Parishads would have given Congress the boost it needed in the midway of Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. Though the results from Mumbai and Maharashtra will have no direct impact on the remaining phases in UP polls, such outcomes always inject a sense of demoralisation among the workers. This has raised the level of spirit in BJP the hangover of whose leaders had already been visible in campaigning. Therefore, Mumbai outcome is not something that can be brushed aside. Congress leadership will have to understand the tricks of many clever satraps with which they ensure that the reliance on a moribund model of patronage politics never dies. They know how to position to be the sole beneficiaries at the cost of the organisational base. There is no way other than ruthlessly getting rid of those state leaders who are highly deficient in political chlorophyll and sucking the mother plant to strengthen themselves for years.

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