Preparing for 2024 Parliamentary Polls

Congress high command makes an attempt to effect generational change
Voters stand in the queues to cast their votes at a polling booth, during the first phase of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly Election, in Agra on Thursday. [Image for representational purpose only]
Voters stand in the queues to cast their votes at a polling booth, during the first phase of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly Election, in Agra on Thursday. [Image for representational purpose only]File/ ANI

While hesitating from the option of drastic reforms in the Grand Old party, which has been primarily responsible for the refusal of strategist Prashant Kishor to join the party, some corrective measures have been recently taken by the high command, hence changed the state unit chiefs in Haryana, Himachal and Punjab with the hope to positioning itself for 2024 parliamentary polls.

Challenge in about half a dozen states

Congress high command, however, has got bigger challenge to rectify the gaps and check growing dissensions in some states to send proper message to party cadres, infuse energy and resolve the crisis; it includes Gujarat, Bihar, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka etc .Gujarat tops the list as it goes to polls in November this year.

Hence it warrants urgent attention especially when acting president Hardik Patel seems to be on his way out after blaming state leaders for harassing and creating hurdles to sideline him and high command is not taking any action against them..

Bihar Congress chief, Madan Mohan Jha has resigned from his post after meeting Rahul in New Delhi hence high command will have to opt for change to end the uncertainty.

Odisha state unit chief, Niranjan Patnaik, too offered to quit, to pave way for appointing new incumbent. Patnaik has been facing revolt in state unit and felt the dire need of giving responsibility to some senior leader.

An identical dismal scenario prevails in Karnataka and Chattisgarh which might witness change of the guards in near future.

A decisive corrective step

Analysts opine that Congress high command has taken an decisive step in Haryana, thereby replacing Kumari Shaileja and appointing former chief minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s loyalist, Uday Bhan as state chief which might serve twin purpose.

First, it will help in weaning away Hooda from G23 group as he is the only leader in this bunch of senior party leaders who enjoy the mass support, whereas others are more confined to the drawing room politics in Delhi.

Congress is in opposition in Haryana but much awaited change may help the party to prepare for Lok Sabha polls which assumes a lot of significance for strengthening the base in the state.

Second, Hooda has got influence amongst the jats and new state chief Bhan belongs to the scheduled caste community which can make formidable combinations to take on Bhartiya Janta Party in Lok Sabha, and assembly polls in future. Bhan is the son of infamous politician Gaya Lal who is associated with the colloquial “AYA RAM GAYA RAM’ and has changed the party thrice in single day.

The new state chief is a Dalit who might create an impact amongst his community. Ashok Tanwar also held this post when he replaced Hooda and now he has joined AAP.

This is for the first time when high command took timely decisions unlike the appointment of Hooda who got negligible time to settle and put the house in order though Congress still increased its tally from 16 to 31 in 2019 assembly polls.

Banking on late Virbhadra’s legacy in Himachal

In the neighboring state of Himachal, high command took timely decision and appointed Pratibha Singh wife of six time chief minister, late Virbhadra Singh, as new state president to derive the advantage of his legacy during the ensuing November assembly elections.

State president faces several challenges which include creating a balance between old and new areas of Pradesh, enlisting the support of senior factional leaders having inflated egos, motivating party cadres, covering all 68 assembly segments because the rest of the leaders will be confined to their respective constituencies owing to limited reach and impact amongst the people.

Pratibha will derive an advantage from Ex CM’s sympathy factor and his mass support in the entire state.

Political observers opine that Pratibha Singh inherits an organisation which is still plagued by factionalism though former president Kuldeep Rathore tried his best to appease senior leaders with limited success.

But their inflated ego acted as a hindrance which is bound to continue. But one thing will go to the advantage of new state chief; that very little time is left for ensuing assembly elections and everyone will have to focus on his constituency to win the respective seat, hence no time for infighting.

According to highly placed sources in high command, feedback received from different channels weighed heavily in favor of Pratibha Singh which included potential of legacy of late Virbhadra to mobilise the voters.

Prashnat Kishor’s strategy also contributed in this sudden shift to Virbhadra inheritance which may be exploited statewide through his wife whereas rest of the leaders are confined to their respective constituency.

Experts say other committees do have relevance but state president is a key figure who will tour all 68 constituencies thereby creating a special space for future role if the party comes to power.

Analysts opine that several factors went in favor of Pratibha Singh which helped in outsmarting other aspirants . First, her reputation has travelled to entire state after winning Mandi Lok sabha seat despite being under the shock of demise of her husband. Second, legacy of late CM, Virbahdra Singh still ranks high amidst the masses and his wife is likely to create an emotional connect.

Third, entire Virbhadra lobby which constitutes 70 percent of MLAs, ex MLAs, senior leaders, and party cadres may be highly charged after giving his wife new responsibility.

Fourth, women voters may also be swayed and Prinyanka’s policy of giving preference to women will be re-emphasised with evidence. Fifth, she is an MP hence does not need to contest election; hence available for all assembly segments.

On the other hand, none of the present MLAs or senior leaders enjoys support outside his or her constituency. Sixth, Virbhadra legacy has got sympathy amongst the employees also as Ex CM gave maximum to them during his regime but now they are upset with BJP government due to rejection of old pension demand which may have serious fallout in the assembly elections and it may be highlighted by new PCC chief.

Seventh, her acceptance is likely to be witnessed in old and new areas of Himachal due to goodwill of six time CM, Virbhadra. Eighth, Rajputs constitute 37.5 percent and she belongs to this caste which will counter BJP’s current CM Jai Ram Thakur and it does matter in politics.

Ninth, she is cool and knows the art of dealing the public which has been learnt from her late husband and it may work for the party.

Giving priority to Malwa region in Punjab

High command had earlier named Amarinder Raja Warring as the state unit head which can be attributed to appease Malwa region where AAP had swept the polls and Congress could win only two seats. Warring is considered close to Rahul Gandhi and headed Indian youth congress before assembly polls in the state.

Warring faces serious challenge of checking internal dissensions as he is unlikely to get support from Navjot Singh Sidhu group as well as Sunil Jhakar who might be on his way-out as he is likely to face strict action thereby ensuing his exit from the party.

Political observers say that High command has opted for fresh face in Himachal, Haryana and Punjab which is aimed at induction of younger generation which is a stark shift in its old strategy of sticking to “OLDIES’ and it may obviously help to take on BJP and AAP in several states thereby benefiting in 2024 parliamentary elections.

(K.S. TOMAR is political analyst)

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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