Fresh hands for tired Congress - Hindustan Times
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Fresh hands for tired Congress

ByHT Editorial
Dec 04, 2023 10:00 PM IST

The old guard in the Hindi heartland should make way for new faces and voices that can make the party’s guarantees sound credible

The Telangana win will not compensate for the Congress’s 3-0 washout in the Hindi belt. It isn’t that the party lost two state governments and is now in office in just one state outside southern India; the blank slate also challenges its claims to lead the INDIA group in the 2024 polls. The party retained its 2018 vote share in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, but the BJP expanded its vote — and seemingly social — base substantially. So, the Congress may take solace in that it still has a base in these states — unlike say in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, or even in states such as Gujarat — and plan for the future. This is primarily because the Congress remains the lead pan-Indian opposition party: A robust Opposition is essential for the well-being of parliamentary democracy.

Raipur, Dec 03 (ANI): A view of the Chhattisgarh Congress office during the counting of votes for the State Assembly elections, in Raipur on Sunday. As per official EC trends, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is leading in the state with 54 of the total 90 seats. (ANI Photo) (ANI) PREMIUM
Raipur, Dec 03 (ANI): A view of the Chhattisgarh Congress office during the counting of votes for the State Assembly elections, in Raipur on Sunday. As per official EC trends, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is leading in the state with 54 of the total 90 seats. (ANI Photo) (ANI)

The Telangana win will not compensate for the Congress’s 3-0 washout in the Hindi belt. It isn’t that the party lost two state governments and is now in office in just one state outside southern India; the blank slate also challenges its claims to lead the INDIA group in the 2024 polls. The party retained its 2018 vote share in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, but the BJP expanded its vote — and seemingly social — base substantially. So, the Congress may take solace in that it still has a base in these states — unlike say in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, or even in states such as Gujarat — and plan for the future. This is primarily because the Congress remains the lead pan-Indian opposition party: A robust Opposition is essential for the well-being of parliamentary democracy.

A contrast between the Congress’s Telangana campaign with its work in the Hindi heartland states could be instructive. In Telangana, the party had a young, ambitious leader as its face: Revanth Reddy, a relatively new entrant into the Congress, did not have any legacy issues. His youthful campaign connected with the anger among youth over unemployment and galvanised the party. He was willing to listen to poll strategists, work with senior leaders, including those who had a frosty relationship with him, maximise the gains of the party’s guarantees on welfare and social justice, and highlight the negative aspects of the Bharat Rashtra Samithi administration. In contrast, the Congress was led in MP and Rajasthan by a tried and tested but a tiring old guard, not unpopular with the electorate but lacking in energy to take on the organisational might of the BJP and the charisma of PM Modi. When their poll guarantees clashed with the PM’s promise of double-engine growth, the latter managed to carry the day. Besides, they preferred to work from the silos isolated from negative reports rather than listen to a wide range of leaders and strategists, who could have picked up the dissonance on the ground and suggested course correction. Experience, someone should have told them, isn’t the same as expertise.

Septuagenarians such as Ashok Gehlot, Digvijay Singh and Kamal Nath are tall leaders in their backyards. But there is a deja vu about their leadership: They represent an old, establishment Congress that has no traction in a young India. Be it welfare or representative democracy, this leadership bestows a cynical touch on a Congress that harps on social justice and welfare. New ideas will need new faces. The times call for more sophisticated electioneering. It may be time to retire the old guard.

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