Congress’ twin plank of OBC outreach and welfarism does not enthuse voters in the Hindi heartland

Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge says the party will overcome ‘temporary setbacks’; Rahul Gandhi asserts battle of ideology will continue

December 03, 2023 08:30 pm | Updated 10:07 pm IST - New Delhi

Former party chief Rahul Gandhi had championed the social justice plank by demanding a caste-based census and argued for a higher share for OBCs. Together with Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, Mr. Gandhi, in a departure from its earlier stance on the women reservation’s Bill, argued for quota within quota for OBC women. File

Former party chief Rahul Gandhi had championed the social justice plank by demanding a caste-based census and argued for a higher share for OBCs. Together with Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, Mr. Gandhi, in a departure from its earlier stance on the women reservation’s Bill, argued for quota within quota for OBC women. File | Photo Credit: ANI

Described as a semi-final before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, the severe setback to the Congress in the latest round of Assembly elections, and its inability to defeat the BJP in a direct contest on the plank of social justice and welfare politics, may force the party to recalibrate its strategy.

Former party chief Rahul Gandhi, who is said to be working on the next edition of the Bharat Jodo Yatra (BJY) from east to west India, had championed the social justice plank by demanding a caste-based census and argued for a higher share for Other Backward Class (OBC) in jobs. Together with Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, Mr. Gandhi, in a departure from its earlier stance on the women reservation’s Bill, argued for quota within quota for OBC women.

OBC outreach fails

However, the demand for a separate caste-based census and the OBC outreach did not resonate with the voters of the Hindi heartland. The Congress, and Mr. Gandhi in particular, had highlighted the OBC credentials of outgoing Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, and his Rajasthan counterpart Ashok Gehlot. But this did not click as the party has lost both the States. In Chhattisgarh, where OBCs and tribals make up the bulk of the population, many believe the emphasis on OBC groups may have pushed the tribals towards the BJP. In Madhya Pradesh too, where OBC groups are supposedly in overwhelming numbers, voters were not swayed by the Congress’ promises.

Also read: Congress faces allies’ fury for keeping INDIA in suspended animation

The disconnect between expectations and ground realities, especially in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, was more than obvious in the public statements by the party’s top leadership about comfortably winning these States.

“Humbly accept the verdict of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. But the battle of ideologies will continue,” Mr. Gandhi said in a post on X.

Stating that his party had fought a spirited battle, Mr. Kharge added, “Our performance in these three States has no doubt been disappointing, but with determination, we reaffirm our strong resolve to rebuild and revive ourselves in these three States.”

“The main reason for our loss in M.P., Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan is making caste-based census a national issue, and ignoring party workers,” Kishore Kumar Jha, a Congress veteran from Bihar, where the Nitish Kumar government first started the debate and released a caste-based survey report, said.

Modi guarantees

A key focus of the Congress campaign was to project the guarantees that its governments were offering. In Rajasthan, for example, universal health insurance of up to ₹25 lakh, providing relief from inflation by offering LPG cylinders at ₹500, and the Old Pension Scheme (OPS) were highlighted. In Chhattisgarh, the party had showcased higher procurement price and cash assistance to farmers.

After the Congress won Karnataka, the template of guarantee politics had gained such momentum that even Prime Minister Narendra Modi had started of talking about “Modi’s guarantee” and announced the Centre’s decision to extend its scheme of providing free ration to 81.3 crore poor beneficiaries by five years at an election rally in Chhattisgarh.

Modi-ji’s guarantee of vikas (development) is a reality that has benefited people,” Union Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said, reflecting the formulation by BJP leaders that the only guarantee people believed in is “Modi’s guarantee”.

The effectiveness of “Modi’s guarantee” may also have blunted the Congress and the Opposition’s plans to frame the 2024 Lok Sabha polls as a contest between people-centric guarantees versus Mr. Modi.

Regional satraps, infighting

Until the high command brokered a fragile peace pact a few months before the elections, the leadership tussle between Mr. Gehlot and former Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot dominated the headlines in Rajasthan.

It was a similar story in Chhattisgarh between Mr. Baghel and senior leader T.S. Singh Deo, until the latter was made the Deputy Chief Minister.

Also read: Assembly elections results 2023 | People have endorsed PM Modi’s leadership, rejected Congress’ false promises: BJP

In Madhya Pradesh, there was no leadership tussle but State unit chief Kamal Nath took independent decisions, often ignoring the feedback and strategy of the party’s central leadership. Mr. Nath snubbed Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav and refused to get into any alliance despite the SP being a member of the INDIA bloc. He had also called off an INDIA bloc rally after Udhayanidhi Stalin’s controversial remark on sanatan dharma.

In Rajasthan, based on the feedback from the ground, the central leadership is said to have favoured dropping many existing MLAs but Mr. Gehlot preferred to go with those who stood by him during the July 2020 rebellion by Mr. Pilot.

Southern comfort

The victory in Telangana is the consolation prize for the embattled Congress, which continues find support from the southern States. After the impressive win in Karnataka, the Congress and the INDIA bloc would look to consolidate their position in the southern States of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala that together elect over 130 Lok Sabha members.

A revival in Telangana will boost the morale of the party’s workers in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, which had shored up the Congress’ numbers in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in undivided Andhra Pradesh, in the 2004 and 2009 General Election, the Congress had won 29 and 33 seats, respectively, under the leadership of the late Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy. “The SOUTH,” was all Lok Sabha member Karti Chidambaram said in a post on X.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in

Comments

Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.