Vol. XLIII No. 16 April 21, 2019
Array

Wrong Turn in Wayanad

BY deciding to contest a second seat from Wayanad constituency in Kerala, the Congress president Rahul Gandhi has taken a wrong turn.  The argument set out by senior Congress leaders, while making this announcement, was that it is important that the Congress president fight from the South also. They also stated that the BJP is trying to create a communal divide in the southern states too. 

If that is the case, then why is Rahul Gandhi not contesting from a constituency in Karnataka?  Karnataka is the only state in the south where the BJP is a major force and in the last Lok Sabha election it had won a majority of the seats there.  Now, for the current election, there is an alliance between the Congress and the Janata Dal (S) in the state. Could not the Congress find even one out of the 28 seats fit for Rahul Gandhi to contest? Such a step would have signaled that Rahul Gandhi was fighting against the BJP, that too in a southern state. 

But this was not done. Instead, the Congress president is contesting from Kerala, where the main force is the LDF. Thus, instead of fighting the BJP, the target has become the Left.

The Wayanad decision speaks much about the present state of ideological and political disarray in the Congress leadership. It indicates the inability of the Congress to take a wider view and rally all the forces to defeat the BJP at the national level. 

The Congress cannot claim to be the dominant secular party in many states. But yet, it tends to behave like one. Such a stance of the Congress party is disruptive of the unity of the secular forces to fight the BJP. 

Some examples of the electoral tactics pursued by the Congress will be sufficient to illustrate this point. 

Uttar Pradesh, with 80 Lok Sabha seats, is going to be crucial in the electoral battle to defeat the BJP. Here, the SP-BSP-RLD alliance is a powerful one which can effectively take on the BJP. For whatever reason, the Congress party could not find a place in this alliance. In such a situation, what should the Congress have done?  It had won two seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha election; it came second in six other seats.  So, if the Congress party had announced that it would fight these eight seats and, in the rest of the seats support the three-party alliance, it would have won the support of the secular-minded people in the state and enhanced its credibility as an anti-BJP fighter.

But, instead of doing so, the Congress party announced that it would fight all 80 seats. It began manoeuvres to win over some of the smaller caste-based outfits.  Later it announced that it would leave seven seats for the leaders of the three-party alliance – a gesture which was rejected outright by Mayawati and Akhilesh.  Even the traditional supporters of the Congress are seeing its role as a disruptive one, since there is no scope for the Congress to win many seats in Uttar Pradesh. 

In the case of Delhi, the Congress has been spurning the offer of the Aam Aadmi Party for an understanding. It is evident to everyone that if the AAP and the Congress have a seat adjustment, it can win all seven seats in the capital.  If they fight separately, the BJP will gain.  The Congress party was wiped out in the last assembly election when it could not win even one seat. Yet, the reason why the Congress is refusing to have an understanding with the AAP is because it is not satisfied with the seats being offered to it. 

In West Bengal, given the fact that both the BJP and the Trinamool Congress have to be fought as equal dangers, the CPI(M) had offered that there should be a mutual no contest agreement in the six sitting seats – four of the Congress and two of the CPI(M).  Even this reasonable offer did not find a positive response from the Congress. 

It is this attitude which has been displayed in the decision to contest in Wayanad. By fielding Rahul in Wayanad, the Congress hopes to increase the tally of the UDF. Senior leader of the Congress, A K Antony, stated after announcing Rahul’s candidature that there would now be a wave in favour of the Congress in Kerala.  The KPCC president, Mullappally Ramachandran, triumphantly declared that now the UDF will win 20 of the 20 seats.  These and a plethora of other statements belie the claim of the all India Congress leadership that they are not fighting against the Left in this election. Such a sectarian approach is only going to further diminish the Congress. 

In Kerala, the CPI(M) and the LDF have been the most consistent and determined fighters against the BJP and the RSS. There is a long list of martyrs of the CPI(M) who were killed by the RSS-BJP gangs because of the Party’s staunch and unremitting struggle against the communal forces. The Congress and the UDF have time and again compromised with the communal forces. The minorities in the state have this experience and they are not going to be misled by the fielding of Rahul Gandhi to contest from Kerala.

The Left will play a role in forming a secular government at the centre after the election. Any effort to weaken the Left and target it as Rahul Gandhi’s fighting against the LDF is attempting, will not be taken kindly by the secular-minded people of Kerala and the minorities. 

This short-sighted decision is also going to cost the Congress party in another sense. The Muslim League is part of the UDF. In Wayanad, the Muslim League has a strong presence and Rahul is thus a joint candidate of the Congress and the Muslim League in the form of UDF.  Thus, Rahul Gandhi will be relying on the Muslim League to try and defeat a Left candidate in Wayanad.  Hardly an advertisement for the secular credentials of the Congress president!

The LDF will be able to counter this effort to disrupt the unity of the secular-democratic forces in an effective manner.  The LDF is in the fight to defeat the UDF in all the 20 Lok Sabha seats in Kerala.

(April 3, 2019)