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A ‘Cong’ in the Wheel or Strong ‘Hand’ in 2023? Can Kharge, Rahul Get the Party Started for LS Polls?


Last Updated: December 30, 2022, 16:04 IST

With a non-Gandhi president, who is a Dalit, the party is projecting itself as a party for the aam aadmi. (Twitter)

With a non-Gandhi president, who is a Dalit, the party is projecting itself as a party for the aam aadmi. (Twitter)

The party says the Bharat Jodo Yatra is not political. The statement is clearly an attempt to shield Rahul Gandhi from future attacks in case the Congress does not perform well in the upcoming state polls in 2023 and Lok Sabha elections in 2024

For the Congress, the year began with a loss, but ended with a win.

Bitter infighting and miscalculated strategy helped the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) come to power in Punjab, showing the political landscape an alternative to the Congress. The party, however, realised this belatedly in Gujarat, where in stark contrast to its 2017 performance, the Congress was reduced to a weak opposition to the BJP.

The Himachal win, however, has given some hope and cheer to the Congress. It showed that a campaign with focus, stress on regional leaders and local issues can work. But it has also raised a question mark over Rahul Gandhi’s ability to win elections as he stayed away from the hill state, while his sister Priyanka Vadra, who micro managed the polls and campaigned extensively, is now being looked as the Gandhi who can ensure an electoral win.

But Rahul Gandhi, who is on a Bharat Jodo Yatra, continues to remain the high point and driving force for the party.

‘GANDHI AS A TAPASVI’

The yatra’s first leg will end on January 26 in Kashmir. It is clear that the party has big plans for Gandhi. He refused to become the president or contest the polls.

The party says the yatra is not political as an electoral win and deriving political mileage from the yatra is up to the party organisation. This statement is clearly an attempt to shield Rahul Gandhi from future attacks in case the Congress does not perform well in the upcoming state polls in 2023 and Lok Sabha elections in 2024. But it is evident that the image makeover for Rahul Gandhi is in the works and he may be pitted against Modi in 2024 or in the future.

ALSO READ | With Himachal Hit, Priyanka Is Congress’s Latest Poll Star And New Hope for Future Elections

First, an agency Three Bandar has been hired to carve his image and style. From sporting an unkept beard to walking in a mere T-shirt in the biting north Indian cold, the attempt is to showcase him as a tapasvi, a simple, grounded leader. This has become necessary as the Modi factor is successful because he is seen as a grassroots, grounded leader from a humble background. In contrast is the image of the Gandhis as entitled and Rahul Gandhi a non-serious neta, frequently on a holiday. The new Rahul Gandhi is on a personal growth trip and the Congress hopes to get formula right for 2024.

2024 PLANS

The plans of the party are simple. With a non-Gandhi president, who is a Dalit, the party is projecting itself as a party for the aam aadmi. This election tagline — ‘Congress ka haath aam aadmi ke saath’ — had clicked in 2004. It is back to this now to counter the image of a corrupt, entitled, UPA which was in power for 10 years. Kharge is aggressive, makes it clear that he has been seen as an untouchable and he insists that all must unite to win.

A quick look at the choices and appointments the party is making is significant. From roping in both the seniors, juniors and the disgruntled, the Kharge formula is to unite the party beleaguered by exodus. Appointing a driver’s son Sukhvinder Sukhu as Himachal CM instead of Maharani Pratibha Singh is another message the party wants to send — That grassroots workers and those with humble background matter.

The icing the party hopes is an aggressive social media and communication strategy to counter the narrative of the BJP.

ALSO READ | Did Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Blinder Make Congress Miss the Bus in Gujarat?

But all this can work only if the party wins in critical states such as Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. 2022 brought mixed feelings for the party. The road to 2024 will go through the polls of 2023.

Will the yatra be the light at the end of the tunnel or the road to nowhere?

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