Congress strategy against Modi – A challenge and changing strategy

The Congress is still fighting the fight – the fight is not only the presence of Modi and his attacks on the Congress all over the country, but also about the right strategy of how to attack Modi. This strategy is where the Congress is really still trying to figure out how best to get back the initiative. If one were to analyze the current political environment vis-a-vis the Congress, the BJP and other parties, there are several points that come out clearly.

Against Congress:
– Growth is down pretty badly, which in turn has been affecting the economy drastically. The last few years have seen a drastic reduction in growth and even reduced levels of job growth. All of this has been rebounding on the Congress.
– Inflation levels have been consistently high, which is something that the Congress knows harms the party and the Government, but the Government has not really been able to do something about this, which means that inflation (particularly food inflation) has remained high and harmed customers.
– Corruption levels have been high (specially the media making corruption cases such as 2G, Coalgate, Adarsh, CWG, and many others), and these have harmed the Congress spectacularly.
– Many others, but these are the primary ones that are causing problems.

For Congress:
– The Congress is seen as a mainstream political party, and for those who are wedded to secularism, the Congress is the primary part in this regard
– There are a number of people who constantly see the Congress in more favorable terms than the BJP
– The BJP is not present in many parts of the country, especially the southern and eastern parts of the country (and the number of Parliament seats in these areas are also sizable, enough to give the Congress a heads-up)

With all this, the joker in the box was the emergence of Narendra Modi as the chief opposition candidate from the BJP for the post of Prime Minister. Initially, the Congress was pushing to paint Modi as the villain of 2002 and of killing innocent people (especially the case of Ishrat Jahan, which the CBI is investigating with a lot of zeal – even though her death needs to be investigated, wish the CBI also investigated the other cases of such killings that happen all across the country), and did not want to portray him on a pedestal. So what was the strategy ?
– The top rung of the party was not supposed to refer to Modi and ignore that he was there. Even others such as Chidambaram were supposed to ignore him. Instead it was other leaders such as Digvijay Singh and the various spokespersons of the party who were responsible for running down Modi. A small scale Congress leader from Gujarat was brought in to counter Modi in Uttar Pradesh
– Every reference to Modi was sought to be combined with the riots of 2002 and the Ishrat Jahan case; so if there was a TV discussion, the Ishrat Jahan case would be highlighted even when this was not the reference point of the discussion.

However, Modi ignored all these and kept on attacking the Congress rule and the top leadership of the Congress, with less attacks on Sonia Gandhi and more on Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi (and these 2 eminent gentlemen do open themselves to attack through various odd positions that can be at odds with public opinion – Rahul Gandhi has developed a public opinion of a guy who has everything, but is still not sure whether he wants to sit on the throne or not and is also serious as a politician; Manmohan Singh as the guy who let incredible corruption happen and who really will let Pakistan and China walk all over India). Soon enough it was seen that attacks on them by the second-rung leadership of the Congress was not working. And of course, using Digvijay Singh as the attack dog is something that the Congress should really give up, since an opinion by him means that the Congress is not serious about all this.
So, of late, the Congress has somewhat reduced its reference to the 2002 riots and the Ishrat Jahan case, also because Modi has not really responded to these jibes and they are not striking a chord. Instead, the Congress has realized that Modi is fighting a campaign where he has already got the hard-core Hindutva vote, he needs the middle class, as well as the young voters for him, enough to push BJP over the envelope in the seats that they narrowly lost last time.
The acute economic problems are causing people to look for an alternative approach, and are also blaming the current leadership for the same. Modi, with his pitch on development (with proof to be seen in Gujarat) is working to become the alternative for anybody who is looking at growth and who may be willing to wink a little on the secularism bogey. And this is what the Congress is now looking to destroy. So, what is the Congress now trying to do:
– Find out issues where the development in Gujarat can be attacked. And there will be numerous such points to find – after all, even though Modi raised growth in the state, in the age of statistics, there will be areas that were neglected by Modi and which will be pointed out in numerous reports and the like.
– Get the top rung of the Congress to attack Modi frontally now. So Chidambaram attacks Modi on development and growth, Manmohan Singh attacks Modi on secularism, and Rahul Gandhi attacks Modi on anything that he feels like (I am not sure whether there is a pattern to what Rahul Gandhi talks about, so will not try to reduce him to a topic).

However, all this will fail unless the Congress can reverse the inflation levels and the slow rate of development in the economy. And that is where they are running into problems. As an example, consider the case of onion prices. There have been enough investigative reports to point out that the traders in Maharashtra have manipulated and increased onion prices, but the traders are essentially a sub-group of the NCP, so they cannot be touched. The poor state of highways is a by-product of bad monitoring and the ill-effect of a previous Road Transport Minister (who was called the Indian Mr. 10% for his demands of money from the various private parties building roads), and so on. Power production is abysmal because power plants are working at low productivity, and why so, the coal in India is primarily being generated through the state run Coal India, whose minister has not even bothered to try and increase their productivity and increase the quality (the quality is so bad that even state run power companies want to penalize Coal India for too many stones in the coal supplied), and so on. It will take quite some time for the Congress to turn around the economy, and as we have seen, this Government does not pay attention to detail, to the hard work required to see through decisions, and hence is not able to either improve sentiment or increase the growth rate of the economy. Such a situation makes the task of attacking Modi even more problematic, since people are looking for a change, and Modi is standing in front of them and telling them that he is that change. And the Congress so far is only promising more of Manmohan.

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