Steering a (Congress) ship full of gaping holes

Last Updated: Mon, Apr 07, 2014 10:23 hrs

For a captain, steering a ship in choppy waters is undoubtedly a challenging task; but to do that when the hull is full of holes, simply put, is a doomed exercise.

Nonetheless Sonia Gandhi, (No wait! that would be Rahul Gandhi) the captain at the helm of Congress fortunes in this election season, is attempting to do just even as pollsters forecast gloom for the Congress. But try as he might, no sooner does Gandhi plug one hole, another surfaces.

The Congress was just about feeling smug at “managing to turn the tide” in Punjab to a large extent (by fielding stalwarts) when its Noida candidate Ramesh Chand Tomar’s desertion, left the party, red in the face. Tomar sprung a surprise on the party, when he not only attended Narendra Modi’s rally but went ahead and embraced him.  

There could have been no greater embarrassment for the Congress than going into the polls on April 10 in Gautam Budh Nagar (Noida) with its “official” candidate on the EVM, having defected to the BJP camp.

And this is not the first Congress candidate to do so. Its candidate in Bhind, Madhya Pradesh, Bhagirath Prasad Singh went and joined the BJP just a day after the Congress gave him a ticket.

The current joke in Congress circles, is whether all the 543 candidates (including the 76 of its allies), will stick around till polling day. Some leaders are advocating fielding dummy candidates in “suspect seats” so that the party is saved from future embarrassment.

For a Congress engaged in a “do or die” battle this 2014, combating the double whammy of a two term UPA anti- incumbency and a Narendra Modi wave of the BJP, there have been few takers for Congress tickets even among sitting Congress members of Parliament.

The top leadership strove to address that by deciding to field party seniors in key seats to not just boost the party morale but to give the Opposition a tough fight.

So it unleashed stalwarts like Capt. Amarinder Singh and Ambika Soni in Punjab, which according to ground reports has put the Congress “back in the fight” in the state.   

However, this has given rise to another critical problem. The party is left without senior leaders with mass following to address rallies.

Generally, the likes of  Ghulam Nabi Azad would be fielded in Muslim dominated areas for instance, to address the crowd, but with Azad himself now contesting from Jammu that is out of the question. Again, sitting MPs are desperate to retain their seats and are in no position to canvass outside their constituencies.

What has compounded the problem for the Congress in 2014, several party veterans who were otherwise prominent faces of the party and single-handedly managed campaigns in several states, have been sent off to Raj Bhavans; Margaret Alva, Sheila Dikshit, Shivraj Patil are at present all Governors.

Nonetheless, it appears the Congress has decided to go down fighting and not gift the BJP a walkover. So Congress President Sonia Gandhi, despite ill health, is still pushing ahead with a punishing schedule of three to four rallies daily, criss crossing the country.

Last week, she addressed a rally in Lakhimpur Assam and by evening the same day, flew back into the capital addressed another rally at Ajmal Khan park.  

With most Congressmen including disgruntled Seemandhra Congress leaders deserting the sinking ship (the most recent being Union minister KS Rao joining the BJP), the Congress is fighting hard to keep the ship afloat albeit till May 16.