Beyond BJP vs INC: Raebareli’s Plight Exposes the Need for a Stronger Parliamentarian

congress manifesto
Rahul Gandhi (C), President of India’s main opposition Congress party, his mother and leader of the party Sonia Gandhi and India’s former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (R) display copies of their party’s election manifesto for the April/May general election in New Delhi, India, April 2, 2019. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Rajesh Ramachandran has concluded his latest piece with the line, ‘Indian democracy is still waiting for the primary opposition party’s leadership to come of age’, citing how INC has also contributed to its decrease, especially with Rahul and Priyanka taking the lead roles. In today’s political environment, this argument is hard to disagree with. The reasons are obvious and, to an extent, show an unacceptable truth to many: the present era belongs to ‘the BJP System’.

The BJP, except for certain ideological stands, is not very different when it comes to its functioning and interparty collaboration. It has managed to accommodate (at least at the central level) different sets of ideologies, inserted many individuals and fractions that were in opposite camps, and developed the capacity to attract masses. When Sonia ran the show, INC looked different. Many progressive policies were put in place, and the economy seemed stable. However, over time, the number of scams started to increase, and INC (and the UPA) started to forget that when voters majorly belong to one particular identity group, it is unwise to only talk about other groups and critically oppose the first one. Furthermore, Sonia’s tenure in her own constituency saw a few factories popping up, and the locals kept asking who was getting the jobs and what kinds of jobs were being offered. There is still no university in Raebareli. In a remote area of Amethi, there is a satellite campus of the B.B.A.U., Lucknow, which is still not fully operational. Raebareli and Amethi, the two key constituencies of INC, lack basic infrastructure. The cities have become more and more congested, with fewer and fewer chances of finding a parking spot.

This time, Sonia has sent a sentimental letter to the people of Raebareli. Locals understand the sentiments, but the problems start when such intentions are not corroborated with actions. So far, only two non-INC MPs have been elected from Raebareli: Raj Narain and Ashok Singh, who also didn’t come for a full five year term. Now comes the question of the SP-INC coalition, which was previously unsuccessful. Post-Mulayam, SP is a different party. It has completed a full five-year term in the assembly with Akhilesh as the CM of UP. Given its strength on the ground, it seems to have more popularity as compared to the INC. Except for the Sadar seat, all MLAs are from the SP in Raebareli, whereas in Amethi, 2 out of 4 belong to the SP. It becomes unclear why the SP has decided to compromise on these two Lok Sabha seats.

Notable is the fact that Sonia Gandhi has not visited her constituency in the past five years. Her absence was substantiated by the fact that she had been unwell, as her letter also pointed out; however, she could be seen attending meetings and rallies in other parts of India. Sonia’s letter was responded to by Dinesh Pratap Singh, who fought against her in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and is currently serving as a state minister in the UP Cabinet. Raebareli has heard this rumor several times that Priyanka is going to contest from here. Can Priyanka come forward and clarify this? Or, can she simply deny that most of her visits to Raebareli were either limited to election campaigning or to the Bhuyemau guest house? The next question here is who should contest for the BJP in Raebareli? One option is Dinesh Pratap Singh, who has been in active politics for a long time, fought a Lok Sabha election, and is currently a state minister in the UP cabinet. He is very active on the ground as well and has been organizing weekly meetings at his residence to solve the issues of the locals. The second name that started to appear in the media is Manoj Pandey, who is an SP MLA from Unchahar and became vocal along with others against the SP leadership’s silence (and criticism) of Ram Mandir Pran Pratistha. The odds seem to favor Singh given his current and past history. With Pandey on his side (should it happen), the BJP gets a fair chance to win the election. If there are disagreements within the party or the BJP feels that they don’t want a local leader, then a big shot can be imported. In either of these scenarios, the BJP would need to make substantial efforts. If Pandey comes in favor of Singh, then he could be given an important role in the BJP organization.

Rahul has matured, many say, with the age, reading, and interactions people usually have. However, the idea of justice he talks about sometimes feels like part of an academic seminar. People gather at rallies, but will they become the voters of INC? – is the question INC should be asking. Don’t think that I have a grudge against Gandhis; I am just sharing what I hear from people. Also, I do not belong to the INC’s sycophants’ club, which wants a separate law for the Gandhis. When I lived in Norway back in the day, it became clear that Jens Stoltenberg’s cabinet would not be able to form a government in 2013, and the party cadre did not hesitate to accept this fact. It also did not stop campaigning. I have only one vote, which I will cast for whomever I like after having at least two cups of tea that morning. Neither have I had such influence nor do I wish to make anyone change their minds because of my words. So, let the people decide, and let the best one win.

(Ashish Singh has finished his Ph.D. coursework in political science from the NRU-HSE, Moscow, Russia. He has previously studied at Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway; and TISS, Mumbai.)

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