On course-correction mode, Cong woos Gujarat voters with 'grievance campaign'
After being completely washed out in the Gujarat Assembly polls of 2022 and left with 17 seats in the 182-member Assembly, missing the 10-per cent-mark required to have a Leader of Opposition, Congress is back, making ripples with its mass outreach programme in the state.
On the occasion of the state’s foundation day on May 1, the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) launched a programme called ‘Jan Manch’ as part of which the party has been travelling to talukas to hear the issues of common people and give them a platform to voice their complaints against the BJP regime.
Incidentally, the programme announcement coincided with the 20-year anniversary celebrations of the famous SWAGAT (State-Wide Attention on Grievances by Attention Technology) scheme of the BJP government. A brainchild of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the initiative was launched in 2003 when he was the chief minister of Gujarat.
The online initiative aimed to address grievances of each and every citizen by enabling them to directly reach out to the chief minister. The programme allowed people to directly lodge their complaints with the chief minister who on the fourth Thursday of every month would directly interact with the said individuals and address and resolve their grievances.
Sliding victory graph
The Congress’ recent mass outreach programme is its second since the 2022 election debacle. In preparation for the 2024 General Elections and the upcoming taluka and district panchayat polls, the GPCC leadership has been holding meetings in every district, asking cadres to visit each household to gain back their foothold.
In the 2019 local body polls, the Congress lost most of its rural seats to the BJP and many of its candidates were disqualified. The party never recovered from the rout and began to lose ground further in each election after that – civic polls, district panchayat polls, Assembly polls and most recently in the dairy cooperative polls.
Noticeably, the party’s performance in the Lok Sabha polls has witnessed a downward trend since 2009 when it managed to win only 11 of the 26 parliamentary seats in the state. In the 2017 Parliamentary polls, Ahmed Patel retained his seat after a nail-biting contest. However, Congress lost the seat in the bypoll following Patel’s death due to COVID. Now BJP is in power in all the 26 Parliamentary constituencies.
Wooing back minorities, Dalits
The Congress began its outreach programme from Banaskantha district in North Gujarat on May 1 this year. Senior state leaders attended two gatherings at Vadgam, the constituency of party MLA Jignesh Mevani and Palanpur – both Muslim and Dalit-dominated seats in the district.
“When Prime Minister Narendra Modi is busy telling his ‘Mann Ki Baat’, the Congress party in Gujarat wants to hear the ‘mann ki baat’ of the common man and women on the streets,” GPCC president Jagdish Thakor said while addressing the first public meeting of the Jan Manch.
“We received the first complaint from Chitrasar village. The sarpanch of the village met us with complaint of waterlogging in the village. The problem has been resolved temporarily after our intervention. So far, the outreach programme has reached 16 talukas in eight districts and collected around 800 complaints from the local people. The idea is to let people realise that it is the Congress and not the ruling party that comes to their aid and also helps them raises lapses in the administration,” said Amit Chavda, the leader of Congress Legislature party in the Gujarat Assembly.
Chavda said the party through the programme also aims to touch base with grassroots cadres, address their grievances and prepare them to regain the party’s old vote bank ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.
Past failures of outreach campaigns
Noticeably, the party held a similar public outreach in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic to counter the government’s claims on mortalities. While the government had initially pegged the COVID deaths at 10,000, the Congress through its outreach programme claims to have nudged it to provide compensation to more than one lakh families who lost loved ones to the pandemic.
The programme, however, seemed to work little in favour of the Grand Old Party in the Assembly polls of 2022.
“There are multiple reasons for the dismal performance of the Congress in the 2022 Gujarat Assembly polls besides the entry of AIMIM and AAP. One of the primary reasons is that the central leadership left the state unit on its own. In most of the seats, contestants were left to their own devices and campaigned on their own, the only support from the party being its symbol,” said Manishi Jani, a Gujarat-based political analyst.
Jani said the Congress’ manifesto for the elections also failed to address pressing issues concerning its traditional voters including Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis.
“The party manifesto comprised freebies that even AAP’s Guarantee Card promised. As a result, Congress lost almost all tribal seats to the BJP and even performed poorly in Muslim dominated seats in the 2022 polls. The Congress, it seems, has realised it needs to go back to its traditional vote base and begun the Jan Manch programme from Muslim dominated seats in North Gujarat,” added Jani.