Hindu-vs-Hindutva, Priyanka “experience” – the strategy Congress is preparing for 2022 and beyond

New Delhi: As Rahul Gandhi went on a visit abroad at the end of the year, would have in Italy, Congress spent the last week of 2021 developing a plan for 2022.

With five legislative elections at the start of the year, and Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh going to the polls towards the end, Congress is looking to deepen its “Hindu versus Hindutvawadi” argument against the BJP – as expressed by Rahul on more than one occasion – while also testing Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the secretary general of the party in charge of Uttar Pradesh, as her potential “woman’s face”, Senior party leaders told ThePrint.

The party’s other agenda is to bring order to its state units, the leaders said.

Ideas were discussed in meetings the general secretaries in charge of the various departments of the party held with their teams, added top congressional leaders.

However, while most party members seem to agree with the idea of ​​distinguishing between “Hindu and Hindutva”, not all are convinced.

Of the states going to the polls this year – Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur, Goa, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh – Congress is only stationed in one, Punjab.

In recent months, Congress has faced significant challenges in the state, with rifts between Punjab party leader Navjot Singh Sidhu and former CM captain Amarinder Singh, resulting in the the resignation of the latter. Amariner is now in competition the election of the assembly in alliance with the BJP.

Also in Uttarakhand, former CM Harish Rawat raised concerns on attempts to “tie my hands and feet” before the elections, before the party delivered full charge from the countryside to him.

In Goa, Congress became the largest party in the 2017 legislative elections, winning 17 seats out of 40 House members, but the BJP eventually formed the government in coalition with two other parties. A series of defections has since left Congress with 2 deputies in the state.

A similar turn of events in 2017 led to a BJP-led government in Manipur.

Also read: Less Rahul and other central leaders, Congress will make Harish Rawat the star of the Uttarakhand campaign

Priyanka Gandhi, the “woman’s face” of Congress?

Ahead of the Uttar Pradesh elections, scheduled for February-March 2022, Congress launched the ‘Ladki Hoon, Ladd Sakti Hooncampaign in the state, with Priyanka as the face.

This will be the first state election the party will fight with her for the lead. However, while the campaign has been launched for the UP polls, party insiders say electoral gains are not its only goal.

“It is an experiment that we are attempting,” a Congressional official said on condition of anonymity.

“There is no specific subgroup of women that we are trying to target in Uttar Pradesh. But it is an attempt to see how Priyanka is accepted as a female leader and whether she is able to hold the female electorate like other female leaders the country has seen, be it Indira Gandhi and Jayalalithaa or Mamata Banerjee. and Mayawati, ”the official added.

“The goal is to assess how women respond to it, and then see if it can be deployed to influence women in other states where Congress is organizationally strong.”

Congress spokesman Gourav Vallabh said Priyanka’s presence on the ground and her “ability to respond head-on to conflict when confronted with the BJP state apparatus is what the party is about. stake ”.

“If you see Priyanka Gandhi’s visit to Hathras or Agra, where she was hunted down and even detained by the BJP government, you can see that she was the first person to oppose the state apparatus. He told ThePrint. “In fact, there were male party leaders with her, but she was protecting them from the police. lathis. It was not the other way around. “

Several Congress leaders ThePrint said on condition of anonymity that Priyanka is a new face and a lot more “likable” than her brother. Many senior leaders, they added, are therefore pushing for a more important organizational role.

“While the campaign may not show election results in Uttar Pradesh, it may give us clue that similar campaigns with Priyanka as the face may work in states like, say, Karnataka, where the recent surveys of local organizations show that the Congress has retained its significant share of the vote ”, said a congressman.

Also read: “Not good to move ruling parties” – why Congress wants to end the “defection virus” in Goa

“Hindu against Hindutvawadi”

The Hindu campaign against Hindutvawadi is a long-term argument that Congress plans to use to counter what it calls the BJP’s version of an “ideal Hindu”.

In the past month, at Congressional gatherings in Jaipur and Dehradun, Rahul Gandhi invoked this pitch.

“In the politics of the country today, there is a competition between two words. One word is “Hindu”, the second word is “Hindutvawadi”. They are not the same. They are two separate words. And their meanings are also different ”, said Gandhi in Jaipur. “I am a Hindu but I am not a Hindutvawadi,” he added.

The party is also planning a targeted social media strategy for 2022 around the same narrative.

“The BJP works on hate and narrative politics. Rahul I am clearly defined the ideological difference between what the BJP thinks to be Hinduism and what Congress thinks to be Hinduism, ”said Rohan Gupta, congressional social media manager. “We’re going to push this further through trends, live shows, videos, etc. throughout 2022. It’s ideological warfare.”

But there is a certain level of uncertainty about this approach among some party leaders.

The previously quoted congressman said that while the account was in line with what many party leaders ideologically felt, there was “no method for insanity.”

“Honestly, I don’t think we will be able to pull off Hindu votes on the other side (BJP) with this narrative. At most, it will convince some fence guards, ”added the deputy. “But Hindus who do not vote for the BJP will not be convinced to vote for Congress with such a narrative because they do not vote as Hindus. Internally, it is not clear who the target group for such a campaign is.

The Hindu-Hindutva debate was something that political strategist Prashant Kishor also questioned in an interview with ThePrint.

“Globally, the BJP has managed to win around 50% of the Hindu-based Hindutva vote in the last many elections,” Kishor said.

“The remaining 50% Hindus do not subscribe to the BJP’s definition of Hindu or Hindutva and do not vote as Hindus. I prefer to focus on this section rather than discussing Hindu and Hindutvawadi.

However, Sanjay Kumar, co-director of the Center for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) -Lokniti, said that a “soft Hindu” stance could be the need of the moment, not just for Congress, but for any political party that wishes. face the BJP.

“One factor that has played against Congress since 2014 is that it was seen as a party that appeases Muslims or minorities. On the other hand, wherever the Congress was faced with a regional challenge, it lost the Muslim vote in favor of the regional party, ”he added.

“Therefore, Congress must also focus on Hindu votes. The biggest change in Indian politics over the past decade has been that today no political party can be seen as ignoring the majority community. The message must get across that the party is not anti-Hindu.

“Unity of the opposition and bringing order to state units”

Congress is also concerned about the quarrels it appears to have with other members of the national opposition, particularly the Trinamool Congress (TMC) – mainly in light of several defections and expansion plans of the Bengal-based party – and the Aam Aadmi (AAP) party, a rival in Delhi as well as in the Punjab (the AAP was the second party in 2017), as well as in the upcoming elections in Goa.

“Some leaders have said the party should consider handing over the presidency of the UPA (congressional-led coalition) to another party. It is a serious consideration that has been launched. However, a decision has not yet been made, ”said a senior congressional official who is also an MP.

“The performance of Congress in the next five state elections will likely help the decision-making process. ”

Meanwhile, the party is also trying to combat the threat of other regional parties by trying to strengthen its organization into state units.

The churn rate of the Punjab and Uttarakhand congressional units is believed to have been the cause of this.

Part of the party believes that the results of local Karnataka polls have proven that having a strong regional leader leading state units and making all decisions is the best way forward for the party.

“We need leaders like (Karnataka Congress Leader) DK Shivakumar in all of our state units. In places where Congress has fallen to third or fourth place, you have to come back to second place or at least form an alliance with the party in second place ”, said the first congressman quoted above. “However, the high command is struggling to negotiate the ambitions of regional leaders.”

(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)

Also read: Crushing victory for Congress in polls of local Karnataka bodies, including in CM Bommai’s hometown

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