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Why Punjab election is crucial for both AAP, Congress

A victory in Punjab would lead Rahul Gandhi’s official taking over of the party and his headaches will be more within the party than outside.

Written by Liz Mathew | New Delhi |
February 3, 2017 10:36:02 am
Rahul Gandhi (left) and Arvind Kejriwal Rahul Gandhi (left) and Arvind Kejriwal

On Saturday, when voters in Punjab and Goa go to polling booths, they could be beginning to change the course of Indian politics, more so with Punjab. “Crucial”, “significant” and “key” may sound clichéd, but the upcoming elections in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh could not only decide the real contenders for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, but also decide the future of Indian politics.

If this could be a key litmus test for the biggest gamble made by the BJP, prime minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah to ensure its victory in 2019, for the Congress it’s a life or death issue and for AAP, this will determine its destiny. Although BJP candidates barely have been using demonetisation and surgical strikes in their campaign so far, a poor performance would definitely prove its critics right. Then both PM and Shah would have to look for some other tricks or magic to retain their positions.

WATCH VIDEO | Assembly Elections 2017: Campaigning For Punjab & Goa Ends, Voting On Feb 4

For the Congress and its vice-president Rahul Gandhi who is currently the de facto president of the party, these elections are not just a fight with BJP for reversing the trend that started in 2013 – the Congress has been facing defeats barring some relief in Bihar for which it could not take credit.

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But for the Congress, Punjab is the most important state as of now. Because it will decide whether it would be Rahul Gandhi or Arvind Kejriwal who could lead the anti-BJP/Narendra Modi forces in the country.

On the ground it seems there is a considerable electorate that is anti-BJP and it is burgeoning. The voters, whose unrealistic aspirations could not be fulfilled by the Modi government also could join them. What the Congress is looking forward is an opportunity to lead them. It wants a situation where regional satraps like Mamata Banerjee and Nitish Kumar who have been nursing their prime ministerial ambitions are left with no option but to accept it as the leading force against PM Modi. Kejriwal is also eyeing the same.

This is exactly what makes the Congress nervous about Punjab polls. If AAP wins Punjab (ground reports show that it’s a tight fight between the AAP and the Congress), Kejriwal will be the main challenger to oppose PM Modi. His gain will be as heavy as Rahul’s loss. A victory in Punjab will lead the AAP to other states like Gujarat, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, where the electoral battle is between the BJP and the Congress.

Kejriwal’s vociferous criticism and the constant attack on Prime Minister Modi were to pitch himself as the leader who can take on the prime minister. Sensing the danger, Rahul jumped in. In the last few months, one could see Rahul targeting PM Modi, very uncharacteristic of Gandhis and the Congress. It was clear to political observers that Gandhi’s battle was to retain the Congress’ position as the main opposition party.

Interestingly, BJP also did not want an “irritant” Kejriwal as the direct opponent to PM Modi. It’s senior most leaders would say AAP is an “uncouth” party and would appreciate Congress as a “decent, mature and constitution-abiding” party. The BJP, which never missed a chance to ridicule Gandhi or Congress as a “non-player”, suddenly started projecting him as Modi’s opponent. One statement from Rahul, the BJP would rally its senior ministers to counter-attack him. So, BJP would prefer the Congress winning in Punjab instead of AAP.

If it wins Punjab, Congress could be a better force to take on PM Modi’s BJP in Gujarat next year, then Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh later. A victory in Punjab would lead Rahul Gandhi’s official taking over of the party and his headaches will be more within the party than outside.

The success of SP-Congress, if they manage to win in Uttar Pradesh, would boost Congress’ return. It could make it more confident of cobbling an anti-BJP alliance for 2019. But Rahul’s prospects as a prime ministerial candidate and Congress’ survival as the main opposition party depends on Punjab results.

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