Ahead of Assembly poll, Gujarat Congress faces defections, lack of direction from high command


Congress’s internal organisational election and Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra appear to be the immediate top priority for the party

Congress’s internal organisational election and Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra appear to be the immediate top priority for the party

it is less than two months before Gujarat faces the Assembly election, but the main Opposition Congress appears grappling with defections by senior leaders and legislators and lack of direction from the top leadership in Delhi.

Its State unit has been trying to remain in shape to take on the ruling BJP and new entrant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal leading the campaigning for their parties.

For the Congress top brass, the party’s internal organisational election and Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra appear to be the immediate top priority and they have remained occupied with these ongoing activities.

Before kickstarting his yatra from Kanniyakumari, Mr. Gandhi addressed a rally in Ahmedabad on September 5 in which he announced a range of electoral sops such as free electricity and farm debt waiver.

He is now unlikely to come for campaigning because of the yatra he is leading. So far, Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi and general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra have also not joined the campaign, leaving the State leaders to manage on their own.

The State party leaders were hoping that Ms. Gandhi would visit a few Garba venues during Navratri in Ahmedabad and other places which would have helped the party in getting visibility that it badly requires as at present the BJP and the AAP are hogging the limelight.

“Priyanka Ji’s presence during Navratri would have been very helpful to the party and it would have boosted the morale of the party workers,” a State party leader told The Hindu.

Gehlot’s absence

Also, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who has been appointed AICC senior observer for the party in Gujarat for the Assembly polls, remains occupied in his own State because of unexpected political developments there, leaving not much time for Gujarat.

So far, Mr. Gehlot has visited the State several times before the developments in Rajasthan and Delhi regarding the presidential polls in the grand Opposition party.

Many Congress leaders in Gujarat feel that the high command has not accorded due importance to the Assembly poll compared to the BJP and the AAP whose top leaders are crisscrossing the State.

So far, since March this year, Mr. Modi has visited the State 12 times and held rallies or roadshows and launched new projects or inaugurated completed ones in a dozen different places while Mr. Kejriwal has been to the State almost two dozen times. Both leaders are now visiting Gujarat almost once a week.

“There is certainly lack of direction from the top leadership but one has to admit that the entire party is undergoing massive changes and transformation,” a senior Congress leader said, adding party’s internal developments and dynamics came at wrong time.

In such situations, the State unit is witnessing defections from its rank. This week, its senior legislator Harshad Ribadia joined the BJP. Earlier in July, a prominent tribal leader and three-time legislator Ashwin Kotwal had resigned and joined the ruling party.

In between, working president of the State and Patidar quota agitation leader Hardik Patel defected to the saffron camp. Former Rajya Sabha member Raju Parmar and former leader of Opposition in the Assembly Naresh Raval joined the BJP.

After the 2017 Assembly poll, as many as 17 sitting Congress legislators have joined the BJP, bringing down the party’s strength from 78 to just 61 now.

Meanwhile, according to insiders, five to six more legislators are likely go to the other camp in the days to come. “We are aware that a few more leaders will join the BJP,” said Raghu Sharma, AICC in charge of Gujarat.

He, however, blames the BJP for the defections from the Congress, citing “monetary deals and misuse of the State agencies.”



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