Just a few days ago, I was in Lucknow arguing vociferously with my father-in-law. He is a die hard supporter of Congress and would have cast his vote in favour of Rita Bahuguna Joshi. I personally think the chances of her winning are about as high as Shah Rukh’s Knight Riders winning IPL 2. But then faith and optimism are eternal. In fact, my father-in-law, who is a middle class Bihari settled in U.P is convinced that there is a strong undercurrent in favour of Congress this time in the Hindi heartland. He is almost wistful when he talks about how the glory days of Congress can come back with Rahul Gandhi by the time the next Lok Sabha elections are organized. I have come across hundreds of such Congress well wishers who are sick and tired of regional parties ‘holding the nation to ransom’. I empathize with them, but can’t help pointing out some hard realities that make the challenge of reviving Congress so formidable for Rahul Gandhi and his well meaning earnestness.
Here is a list of major states where the Congress can hope to win a lot of seats on its own: Assam, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarkhand, Orissa and Karnataka. That works out to about 230 plus seats. Here is a list of states where the Congress cannot hope to win even a few seats without strong regional allies: West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and J&K. That works out to almost 300 seats. The last time Congress won in Tamil Nadu was in 1967; it was 1967 in West Bengal; 1984-85 in Gujarat, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh; 1991 in Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. In the states where the Congress can win many seats on its own, the party already has about 110 out of 130. In the second category of states, the party has about 50 out of 300.
Even a school child will know that it is the second category of states that will be the biggest challenge for Rahul Gandhi and his so called youth brigade. To be able to cross even 200 Lok Sabha seats, it needs to at least double its tally in the second category of states. More importantly, Rahul Gandhi needs to plan and execute a strategy which can help the Congress have even a decent chance of winning a large number of seats on its own in Maharashtra, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand which send almost 225 M.Ps to the Lok Sabha. Currently, the Congress has just about 50 representatives from these important states.
Sure, many of us wish Rahul Gandhi well. But we also realize that as of today, the revival that my father-in-law talks wistfully of is a chimera. Perhaps the one most important thing the young Gandhi needs to do is nurture powerful and popular state level leaders like Y.S.R Reddy, Sheila Dixit and Ashok Gehlot in the states where the party is in a shambles. But will the Congress courtiers allow such leaders to emerge?