Congress president Rahul Gandhi would do well to concentrate on Uttar Pradesh politics in the wake of the abrupt parting of ways with the Samajwadi Party.
It is ironical that just when the Rahul Gandhi story was beginning to read better, his friend Akhilesh Yadav decided to snap ties with him, rather unilaterally. There is no explanation from either side as to why the “two wheels of a bicycle” and the “confluence of Ganga and Yamuna” have opted for separate ways without even caring to meet or talk over the phone.
Akhilesh may have compelling reasons to dump a Rahul-led Congress. His father and Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav was opposed to the alliance from the beginning. After the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election results, Akhilesh has realised that his future within the Samajwadi Party is critically dependant on Yadav Senior.
In more pragmatic terms, a resurgent Congress (even outside Uttar Pradesh) poses a threat to the SP’s national ambitions and limits Its role in the poll-bound States of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan where the party has pockets of influence. Clearly, Akhilesh is not in a mood to make sacrifices and help Rahul wrest MP and Rajasthan from a formidable BJP.
In Akhilesh’s scheme of things, a weak and somewhat pitiable Rahul was a good alliance partner. Perhaps, in private, he fancied himself as a more credible national alternative and youth icon than the Congress chief. The 2017 SP-Congress alliance was stitched up at the bidding of poll strategist Prashant Kishore with neither Akhilesh nor Rahul caring to sound out their party rank and file.
The outcome of the Gujarat Assembly election, however, gave Rahul somewhat of an image make-over and a chance to prove himself. In the coming round of Assembly polls, the stakes are high for Rahul to win Karnataka and take on the BJP and regional parties in Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura, If the Congress under Rahul manages to retain Karnataka, the newly appointed AICC chief would position himself as the leader of a possible anti-BJP/NDA grouping for the 2019 general election.
Like his father, Akhilesh has little or no interest in playing second fiddle to a member of the Nehru family. In the coming weeks and months, the Akhilesh-led SP could be seen causing more damage to the Congress than its rival, the BJP.
Rahul has done well in addressing the Global Organisation of People of India Origin (GOPIO) conference in Bahrain and meeting Bahrain’s Prime Minister Prince Salman bin Hamas Al-Khalifa. Manama, with its strategic location and diverse population, has been an old friend of India but the absence of a high-level Indian representation at the 13th Manama Dialogue has not gone unnoticed. The Manama Dialogue provides a vital forum for some of the most powerful policymakers to address pressing challenges of the world. Rahul has made good use of the opportunity to make some friends and address NRIs too.
But the AICC chief needs more time to give attention to Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat where a lot more political activism is required to keep the Congress flag flying high. Election preparations for MP and Rajasthan are yet to begin, but Rahul has to take a crucial call in naming chief ministerial candidates – Jyotiraditya Scindia or Kamal Nath for Madhya Pradesh and Sachin Pilot or Ashok Gehlot for Rajasthan. These are not easy decisions and would have a tremendous bearing on the outcome of this year’s polls.
Putting up a good fight is not Rahul’s option anymore as he has to win Karnataka, MP and Rajasthan. These victories would not only make Prime Minister Narendra Modi sit up but relegate likes of Akhilesh to the margin.
Rasheed Kidwai is the Associate Editor with The Telegraph. His Twitter handle is @rasheedkidwai
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