By Ashima Makhija
On July 10, 2017, contingents of the Congress party put up a show of unity at a farmers’ rally at Lahar and revived their 1993 Dabra Spirit. All this is being done in the hopes of brewing a victory formulation for the 2018 Madhya Pradesh state assembly elections.
After numerous humiliating defeats this year, the Congress has decided to launch an early electoral campaign. The party will focus on the empowerment of farmers, Dalits and OBCs to plough its way to victory. The party also released a 12-point charter of demands that included loan waivers, a remunerative price for farm produce and GST-free farm inputs.
The kickstart with Kisan Swabhiman Yatra
Sixteen months before the next assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, the Congress saw a window of opportunity to initiate its electoral campaign in tandem with the farmers’ rally in the Lahar assembly constituency of Bhind district. The police firing in Mandsaur, which killed five farmers, became the epicentre of political controversy. This was followed by the suicide of six farmers which has led to a widespread agitation in the state. Thus, the state Congress leadership launched the Kisan Swabhiman Yatra as the first step in dethroning a 14-year-old BJP regime.
In the presence of party members including former Union Minister Kamal Nath and Congress General Secretary Digvijaya Singh, Jyotiraditya Scindia launched a scathing attack on Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan over farmer suicide. He said, “It is a murder of democracy. This is not Shivraj government, but a Shavraj (dead body) government.” Extending his list of accusations, he spoke of PM Modi’s indifference to the plight of the farmers and said, “Not once in his numerous tweets has he condoled the death of the farmers. The farmer is suffering and the PM is enjoying himself in foreign countries.”
The Fleeting Dabra Spirit
The faction-riddled parties in Madhya Pradesh have decided to revive the 1993 Dabra spirit and fight a united battle against the BJP. Dabra occupies a position of eminence in the history of the Congress in Madhya Pradesh. In 1993, late Madhavrao Scindia initiated a conclave of senior Congress leaders in the small town just before the 1993 assembly elections. It was here that they managed to bury the hatchet and succeeded in coming to power by defeating the BJP.
While the attempt is to revive the victories of a glorious past, cracks and crevices have already begun appearing in the Congress camp. In his address, Rajya Sabha MP Digvijaya Singh gave credence to the ongoing internal feud in the party. Just before ending his speech, he looked towards Scindia, smiled and said, “Go and fight BJP and Shivraj Singh Chouhan, not me.”
Such public revelations of the Congress’ internal dissent and disharmony can be fatal to the party’s electoral campaign. Though the frustration of the farmers has presented a unique opportunity to the opposition party, the Congress can only succeed if it maintains its unity and commitment to the farmers’ plight.
The retaliation by BJP
Though the Congress has succeeded in confounding the ruling BJP government, the BJP has quickly retaliated with its own campaign, the ‘Kisan Sandesh Yatra’ to pacify the tillers in the state. “The Congress does not have credibility, leadership or organisation in the state. They are doing this with an eye on the assembly polls. They do not have any genuine concern for farmers,” said BJP state spokesperson Deepak Vijayvargiya.
Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan also visited the families of those killed in police firing in Mandsaur and announced an ex gratia of Rs 1 crore each for the next of kin of the slain farmers. His government also announced subsidised prices for onions and waived off power bills of small and marginal farmers.
A test of unity
All said and done, the Congress has ruffled an air of patriotism and revolution by equating its pro-farmer electoral campaign with Mahatma Gandhi’s struggle in Champaran against the oppressive British regime. On Monday, amidst cheers from the 50,000 odd farmers gathered, the Congress promised to form a government committed for the upliftment of “the farmers, the poor, the Dalits and the OBCs”.
However, these gigantic promises for the future face the current challenges of reality. The Madhya Pradesh elections will test not only the fragile unity of the Congress but also its ability to finally arrest the saffron wave.
Featured Image Credit: Visual Hunt