Congress candidates for the parliamentary election have discovered that there is a cash crunch in the party. In the earlier two polls, getting money for campaign was a simple procedure. A request was sent to Ahmed Patel, who cleared the amount, and it was forwarded to party treasurer Motilal Vora, who disbursed the amount. But this time there are conflicting signals with candidates being given the run around between numbers 10, 12 and 23. (It’s a common Congress practice not to mention the names of leaders whose offices they are referring to, but simply give the number of their houses.)
The three crucial addresses being 10 Janpath (Sonia Gandhi), 12 Tughlaq Lane (Rahul) and 23 Willingdon Crescent (Ahmed Patel). There is also confusion in the selection of candidates. While people in number 12 claim that they call the shots, numbers 10 and 23 seem to have more of a say in the actual selection. This is because number 10 asks the opinion of old guards, including Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ahmed Patel, Ambika Soni, A K Antony and Janardhan Dwivedi, before deciding on a candidate.
Caste a vote
Narendra Modi’s right-hand man Amit Shah was the first from the BJP to break the mould to play the caste card in Uttar Pradesh. When Shah first arrived in Lucknow to head the party’s Uttar Pradesh campaign, he mentioned that Modi was an OBC. Modi was so upset that he scolded Shah for 15 minutes for raising the caste issue. The RSS rails against caste divisions in Hindu society. But the caste card was such a success that now even Modi occasionally brings up his caste origins in eastern UP and Bihar.
The Congress began its advertising campaign in January and reportedly spent around Rs 400 crore in the first round of advertisements for Rahul Gandhi. The BJP started in March but it has already outdone the Congress. Ads seeking votes for Narendra Modi are far more visible in the media. The Congress now has a shortage of funds and is regretting its first flush of ads which, many feel, did not convey the message effectively. One complaint is that the Rahul ads are in black and white and look like government hoardings that do not catch the eye unlike Modi’s colourful posters with kurtas in different hues. Many senior Congressmen are perturbed to find that the ads centre around only Rahul. In the past the party tradition was to focus on the illustrious Gandhi family and photographs of Indira, Rahul and Sonia were prominent. In the BJP too the campaign has omitted pictures of party stalwarts like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L K Advani and Rajnath Singh. But in the latter case the strategy seems to be working.
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No Priyanka, as yet
The curious remark by Janardhan Dwivedi that Rajiv Gandhi had appreciated his daughter Priyanka’s political acumen way back in 1990 has created a buzz in the Congress. Particularly as it has been followed by a whisper campaign that Indira Gandhi in her last days had recognised the similarities between Priyanka and herself and wanted the granddaughter to be her political heir. Indira is said to have confided in her aide Makhan Lal Fotedar, who is reported to have conveyed her sentiments to both Rahul and Sonia. These suggestive remarks by the party’s old guard in the middle of the campaign are seen as an attempt to make Sonia realise that Rahul on his own cannot meet the challenge from Modi and that Priyanka’s services should be utilised to a greater extent. Sonia, however, rejected suggestions that Priyanka should contest against Modi in Varanasi.
Congress candidate from Vadodara Madhusudan Mistry screamed foul play when he came to the city and discovered that Modi had already monopolised all the hoardings. Actually the company in charge of renting out billboard space in the city had first contacted Narendra Rawat, the original Congress candidate from the city. Low-key Rawat turned down the opportunity to rent the space on the grounds that he did not have the budget. Meanwhile, Modi announced his candidature from the city and booked all the display space available. When Mistry replaced Rawat as the party candidate, he wanted to make the point that Modi had an unfair advantage in having bagged all the hoardings. As a protest he tried to paste his own posters over Modi’s picture. But before he could do so the Vadodara police removed the ladder on which he was standing, charging him with vandalism. Worse, the photo of Mistry trying to replace posters, which went viral, showed him in the foreground with the photo of his rival prominent in the backdrop. Not helpful publicity.