2019 Lok Sabha Poll Campaign: In Rahul Gandhi’s return to Gujarat, Congress looks at improving its urban score

Congress Chief Rahul Gandhi to visit Gujarat next month, meet party's urban booth-level workers after recognising the need to connect with city voters, known as the janmitras. Rahul’s meeting with janmitras, the party feels, will be an incentive to energise the cadre.

Written by Aditi Raja | Vadodara | Published: June 5, 2018 7:04:23 am
Congress President Rahul Gandhi will return to Gujarat after his Navsarjan Gujarat Yatra Rahul Gandhi during his Navsarjan Gujarat Yatra. File

After running a hectic Navsarjan Gujarat campaign ahead of last year’s Assembly election, Congress president Rahul Gandhi will return to the state next month to boost the party’s grassroot organisational structure in urban centres ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

During his visits, Rahul will speak to janmitras, the booth-level workers appointed by the party during a two-month-long exercise that began on April 12 this year with an aim to bolster the party’s performance in urban areas of the state, which have been voting for the rival BJP since the last decade.

Recognising the need to establish the missing connect with city voters, the Congress has been appointing janmitras, one man and one woman for each of the 50,000-odd urban booths for the last two months. Rahul’s meeting with janmitras, the party feels, will be an incentive to energise the cadre.

“Rahul Gandhi is scheduled to visit Gujarat in July. He will begin his interactions from Vadodara, where he will meet the janmitras. The janmitras will serve as a point of contact for voters in that particular booth. Voters can approach the janmitras for any issue in which they need help from the party. The janmitras, in return, will communicate the aspirations of the people to the leaders. This will help us establish the Congress as an option for urban voters,” Shailesh Amin, vice-president of Vadodara unit of the Congress, said.

Party leaders said that Rahul took personal interest in the janmitra programme after last year’s Assembly poll results in which the Congress improved its performance, but fell short of winning a majority owing to its poor performance in urban areas. The Congress won just six of the 40 urban seats.

After the election, senior Congress leader Madhusudan Mistry had conducted a survey of all the urban constituencies in Gujarat. “Mistry submitted an internal report to Rahul Gandhi, in which several local leaders’ insisted that the party has to work hard to connect with the urban voters of the state. That is one of the reasons why the Congress fell short of winning a majority number of seats in Gujarat,” another senior party leader said.

Senior leader Tushar Chaudhary, who has been vocal about the reasons behind the party’s debacle in the urban centres, said the janmitra programme will give voters a sense of a political option. “The fact is that our grassroot workers in the urban centres visit voters only three times in a span of five years — during local body elections, Assembly elections and Lok Sabha elections. We cannot expect the voters to remember them or feel connected with the party. The lack of strength at the booth-level was exposed ahead of the Assembly polls when the party made it mandatory for the aspiring candidates to submit testimonials from voters. It turned out that most of the candidates submitted bogus testimonials by just picking out names of random voters from the electoral rolls, who did not even know them. The janmitra exercise is not only for the Lok Sabha polls, but to strengthen the base in the long run,” Chaudhary told The Indian Express.

“The idea of strengthening the grassroot is to be able to win seats at the local level, which will have its positive effect on the bigger elections,” he added.

For the janmitras, Rahul’s visit and his interactions with them will energise the party cadre. “We are enthusiastic about this programme, especially since there is a growing anger on the ground among the voters against the ruling BJP…. This is the right time for us to strike a chord with the people,” a janmitra volunteer said.

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