The Congress, which was virtually wiped out from the urban areas in Gujarat, five years ago, is now keen to breach the BJP’s citadel. Boosted by the good response it received during Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s interactive sessions with youths during his Navsarjan Gujarat yatras, the party is all set to rope in its leaders like Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Milind Deora and Shashi Tharoor to accentuate its appeal among the young urban voters in the state.
These four Congress leaders, who represent the suave urban face of the Congress, will hold such interactions in four major cities — Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara and Rajkot — that account for 38 of the 46 urban seats in the state. But the Congress is not only focussing on these 46 seats, it wants to expand its reach to 21 other semi-urban seats. After campaigning in the cities, the quartet of Scindia, Pilot, Tharoor and Deora will begin similar exercise with the youths in semi-urban and rural areas.
The Congress is hopeful that these leaders will be able to impress the under-40 years voters, who constitute 52 per cent of the total electorate, this time. “We have drawn up a plan to connect with the youth voters of cities, where Rahul Gandhi has already held discussions on issues related to demonetisation and GST. We have seen that the present day youth have a mind of their own and do not get swayed by the political symbolism that the BJP uses to lure voters. This young crowd is the future of the country. Leaders like Tharoor, Jyotiraditya, Sachin Pilot and Deora will engage them at an intellectual level with practical conversations on economy, country’s global standing as well as entrepreneurship,” said party spokesperson in Vadodara Nilesh Brahmbhatt.
According to party sources, dates for the interactions with Scindia and Tharoor have already been finalised for four cities, while the schedules for Pilot and Deora are being worked out. The audience at the events, sources said, will include students from colleges and professional institutions. Young businessmen will also be invited to attend the interactions. “We are interacting with youths through social media. They are responding positively to our campaign as they understand that there are palpable issues related to economy and unemployment. They were mesmerised (by Modi), but they know that they have not got anything in return. With Rahulji’s visit, we have realised that youths have begun thinking that something is wrong. We are not yet sure if we will be able to convert them into votes, but with leaders like Jyotiradtiya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Shashi Tharoor and Milind Deora coming to engage them, they will have more clarity,” former Union minister Tushar Chaudhary told The Indian Express.
According to Chaudhary, the post-2002 polarisation, which had seen the urban seats swing to the BJP, is finally fading away. “For the BJP, the Hindutva card is their only tool in urban areas as cities are equipped with basic amenities like roads, drinking water, electricity. But demonetisation and GST have affected the urban areas and so, the voters have started to think about change,” said the 51-year-old leader.
During his visit to central Gujarat, Rahul had held interactive sessions with youths in Vadodara as well as Chhota Udepur, where he answered to a range of questions from young voters, ranging from demonetisation, GST to expensive education in the state. “We have prepared a campaign presentation, as well as printed material, which will distributed in colleges and among professional youngsters. It is the fact-check on Gujarat model that the BJP harps about,” said a senior Congress leader.
According to another party leader, the strategy is to expose the “misogynist” side of the saffron party, especially among the female voters. “We have gathered data that shows Gujarat is among the most backward states as far as women’s education and empowerment is concerned. This is because of the ingrained mindset of the BJP government that women are second class citizens. They created a hullabaloo over Rahul’s remark that he saw no women in RSS, but the talk of the young leaders will back Rahul’s remark with statistical facts,” said the party leader.
Among the other leaders who will arrive in the state to campaign and engage youths are actress-turned-politician Nagma Morarji, Sushmita Dev and Priya Dutt.