There was a time “Pappu” was considered derogatory. But then your own party workers are using it freely now, so I presume you will not be offended by my using it!
It must be frustrating for you – whatever you do or say seems to be perceived as childish or immature. Even your media friends are doing you no favor by declaring every few months that you have finally matured and arrived. As if you were that “special” child until yesterday.
All is not lost. You have a few distinct advantages
- You are young. You have time on your side. Barring Kejriwal almost all your competitors will hit 70 or more by 2024.
- Congress rank and file or middle tier leadership is in no danger of discovering its self respect. It is still and will be for the foreseeable future, a private venture of your family. So there are no internal threats. Of course, this applies to your rivals too.
- You have a pan-India mind share which is unique with Kejriwal being the only exception. No one outside Bengal will dream of seeing Mamata B in the PM chair and same can be said of Nitish Kumar too, particularly in the south.
But then you have unique challenges too.
- Congress is the only party that has a track record to explain. Others come with more or less clean slate. Their performance in their own backyards can be questioned but only so much. They can easily spin it in their favor barring major scandals.
- The very fact that there are so many claimants to the PM chair means you have to put a distance between not just Modi and yourself but between yourself and Nitish, Mamata, Kejriwal and others too.
- Unless Modi screws up enormously (Demonetisation is NOT one, regardless of what your retainers may tell you), a wave election favoring a single non-Modi candidate can pretty much be ruled out for 2019. It will be BJP again (perhaps with reduced majority or a need to strike new alliances to shore up numbers) or a fractured 90s style verdict.
- The others in the fray have made it amply clear time and again that they do not see you as their leader. Just getting them to join a meeting has been a herculean task for you.
- DMK/ADMK, Naveen Patnaik, KCR may hold 80-100 seats between them and none of them have any particular reason not to sign up with Modi should he need their help. Of course, they may support you, but they may also support a 3rd front. You are neither here nor there.
Given this background, what should you do? This is the high level “strategy”
Focus on differentiating yourself from the rest of the also-rans.
Take it slow, easy.
How do you get there? What are the tactics?
- Forget 2019, focus on 2024 – this sounds defeatist. But you don’t have to give up until the last vote is counted and writing is on the wall. But you don’t have to be so desperate like the rest for whom 2019 is the last chance in life. So you are hitting both strategic goals with this approach.
- Forget Modi, focus on others – Again this sounds like a bad advise. After all, isn’t he the man to beat? Yes, but for you the rest are as much rivals if not more. Remember, Modi’s die hard voters will vote him even if he is caught spying for Pakistan. (They will claim he has some special trick up his sleeve). You have a tough job convincing anti-Modi voters that you are THE man for the job. Naturally if you do a good job at this, the race becomes a two horse one. You just can’t wish away the other horse, rather, the elephant in the room. At least not in 2019.
- Collaborate with Modi on specific agenda items – Again this is contrarian. When Mamata and Kejri are crying themselves hoarse seeing conspiracy in every shadow, can you lag behind? But then the point is, that is precisely why you should do this. To show the educated, post-caste, mature electorate (whose numbers and proportion will grow with time) that you are PM in waiting not an anarchist clown who can’t be trusted. You can work together on Kashmir, Election funding reform, GST and few other areas where it costs you nothing, benefits you enormously to be seen as facilitating, mature, sensible leader with sound ideas. Obviously, this doesn’t mean you have to pull punches on other issues. It just means you don’t have to constantly oppose and hog the airwaves screaming and shouting when you have two professional anarchists to compete with and have no hopes of outracing them.
- Do not sign away any state with suicidal “mahaghatbandhan” – Yes that is precisely what you did in Bihar and trying to do in UP. A few seats and perhaps one or two ministry posts mean nothing if that state is lost for next ten years or more. It takes work no doubt but you have think of yourself (ie Congress) as natural alternative to BJP. Only then you can convince voters of that.
- Don’t touch the left with a 10 foot pole – Sitaram Yechuri and his comrades are still living in Stalin’s 40s. They simply do not have any credible economic plan for 21st century India. As the country grows they will be have even less relevance and will have a stake in nothing but anarchy, violence and backwardness. At best, they may be able to deploy their loyal army of “intellectuals” in the media and so-called “civil society” to sing your praise if you dance to their tunes. But then they have little choice and will anyway come crawling once you capture power. You can throw them some crumbs and gigs at ICHR or whatever. After all, they will be starving and completely famished by the time Modi is done. By allowing them to act as your mentor or advisors you are simply signing up to be their B-team captain. Unless that is your objective.
If you stick to this agenda, you will do reasonably well in 2019 and be in a position to seen as the best bet to anyone looking for a non-Modi option. Today this demography is spoiled for choice.