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In Gujarat, the Congress is imprisoned by its own lack of conviction. It is still not bracing for a fight
In many ways, Shankersinh Vaghela exemplifies the Congress predicament in Gujarat. For long a BJP leader and then its flamboyant rebel who migrated to the Congress, he is officially in charge as chairman of the Gujarat Congress Campaign Committee, even as he holds a "part time" Delhi job as ITDC chairman. In other words, the Congress's chief strategist is a leader who was neither locally nurtured in the party, nor mandated to throw himself full-time into the fight. In an interview to this paper, Vaghela has expressed his frustration with the Congress's inexplicable holding back in Gujarat. He came close to quitting the party to join the NCP last year, he has revealed, and earlier considered a return to the BJP. While Vaghela's political vaults reflect his own personal calculations as well, his confessions underscore a larger point: the Congress in Gujarat is a dispirited force, unable to claw its way back into the reckoning, because as Vaghela suggests, it continues to lack the stomach for a fight.
While the absence of a confident local level leadership of its own, or factionalism and political directionlessness are Congress afflictions in most states, they are especially debilitating in Gujarat. In principle, this should have been the state where the Congress, weighed down by a lacklustre stint in power at the Centre and unremarkable performance in the states it rules, readies for a bracing battle. Narendra Modi's dominance in the state is arguably dented by incumbency — he will be making his third electoral outing as chief minister this year. Yet, the Congress appears to have tied its own hands and is doing nothing to wriggle free. It has surmised that it cannot enter the fray flying the flag of secularism — any communal polarisation ends up benefiting Modi, also because of the Congress's own crisis of credibility. But if the fight is not to be on secular grounds, what will it be on?
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