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    Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Why Rahul Gandhi’s decision to contest from Wayanad in Kerala is awfully bad for the Congress  

    Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Why Rahul Gandhi’s decision to contest from Wayanad in Kerala is awfully bad for the Congress  

    Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Why Rahul Gandhi’s decision to contest from Wayanad in Kerala is awfully bad for the Congress  
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    By V Krishna Ananth   IST (Updated)

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    The decision by Rahul Gandhi to contest from Wayanad (in addition to Amethi) belongs to a league that could be described adventure of the misplaced kind.

    By deciding to contest from the Wayanad Lok Sabha constituency in Kerala, Congress President Rahul Gandhi has added strength to the Prakash Karat line within the CPI(M) — that the Congress party cannot be seen as an ally. Rahul Gandhi seems to have dispelled that such talk that he had often decided to seek advice from CPI(M) general secretary, Sitaram Yechury on things political were without basis.
    While Rahul Gandhi’s decision to say no to an alliance/understanding with the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi and his decision to field Priyanka Gandhi in Eastern Uttar Pradesh could have been explained in a manner – that the Congress had to consider its own future shape as and when assembly polls are held in Delhi in a year and the SP-BSP-RLD offer to it in UP was too little and amounted to gulping down a humiliation – the decision that he will fight from Wayanad does not follow a pattern.
    One is that Kerala, unlike many others, is a state where the Congress is alive and kicking. The party’s vote-share and cadre strength is substantial. It may have lost the assembly elections in May 2016 and lost a large number of assembly seats too. But then, the party was alive.
    In alliance with the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and the several Kerala Congress factions, the Congress ranks remained active, agitating on the streets every now and then (and here, the distinction between the party’s other state units and its Kerala unit is conspicuous) in the past couple of years.
    A Complex Region
    Wayanad, though a new constituency that was carved out for the 2009 elections, consists of assembly segments that had elected Congress candidates as a matter of course. The complex dynamics of the region is marked by a poverty-ridden indigenous people – the adivasis – who have historically borne the brunt of exploitation and domination by the settlers from the southern parts of the state who prospered, until some times in the past, turning the mountainous terrain into plantation and the thriving export of spices and other commercial crops.
    This complexity was consciously kept out of their agenda by the Congress as well as the CPI(M) and the CPI; one because the adivasis were not a numerous majority among the voters whereas the planters’ clout extended beyond Wayanad; their religion being the same as that of the dominant sections in the Kottayam district where the Kerala Congress held sway ensured that both the Left and the Congress-led combines found it convenient to ignore the adivasis and their woes.
    The mantle had to be taken up by far-Left platforms and CK Janu, a former leader of the CPI(M), tried mainstreaming the demands of the adivasis for their land; that was in the late 1990s and into the early years of the present century. She faced persecution from both the Congress-led UDF government as well as the CPI(M)-led LDF before she teamed up with the BJP. Her foray into electoral politics did not take her anywhere because the people whom she sought to represent – the adivasis – were not large in numbers to matter in an election.
    All the mainstream parties, meanwhile, did not lag behind raising issues of the farm crisis that hit the region after markets crashed and export of spices and other produces stopped; this was about a decade ago and after the adivasis were rendered without a leader; Janu and her small band of associates were slapped with several cases under the criminal law for having dared to organise the adivasis demanding right to their land; accepting the demand would have alienated the parties that did from the Christian community, articulate and numerous in the Southern parts of Kerala.
    A Safe Seat
    It is against this background that one could see the implications of Rahul Gandhi contesting for the Lok Sabha from Wayanad. There is no doubt insofar as him winning the seat is concerned. In any case, the Congress would have won the seat even if someone else was fielded. And even otherwise, the CPI candidate only would win Wayanad. The Congress, in the event, need not have worried about support from the Wayanad MP in the event of the party gathering strength to form the next government.
    This, notwithstanding, Rahul Gandhi’s decision to contest from Wayanad seems to suggest two things. One that his idea is to ‘revive’ his own party in the long run rather than run for the immediate goal of achieving a unity of forces opposing the BJP in the immediate present. And in this, he has ignored what Manmohan Singh held, while debating demonetisation, that we will all be gone in the long run! Well. Rahul’s idea won the day in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh where he spurned demands from the BSP for an alliance before the assembly elections there in October 1998.
    The second factor, more or less following from the first, is to revive the Congress, whose position in Kerala on the Sabarimala issue was one that ceded ground to the BJP and akin to the Congress stand on Ayodhya in the Gangetic valley (Uttar Pradesh and Bihar) in the 1980s and ending up a pale shadow of its own past. Rahul Gandhi failed, in the months after October 1998, to reign in his state party leadership and stopping them joining the hysteria against the entry of women in menstruating age group into the shrine as ordained by the Supreme Court. The party, thus, ceded ground to the BJP in Kerala.
    It is for these reasons that the decision by Rahul Gandhi to contest from Wayanad (in addition to Amethi) belongs to a league that could be described adventure of the misplaced kind. It is bound to weaken Sitaram Yechury’s standing in his own party and strengthen forces in the CPI(M) that had opposed the arguments for unity at the party’s Hyderabad Congress. Nevertheless, Congress may see a certain buoyancy among its ranks in Kerala in the immediate context.
    V Krishna Ananth teaches History at Sikkim University, Gangtok.
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