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Except for newbie Manish Khanduri, whose electoral worth is yet to be decided by the voters, the Congress has put up a strong panel of candidates for the coming Lok Sabha contest. Pritam Singh from Tehri, Pradeep Tamta, Almora, Harish Rawat, Nainital-US Nagar, and Ambrish Kumar, Haridwar, are all battle-hardened stalwarts who should be able to put up a strong challenge to the incumbent BJP. As such, despite PM Modi’s continuing popularity, the BJP cannot afford to take anything for granted.
Apart from the over-arching issues concerning the nation’s future, voters will also be influenced by the politics in each of these constituencies. This includes the past performances and personalities of the candidates. The Congress candidates represent the traditional politics of the party, the foundations of which were laid by Indira Gandhi. It involves a Soviet style, bureaucracy-led socialist pattern of society and economy in which politicians largely played the role of influence-peddlers. In an ethos of chronic shortages, mostly imposed by government policy rather than actual shortcomings, the politician ‘served’ the people by exercising discretion in selective allocation of goods and services. While, globally, this system has been largely done away with, the culture it created remains entrenched. The Congress has not been able to evolve out of this ‘top-down’ approach and struggles to find relevance in the present day. In many ways, its candidates will struggle to address the aspirations of the voters, as they will remain unaware of the fundamental irrelevance of their ideology.
As such, Harish Rawat, Pradeep Tamta, Pritam Singh and Ambrish will have to depend almost entirely on their personal support bases to make the necessary impact. Although the BJP has its share of inner strife, the Congress has an even bigger problem. While the veterans know every trick in the book, they also carry a lot of personal baggage in terms of frustrated rivals. While Harish Rawat may feel sanguine in having to face-off against the amiable Ajay Bhatt, he will have to ensure he remains more aware of internal sabotage than when he was Chief Minister. Pritam Singh has for long striven to assert himself outside his home constituency of Chakrata, but has largely failed owing to the inability to sync with the political culture in other places. He will hope that the party machinery and cadre would help deliver the goods. Ambrish Kumar has a better chance because of the larger presence of castes and communities inimical to the BJP in his constituency. Despite all these handicaps, however, it is unlikely that the Congress could have put up a better challenge than with this lot. In the end, Modi might just prove the clinching factor.