Analysis | Kanhaiya, Mevani induction earns perception points for Congress

Former JNU Students Union leader Kanhaiya (L) and Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mewani
Former JNU Students Union leader Kanhaiya (L) and Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mewani. File/PTI

Amid unending troubles including a series of electoral defeats, defections and resignations, the Congress has earned a few brownie points in terms of perception management by roping in firebrand young leaders Kanhaiya Kumar and Jignesh Mevani into its fold.

CPI national executive member and former JNU Student Union president Kanhaiya officially became a part of the Congress even as Mevani, a youth face of the Dalit movements in the country, just stopped short of officially joining the party on the Bhagat Singh martyrdom day in Delhi.

Mevani did not join the party citing technical reasons, as he would attract the provisions of the anti-defection law – he is a sitting independent MLA in Gujarat assembly.

However, he made it clear that he would be fighting the next election as a Congress candidate.

Mevani's association with the Congress is not new as he was elected to the Gujarat assembly in 2017 with the support of the Congress.

Leaders of varying statures jumping the ship and joining other parties has been the Congress story for long since the party's tragic fall from power at the Centre in 2014.

Since then, the party has seen a number of leaders, including the once Rahul Gandhi confidant Jyotiraditya Scindia, leaving the party and joining the BJP.

A few have joined other parties including Trinamool Congress and NCP.

These defections and the ease with which even the top leaders moved to the BJP camp had already done severe damage to the party in terms of perception.

The defectors' ideological fragility has battered the Congress' claims of being the only pan-Indian force that can take on the Hindutva forces, represented by BJP/RSS.

Kanhaiya and Mevani's decision to join the Congress on an ideological basis at its most critical juncture gives it a morale booster.

Kanhaiya, known for his oratory skills, said he was joining “the country's most democratic party.” He went on to say that the “youth are beginning to realise that if the Congress is finished, then this country will also not be safe."

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi with Kanhaiya Kumar, MLA Jignesh Mewani
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi with Kanhaiya Kumar, MLA Jignesh Mewani and others while paying tribute to legendary freedom fighter Shaheed Bhagat Singh, at Shaheed Samarak in New Delhi, Tuesday, Sept 28, 2021. Photo: PTI

Kanhaiya and Mevani are crowd-pullers, even though they are not expected to bring with them any sizeable vote bank to the Congress fold.

However, their track record as vocal critics of the Sangh Parivar and Modi government will add to Rahul Gandhi's ammunition to take forward his unapologetic strategy to attack the prime minister and the ideology he represents, even as sections within the party are perplexed over how to stop the Modi juggernaut.

The induction of the young leaders appears to be a part of Rahul's strategy to give the party a facelift ahead of the 2024 general elections, about which the Congress has nothing to be hopeful as of now.

It could also be seen as a part of election strategist Prashant Kishore's herculean task to revive the Congress's fortunes in the country.

The Kanhaiya-Mevani induction also indicates a shift in Congress's ideological positioning at a time when the ultra rightist Sangh Parivar wields enormous clout.

Kanhaiya is a communist while Mewani is an Ambedkarite. It seems Rahul is keen to give the party an overt Socialist makeover.

Nevertheless, it would be too naïve to guess that the Congress would do election wonders with the induction of a few firebrand leaders.

Navjot Singh Sidhu takes over as Punjab Congress chief
Navjot Singh Sidhu meets Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh before taking charge as Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee President, in Chandigarh, Friday, July 23, 2021. PTI

No matter how committed such leaders are to the Congress ideology and sincere in their fight against the Hindutva, the party would not have much to do as long as it remains a headless house in utter disorder. Even the shine of the Kanaiah-Mevani induction, which should have infused a fresh sense of hope among the party cadres, was taken away with the Punjab drama in which Sidhu quit as PCC chief, shocking the high command.

A section of the Congress insiders are also not very enthusiastic about the new joinees.

“It remains to see how influential these new people are in terms of electoral influence. The fact is that the leaders who can turn the party's electoral fortunes are all on the other side (opposed to Rahul Gandhi). First you have to bring them on board. It is also important to address the concerns of the G-23 group (the section of leaders who have come out openly seeking sweeping changes in the leadership’s style of functioning),” an AICC source said.

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