Inside Congress' Gujarat Campaign: Media Bias, Budget Cuts and Bharat Jodo Yatra

Prompted by budget constraints and 'hostile' media coverage, Congress is running a 'low-key' campaign in Gujarat.


Assembly elections in Gujarat are around the corner and the Congress party's conspicuous absence from the headlines, ironically, has started making it to the news.

Amid talks of the party ceding ground to Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who is also a star campaigner for the Congress in Gujarat, recently asserted that the party is running a 'low-key' campaign in the state.

In an interview with NDTV, Gehlot said, "Even Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi is saying watch out for silent Congress campaign. There is a huge build-up. The campaign is on. It is wrong to say we are not in the fight."

A recent ABP-CVoter survey, however, does not entirely back Gehlot's claims. As per its findings, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is expected to defeat the Congress with a comfortable margin by winning 135-143 seats in the 182-seat Assembly. The Congress is expected to win 36-44 seats which are less than its 2017 tally of 77 seats.

Congress' vote share is also expected to drop with the AAP having emerged as a serious challenger.

The Quint spoke to multiple Congress functionaries in Gujarat to draw a blueprint of the party's campaign in the state and understand how and why is Congress' poll-strategy different from that of their main opponents – namely the BJP and the AAP.


Back to Basics With Booth-Level Management and Door-To-Door Campaigning

Congress' messaging on the ground is centred around two main campaigns – 'Congress Nu Kaam Bole Che' (Congress' work speaks) and 'Congress ke 8 Vachan' (Congress' eight promises).

Hemang Raval, party's media coordinator in the state, explained the two campaigns in detail. "We've been out of government in Gujarat for close to 27 years. Hence, it was important to tell the young and new voters about the work done by previous Congress governments, assuming they would not be aware of it," Raval said.

The second campaign is focused on eight promises which Congress leader Rahul Gandhi made to the voters in the state. These include – reduction in the price of gas cylinders, free electricity up to 300 units, free healthcare up to Rs 10 lakh, loan waivers for farmers, 3000 English-medium government schools, subsidy on milk products, government jobs, and unemployment allowance up to Rs 30,000 for the youth.

"So far, we've distributed over 1.5 crore pamphlets carrying these eight promises to people across the state," Raval said. "We are relying heavily on our network of cadre on ground," he added.

As per multiple party functionaries, teams of experts from Rajasthan and Chattisgarh have reached Gujarat and are overseeing the party's preparation for the upcoming elections.

Sagar Shah, Youth Congress leader and a ward pramukh in Ahmedabad, told The Quint that teams from Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh are stationed in Gujarat to function as election observers and conduct several training activities for party workers.

"To strengthen Gujarat Congress and improve our chances in the upcoming elections, the party high command decided to employ teams from states where the Congress has defeated the BJP and replicate their models to win the election."
Sagar Shah, Youth Congress

Shah added that virtual training sessions are being held for workers operating at booth level to equip and prepare them to not just communicate effectively with voters but also handle the situation on the day of polling.

Budget Constraints and a 'Hostile' National Media

MLA from Anand's Anklav constituency and former President of the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC), Amit Chavda, told The Quint that the party's decision to bank on a low-key, door-to-door campaign was prompted by budget constraints and the need to communicate directly with voters.

"The BJP has amassed massive wealth over the last 27 years. Unlike them, we do not have an extravagant budget to contest the elections. We saw it fit to not waste money on advertisements and instead chose to communicate directly with the voters," said Chavda.

Chavda, Shah, and Raval unanimously dismissed the AAP as a 'marketing gimmick'. While Raval claimed that the hype around the party is purely a creation by the national media, Chavda said that AAP is the 'B-team of the BJP' working to split the anti-incumbency vote.

"We've been on the ground. We interact with voters daily. There's no wave of the AAP in Gujarat. This is a hype created by a section of media working in cahoots with the BJP. The idea is to split the anti-incumbency vote," said Raval.

As per the ABP C-Voter survey, however, 46 percent people in Gujarat see AAP as the key challenger to the BJP. Only 40 percent people consider the Congress as a main opponent.


Why Is The Bharat Jodo Yatra Not Passing Through Gujarat? 

From Narendra Modi to Arvind Kejriwal, the who's who of BJP and AAP are frequenting Gujarat to address rallies as the elections draw close.

When Rahul Gandhi embarked on his ambitious Bharat Jodo Yatra, several people within an outside the party were of the opinion that the 3500 km long journey should've started from Gujarat.

Shah concurs. "When top party leaders come to state and address rallies and talk to people, it rejuvenates the cadre on ground," he said.

But Shah quickly added that while he and several others in the party were initially of the opinion that the yatra should have passed through Gujarat, they soon realised that it would've actually hindered the election preparations in the state.

"If the yatra comes to Gujarat, a lot of our resources will be spent in managing the logistics of it. Our top leaders will have to join the yatra and they might not find time to focus on their own local campaigns," he said.

Raval added that the yatra has a pan-India appeal and purpose and it was not ideated keeping the Assembly polls in mind.

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