Pivoting on the thumping win in Karnataka earlier this summer, the Congress has shifted its election preparation into a higher gear by constituting a Political Affairs Committee (PCA) to craft its strategy in each of the five states that go to polls before the 2024 general elections.
The 25-member PCA would be led by the State-in-Charge, the Pradesh Congress Committee President, the Congress Legislative Party Leader, the Campaign Committee Chief, and other top leaders representing key vote bank syndicates, a senior Congress leader told The Quint.
The PCA's fundamental task is three-fold: button down key vote banks who need to be targeted in each state, craft a guarantee programme, and identify leaders from within the party who can potentially win the "socially engineered" seats.
"The decision to constitute the political affairs committee has been taken to encourage collective decision-making than allowing just the PCC president and the Congress Legislative Party leader drive at conclusions on important issues," Madhu Yaskhi Goud, Telangana Congress Campaign Committee Chairman, told The Quint exclusively.
Goud is part of the 28-member Telangana Congress Political Affairs Committee.
According to sources, the political affairs committee will report to the AICC General Secretary KC Venugopal, who, in turn, will whet the PCA recommendations with Mallikarjun Kharge, the president of the Congress, and the three Gandhis.
"Every state has different issues and we would need to introduce different programmes to fight the incumbent government. The poll committee within the PCA will look into various issues before suggesting the guarantees to be announced for each state," Goud said.
Congress state in-charge Manikrao Thakre, Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka, Congress Leader of Opposition in Telangana, PCC Chief Revanth Reddy, D Sridhar Babu, head of the Manifesto Committee, Lok Sabha MP Uttam Kumar Reddy, former Deputy Chief Minister of united AP Damodar Raja Narasimha, and Madhu Yaskhi Goud are some of the senior leaders in the Telangana PCA.
The composition of the PCA comes on the back of the two-day Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting held in Hyderabad to discuss the party's preparedness for the upcoming Telangana polls and four other states – Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and Mizoram – that go to polls within months of each state's electorate polling.
Energise the Congress Cadre
Unifying the rank and file of the Congress, resolving leadership crises, and paving way for inclusive decision-making seemed to be the critical tasks on the Gandhis' to-do list that got checked during the Hyderabad CWC meeting.
Telakapalli Ravi, senior analyst and writer who has watched the Congress for decades, said, "The Hyderabad CWC has shown everyone that the Congress has consolidated its strength. Through these resolutions and internal meetings, it has conveyed that it has moved from infighting to cohesion. The two-day discussion is significant from both the state and the national perspective. To all the party workers and legislators, the top brass has made it clear that Sonia Gandhi will be blessing, Rahul will be leading, and Kharge will be presiding."
The two-day Congress Working Committee saw the unwrapping of the poll presented to Telangana in the form of six guarantees made to the people. Sonia Gandhi urged the people of the state to vote the Congress back to power promising to work toward the uplift of all sections of the populace.
"Our single-minded focus is to win all the state elections. Women and farmers will continue to be our key focus groups," a senior Congress Leader said, while laying out some of the key points deliberated during the CWC meeting.
To match the Telangana flagship schemes for the farmers and women, Congress has also announced an assistance of Rs 2,500 to women and an allowance of Rs 15,000 per acre for all farm owners and tenant farmers.
Congress Poll Narrative and Schemes
In the wake of multiple narratives taking shape in the Congress-led INDIA camp, the Congress MP from Wayanad, Rahul Gandhi, is known to have communicated to his party cadre to refrain from comments pertaining to 'Sanatana Dharma' in order to disallow the BJP an upper hand in this debate.
"Secularism, communal harmony, and development will form the larger narrative of the Congress," the leader said while addressing party workers. Calling K Chandrasekhar Rao, the Chief Minister of Telangana, the main rival of the Congress party, Rahul projected Sonia Gandhi to be the 'Telangana Talli', or the Mother of Telangana, stressing that it was the Congress' decision to bifurcate the state in 2014.
This is to directly contend the BRS' claim that KCR is the Father of Telangana who fought for the state's existence – modelling him after Mahatma Gandhi who won India its freedom.
"Offers and attacks seem to be the armour of the Congress party. They are looking to win on a positive plank countering the BRS' flagship schemes," said a political analyst.
At the end of its two-day meeting, the Congress issued a whip to all its legislators to visit every constituency and take the schemes to the people. "We have been instructed to visit every assembly segment and promise the people of Telangana that the six guarantees will be implemented within 100 days if we are voted to power," a former MP told The Quint.
The Congress is giving out cards with the six guarantees mentioned taking the family members' details on a letter to ensure it covers all the houses or beneficiaries in a constituency. "We want to ensure every household gets covered. From Andhra Pradesh to Punjab, it is clear that people are voting on promises, not just performance," the former MP said.
The Congress' mega rally, named Vijayabheri, is the third political event in less than a month, and it happened on the same day that Union Home Minister Amit Shah addressed all the BJP workers on Sunday, 17 September. In another part of the city, AIMIM Chief Asaduddin Owaisi called for a third front with all the non-Congress, non-BJP parties to join in.
For two days, the CWC members, including permanent and special invitees, and Chief Ministers of the four Congress-ruled States, convened a meeting at Hotel Taj Krishna to unveil strategic and tactical decision that would steer the party ahead in the upcoming elections.
All Pradesh Congress Committee chiefs and the CLP leaders, including the four Congress Chief Ministers, were present for the Hyderabad chapter of the CWC. The reconstituted CWC has 39 regular members, 32 permanent invitees, and 13 special invitees.
Aiming for Second Spot?
Although the political winds currently do not directly indicate a change in favour of Congress, the party is catapulting itself to occupy the second spot.
"Playing for silver still means targeting the gold," the state senior Congressmen told The Quint. With a handful of MLAs rejoining the party from the BRS, the Gandhi Bhavan has been seeing quite some movement in the last three months post the Karnataka elections.
The party aims to secure a commanding lead both in the assembly and parliamentary elections since the BJP is far less beloved and a moderate swing among voters can help the Congress shore up numbers for both elections.
The Congress ceded power to the then Telangana Rashtra Samithi after being in power for 10 years from 2009 to 2019. In the 2009 election, united Andhra Pradesh had sent 36 Congress MPs from the state that helped the United Progressive Alliance strengthen its number in the lower house. "It is this eminence that the state Congress is now aiming for," the senior Congressman said.
(Deepika Amirapu is a multi-media journalist who has reported for print, broadcast, and online news corporations since 2008.)