Congress can’t win while letting Modi set the agenda

The Congress should know poll outcomes can’t be changed by slapping bans on surveys. It must desist from meaningless controversies to recover, if at all, the ground it seems to have lost amid charges of graft, nepotism and bad governance.

The increasingly difficult terrain the party is negotiating wouldn’t alter if inflation continues to rise, the economy’s sluggish and decision making tardy. There is no other way for it except an expeditious repair job on these fronts.

Narendra Modi might not be the best alternative. But he’s capturing popular imagination every passing day. Even the countryside where the Congress hopes to make up its projected losses in urban India isn’t a sure bet. The party’s secular appeal is reportedly waning across the Hindi belt, most notably in UP and Bihar where the real battle will happen in the 2014 polls.

To stall Modi in his tracks, the Congress needs allies from the secular side of the divide for the 120-seats in these two provinces. The sooner it moved to sew up such pacts the better.

A Congress alliance with Mayawati is desirable but in some ways improbable, if not impossible, given the reports that the BSP leader is ahead of other contenders in the race. But in the event of the improbable happening, the combine could alter the scene to Modi’s disadvantage and that of the SP, whose chances are rated low this time around.

Bihar’s relatively easier to tackle in terms of alliance making. Both Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar are willing. But the call’s difficult for the Congress. Lalu’s in jail and the JD (U) leader at the receiving end of the forward caste wrath.

The Upper castes are a way smaller in numbers than the minorities, the backwards and the extremely backward, whose vote can be consolidated by an alliance involving the Congress. But if Lalu’s Yadav clansmen fall to Modi’s overtures, the BJP would strike a winning social combination. A fine balance between Lalu and Nitish is what the Congress requires to strike, making the estranged friends see the value of a three-way pact.

But while that happens, the Congress must closely track Modi’s speeches. The BJP leader’s scant regard for facts, poor appreciation of history and the proclivity to play to the gallery could help it bounce back into the discourse it seems to be losing.

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