The Rahul Gandhi formula, if ever there was one, has been truly and soundly laid to rest in Chhattisgarh. It’s the first stop on the Congress vice-president’s learning curve on how Delhi has been historically managed by satraps.
About two months ago, it was announced with great fanfare that the Gandhi scion had devised a formula for ticket distribution and that factionalism would not be tolerated. Those who considered themselves the flagbearers of the new regime touted it with great relish. The local leaders waited for their moment, knowing all along when to strike and the Gandhis were none the wiser to their tricks.
Rahul’s formula was broken piece by piece and it was made to look as if he was doing it himself. For beginners, senior Congress leader Ajit Jogi started his caste campaigns almost immediately after it was known that the challenge would be led by Union minister Charan Das Mahant, backed by the redoubtable Digvijaya Singh. Jogi took his campaign to a point where it seemed he would be left with no option but to break away. But all along, he knew what he was doing.
He knew it would be very difficult to implement things like no tickets for sitting MLAs in whose Assembly segments the Congress lost by a margin of more than 10,000 votes in the 2009 Lok Sabha election. It would be even more challenging to deny repeat tickets to those who had lost the 2008 Assembly polls by a margin of 3,000 votes. Other tenets of the formula like 15 percent tickets to youth and 15 percent to women are relatively insignificant parts in overall calculations.
It would be difficult to deny tickets to sitting MLAs simply because the Congress had lost in their segments; the party had lost almost everything as the BJP took 10 out of 11 seats in 2009. He knew it would be difficult to deny a ticket to Arun Vora, a three-time loser from Durg, but more importantly, son of Motilal Vora, the seniormost Congress leader in the state.
What remained was to convince the young Gandhi that the team he had gathered was not worth it. Jogi also wanted a ticket for his son Amit, and he was willing to vacate his seat Marwahi, to make way for him. Earlier, rival leaders had convinced Rahul that Amit’s alleged involvement in criminal cases would be a liability.
One area where you can’t fault the Jogis is knowledge and preparation. At the meeting of the Central Election Committee (CEC), Jogi showed how short everyone else was on knowledge of terrain and people. Meanwhile another satrap, CP Joshi, also the chairman of the CEC, was ushered in to convince Rahul that the Jogi factor was undeniably the most important in Chhattisgarh. Amit was called in by Rahul for a late-night meeting. Jogi’s mark showed in that too. The young leader met the Congress vice-president with a powerpoint presentation and convinced him that he was missing on a big chunk of information on Sahu and Satnami caste votes in each constituency.
Some key Swabhiman Manch — a Sahu-dominated regional outfit — leaders mysteriously flew in to meet Rahul to convey to him that they would put up candidates only where the BJP would be hurt.
The formula was changed overnight and Amit was given a ticket along with Arun. All but two of the 38 Congress MLAs got repeat tickets. Many of those who had lost by over 3,000 votes in 2008 now find themselves contesting from where they wanted and one MLA was even allowed to change his constituency because another satrap wanted it. Not only that, the Jogi camp has even managed to wangle 45 tickets for its supporters, something that Jogi had been demanding from the beginning. Mahant is looking worried and downcast now at the prospect of the Congress winning. His goof-up with the dream peddler of Unnao, who is spinning golden webs based on the Union minister’s letter, also came in for scathing criticism just then. No prizes for guessing who exacerbated matters by filing of FIRs against Mahant, keeping it in news just long enough at the right time. Jogi has proved too wily.
Rahul will live and learn, but for the moment, the Chhattisgarh goose has been cooked to suit the Jogis.