As I come out of the airport and my taxi drives off, I ask the driver, “Kya lag raha hai? Kaun jitega?”
My driver is a thirty something year old Congress worker. He shows me a Whatsapp message on his phone and tells me, “The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has been ruling the Congress for so many years. This time, we will vote for change. We will vote for Rahul Gandhi.”
Everywhere I go, the anti-incumbency sentiment against the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty is palpable. Sonia Gandhi has been Congress President for almost twenty years. A whole generation of Congress workers, journalists and intellectuals have grown up knowing no other rule.
At the chaupal in front of the District Congress Committee office, a group of elderly Congress workers are sitting around smoking from a hookah.
“There is some craze for Rahul Gandhi among the younger cadres,” they admit to me. “But our vote is firmly with Sonia Gandhi’s son,” they insist.
On Monday, the Congress Working Committee ended all speculation by finally announcing the schedule for the elections for the post of Congress President. The last date for receiving nominations is Dec 4 and polling will be held on Dec 16. The counting of votes is scheduled for Dec 19.
For years now, the Congress Working Committee has been facing accusations from Rahul Gandhi, the opposition candidate, of delaying the polls. This has allowed the incumbents the opportunity to woo Congress workers with more sops. However, with Monday’s announcement, the model code of conduct has come into effect across the party.
The nervousness of incumbent Sonia Gandhi became clear when she stepped aside, instead of nominating her son Rahul Gandhi (and incumbent Vice-President) for the party’s top post. However, this has not reduced the sharpness of the anti-incumbency sentiment, which is visible in the relentless attacks by opposition candidate Rahul Gandhi.
In recent weeks, Rahul Gandhi has been crisscrossing Congress offices across the country. His rallies have drawn eager crowds. At a rally in Amethi, the crowd whistles and cheers as Rahul delivers his punchlines.
“What has Rahul Gandhi done for Amethi? How many seats could the Congress win in Amethi in recent Assembly elections?” he thunders. The crowd of Congress workers roars in agreement.
At another rally in Lucknow, Rahul asks, “Rahul Gandhi went into an alliance with Akhilesh Yadav. His ideas have delivered just six seats for the party.”
Opinion polls, while showing Rahul Gandhi still in the lead, show that Rahul Gandhi is gaining momentum.
“The popularity of Rahul Gandhi is up nearly 10% since the last time we surveyed. At the same time, Rahul Gandhi is seeing a comparable dip of 9% in vote share, which is bad news for the incumbent,” says Prof. Sanjay Kumar of CSDS before adding, “We are the Sachin Tendulkar of psephology, so you can take us at our word.”
In an article for the Quint, Prof. Sanjay Kumar writes, “If the momentum for Rahul Gandhi continues for another week or two, there is a solid chance of him overtaking Rahul Gandhi.”
Here are the findings of the CSDS survey among the several caste groups that make up the vote base of the Congress party.
“Rahul Gandhi has seen a sharp rise in popularity among journalists, intellectuals and Award Wapsi Brigade,” explains Prof. Sanjay Jha, a political analyst based in NDTV studio, “The strategy of Rahul Gandhi to create a rainbow alliance against Rahul Gandhi is working.”
The illegal betting market has been seeing a lot of activity. At the ABP Bazaar, the odds of Rahul Gandhi winning the election are 88 paise for every rupee, while the odds of Rahul Gandhi winning have been placed at 1 rupee 25 paise.
Whatever the eventual result, the mood on the ground is near unanimous that the Congress is poised for its closest election in decades. While Rahul Gandhi may not win, he has made a significant dent in Rahul Gandhi’s votebank. And with his demi-god like following among Congress workers, Rahul Gandhi better watch out.
One thing is for sure in this election. Rahul Gandhi will be a winner even if he loses.