Sometime during July, when the inflation rates were soaring every week, then finance minister P Chidambaram was summoned by a worried Congress President Sonia Gandhi. Even the government had already announced a slew of fiscal and monetary measures, there was no sign of the market prices softening. Chidambaram assured his party chief that by the time state elections come towards the end of the year, inflation will calm down.
Today, sitting in another part of North Block as the home minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram can smile as the UPA government has successfully managed to tackle inflation woes and numbed one of the two main planks of the BJP for the Assembly elections in five states.
Senior Congress managers said they apprehended that the BJP’s campaign would centre around terrorism and inflation. So, the party’s counter-strategy was to build the campaign on development — its comfortable plank.
The party’s youth icon Rahul Gandhi started his campaign in the capital just two days before the election. While Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, attending as many as seven rallies on the same day, harped on how he deals with terrorists, Gandhi only spoke about the roads, hospitals and flyovers of the city.
“In Gujarat, I have virtually skinned the terrorists alive (maine chamdi udhed di hai) and wiped off the terrorism,” Modi used to thunder at huge gatherings, “do you agree with my way of handling terrorism?”
Miles away, Rahul Gandhi maintained, “Before I came here, I was browsing Vijay Malhotra’s (BJP’s chief ministerial candidate) website and the BJP’s manifesto. They don’t say what they will do if elected to power. They only scream that the Congress has done nothing. In Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, their government has not done any work of development so they are talking about terrorism.”
In his usual style, Gandhi said “the most important requirement to run a government is that you should have dreams. Chief Minister Sheila Dixit, for the last ten years, dreamt about development of Delhi. The BJP can’t see the dreams of Delhi’s citizens.” In other states too, including the Jammu and Kashmir (whose results will come out on December 24), the Congress continued to highlight the issues of development.
Even in those states where the Congress couldn’t win — Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — neither price rise nor terrorism became the core issues of the poll. While the Congress was unable to snatch away the two states from the BJP, it is happy that the price rise didn’t become the determining issue in the two states. As the inflation has now come down to single digits, the Congress leadership also feels assured that in the grand finals — the Lok Sabha polls — at least they don’t have to worry about the inflation.
Top sources in the party suggest that the main focus of the UPA government will be on combating terror and take some quick, credible steps to regain public faith ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.