In sossegado Goa, it took the firebrand Indian Youth Congress President aka Oxygen Man Srinivas BV to whip the local Goa Pradesh Youth Congress (GPYC) team into poll mode. Last September, Srinivas along with his deputy IYC in-charge for Goa Akhilesh Yadav were lathi-charged when they tried to storm the Chief Minister’s office-cum-residence protesting against the price hike. The lathi-charge, a rarity against political youth activists happened purely because Srinivas and his Goa Man Friday Akhilesh weren’t enthused by the GPYC’s sossegado (relaxed) approach to the forthcoming Assembly Polls of 2022. The duo’s presence made a small event into a national headline.
Optics apart, the Indian Youth Congress had been given quite a handful of roles in the run-up to the Assembly Polls. As Congress stalwarts ranging from Rahul Gandhi, Shashi Tharoor, Randeep Singh Surjewala, Sachin Pilot, D K Shivkumar, Siddaramiah and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra campaigned across the state, the basics of electoral politics ranging from identifying and setting up booth committees, organising IYC events across the state were all done by Akhilesh Yadav.
Congress’ Chaotic Electoral and Polling Matrix
Almost six months before the Assembly polls when Srinivas assigned the role of Goa to his team, young lawyer Krishna Allavaru, Joint Secretary – IYC was given the joint charge of Punjab and Goa with Akhilesh as his deputy. Since Punjab was taking most of Krishna’s time, he assigned the task of Goa independently to Akhilesh. Thus a reclusive and loyal long-serving member of IYC was thrust into the limelight in possibly one of the trickiest polls.
Ironically, IYC took charge of Goa’s polls at a time when a former State IYC President Girish Chodankar was the incumbent President of Goa Pradesh Congress Committee, the senior wing of the Congress. Congress under Girish’s rule in Goa was in total shambles as the GPCC Executive was recast thrice and most of the Blocks (Constituency level organisation) was either dissolved or recast multiple times and some of them even non-existent. Akhilesh thus inherited a Congress political ecosystem that was composed of warring, conniving, conspiring and even non-working leaders at all levels. These leaders wanted Congress to win the polls but wouldn’t look at the big picture that you need an army of booth-level poll managers who keep their ears to the ground, coax/inspire voters to cast their mandate for Congress candidates and monitor whether the party has been successful in its purpose.
The already imploding Goa Congress was struggling to even identify the right men and women to man their grassroots outreach. Enter IYC.
The Man from IYC
Little known to people in Goa, the State of Congress under Girish Chodankar’s Presidentship was quite well known to the All India Congress Committee as well as the High Command. The fact that Goa Congress did not have credible multi-functional leadership, well mobilised and committed ranks and files were well known to the Congress leadership at the Centre. Without ruffling egos, the Party High Command had identified 27 of Goa’s 40 Constituencies (a whopping 67.5%) to be given to Indian Youth Congress. Shocking and even embarrassing for the party which was aspiring to replace the incumbent BJP. The number of constituencies was later reduced to 25 post alliance.
A grassroots leader from Jogeshwari (Mumbai) with ancestry in Jaunpur (Uttar Pradesh), young Akhilesh with his rustic simplicity was a misfit for the sophisticated Goan polity where politicians don’t step out of their airconditioned cars to shake hands with the masses, where public outreach is only about addressing the media and where teams mean populating one’s sycophants and kith and kin in important party positions.
In over 3 months, the Goa IYC in-charge set up over 858 Booth committees of the targeted 1029 booths across 25 constituencies. That is a whopping 84% booths, single-handedly! Akhilesh achieved this by enlisting 41 Youth Congress leaders from across the country. These foot soldiers would do the job of their GPYC brethren, walking the length and breadth of these constituencies scouting for and enlisting young and committed booth level managers, surveying the constituencies at the micro-level, identifying issues, marking influencers and opinion leaders, selecting the most promising candidate that Congress could field and even identifying the toughest competitors.
Even as Goa’s Pradesh Congress Committee struggled to keep its house active and relevant, IYC’s man from the Centre had done a Prashant Kishor or an I-PAC in Goa making Congress battle-ready. So sure was he of his team that built the Goa Congress’ electoral preparedness that when Priyanka Gandhi Vadra asked him to prove what he has been doing, Akhilesh whipped out his smartphone and showed her the amount of work the IYC was doing at the grassroots from data to research. An impressed Priyanka asked him to join the UP campaign post-Goa polling, informs a witness to the exchange.
Congress is its own big enemy but this time around Srinivas BV defied the obvious, listening to his man manning Goa – Akhilesh. From Rahul Gandhi kicking a football (Goa’s favourite game) into frenzied Congress leaders and workers in an indoor stadium to him riding behind a motorcycle pilot (an iconic cheap mode of local transport), somewhere Srinivas’ creative poll event management had a hand of his Goa-in-charge Akhilesh.
Why IYC was the Mover & Shaker of Goa Polls
While success has many fathers and failures have none, what cannot be forgotten is the fact that when the final poll results came out, it was IYC’s booth-level committees that held the fort and kept the Congress engine running across 10 of the 11 seats that the party won. Unbelievable as it may seem, IYC made Booth committees at three Assembly Constituencies of Porvorim, Panjim, and Navelim where Block Committees weren’t even formed. It was IYC that held the fort for the seniors at GPCC when they failed to build even a basic and functional party organisation.
As Indian National Congress both at the Centre and in Goa witnesses a generational shift where the Old and the New collide, IYC’s Goa experiment proves that there is still a lot of fire left in the Grand Old Party’s belly and if it took AICC’s Goa in-charge Dinesh Gundu Rao to make the faction-ridden Congress believe that it was still a force to reckon with across all 40 Assembly Constituencies, it was IYC’s Goa in-charge Akhilesh Yadav who showed ‘how’ it is a force to reckon with.