Wiped Out From Large Parts Of The Country Congress Licks Its Wounds
Suffering its worst ever defeat, the Congress has been decimated in elections 2014, trampeled upon by the Modi-led BJP juggernaut winning just 45 seats and unlikely to get the post of leader of the opposition also unless the UPA is counted as one unit.
The Congress drew a blank in 12 states including Rajasthan where all the 25 Lok Sabha seats went to the BJP with the Congress failing to win a single seat. While the BJP has performed exceptionally well in north India, winning 100 per cent of the seats in six states, probably the real story of this election is the manner in which the right wing Hindu party has managed to spread itself in states where it had a negligible presence earlier. This includes states like Assam and West Bengal. In West Bengal, the BJP has won only two seats but has got a huge amount of vote in urban areas, coming second in four seats in Kolkatta as well as making inroads in rural areas.
The only two states which have not allowed the BJP entry are Tamil Nadu and Kerala with even Karnataka once again tilting towards the BJP. Nandan Nikelani lost to the BJP’s Ananth Kumar and the general refrain there was “he is the right man but in the wrong party”. So with less than 50 seats in a house of 543, is the Congress after 10 years in power the wrong party, headed by the wrong leader?
Party leaders, workers, political activists are in a state of shock.
They cannot assimilate how a pan-India party can be hit so badly as they sit glued to their television screens watching the falling graph and seats of the Congress party. There is extreme anger against the politics of Rahul Gandhi and the team he put together to run the election campaign. This anger is expected to find voice in the days ahead, both from the states and the centre.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi made a brief two-minute appearance at the AICC headquarters on 24 Akbar Road where both took responsibility for the party’s debacle but beyond that said nothing much. Rahul, who was trailing in the morning from Amethi, finally won but with a much reduced margin. He was seen smiling, probably in a bid to put up a brave face but when the media wanted to ask questions, a protective mother whisked him away, leaving the media with little except the brief statement.
Chief ministers of Congress-ruled states have offered their resignation to Sonia Gandhi, as they take responsibility for the huge defeat. But so far there is no word from 10 Janpath on whether Rahul Gandhi is in a mood to offer his resignation, as is being speculated in the media. As the results poured in, taking the NDA tally past 300 seats, and giving the BJP alone a full majority in the Lok Sabha, groups of Congress workers shouted slogans and raising placards demanding that Priyanka Gandhi be brought into the Congress, “Priyanka lao, Congress bachao”. Beyond this, so far there have been no voices of public dissent against Rahul Gandhi.
A meeting of the Congress Working Committee will be held later this week, after all the leaders return from their states where the party will decide what needs to be done next. Congress leaders say the attack against Rahul is expected from both the senior leaders, who are unhappy with his style and at being sidelined within the party, and from the young leaders of the party. A young Congress leader said there is anger against the vice president and this will become obvious in the days ahead. The question being asked is whether it will be severe enough to become a rebellion or whether it will limit itself to just building pressure on him to take everyone along and ensure that the party decisions are taken by consensus.
A senior AICC functionary admitted that the last five years were difficult times with no big achievement emerging from UPA II. He said that ministers and senior leaders had become arrogant; Rahul had emerged and had sidelined senior leaders; there was rampant corruption and they were unable to control prices and neither the government nor the party was successful in changing the worsening perception against the Congress which had become obvious. In comparison to Rahul Gandhi, who was seen as immature and did not inspire faith in the people as a leader who could run a government, Narendra Modi marketed himself as a successful chief minister who was mature, had vision, was articulate and could bring development and jobs for the country. He played on the psyche of young India and sold them dreams which they lapped up.
Ably aided by an efficient micro-managed campaign and huge amount of money which was used to drive his advertising message home, Modi was backed in a big way by the RSS which gave him full support and backing. The RSS desperately wanted a BJP government at the centre. So it began the campaign against the Congress-led UPA on various fronts including corruption and this appealed to the young voters and urban India which was fed up with corruption. A senior leader admitted that Baba Ram Dev, Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal were all BJP men who were used to target the government and this caused huge damage. In elections 2014, detailed results and voting patterns will reveal how Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP damaged the Congress in a big way by taking away a substantial portion of the Muslim vote. The Muslims felt the Congress could not fight or take on the BJP and therefore voted for AAP to stop the BJP. But except for four seats (all in Punjab), AAP did not win big but damaged the Congress big.
An AICC functionary admitted that Rahul Gandhi’s interview to Times Now did incalculable and irreparable damage to his perception as a viable leader and this damaged him to the extent that it became impossible to reverse the perception. The Congress party’s media department chairman Ajay Maken, again one of Rahul’s hand-picked men, was absent for most of the election and surfaced only on the last day to admit that certain mistakes had been made. He neither had the depth nor the understanding to put in place a damage control plan. Daily briefings were nothing but Modi abuse and Modi bashing and this suited the BJP leader, who did not want the Congress to talk of substantive issue. Maken also did not allow too many senior leaders to interact with the media, guarding his turf zealously, even though he was absent most of the time.
Yet another senior leader admitted that Rahul had a team of just a handful of people who were managing and running the entire election campaign and the earlier system of committees working through consensus and widespread consultation was done away with. He did this with the aim to opening up the party and making it more broad-based but instead ended up giving important decision-making power into the hands of a few people who neither had the knowledge nor the wisdom nor the experience to use that power judiciously.
Jairam Ramesh was made the chief election co-ordinator, with most things passing through his hands. He was incharge of the war room but himself had no experience of how wars are fought. He decided on the advertising agency Dentsu, which was a big let down for the Congress party and in the midst of the campaign gave interviews and statements saying those over 70 should retire as India needed a young team of leaders. Most senior leaders were already fed up with Rahul and during the most part of the campaign just sat at home, letting him run the election campaign. Madhusudan Mistry, who was new to the party, was incharge of deciding the nation-wide candidates for the Congress party and in the process bypassed the selecting and screening committees.
Mohan Gopal and Suman Dubey were the other two navratans in Rahul’s durbar along with Bhanwar Jitender Singh as well as a clutch of young men and women who were Harvard, Oxford or Cambridge educated but had no connect with either politics or grassroots. Rahul, said a young Congress leader, tried to run the Congress like a corporate but failed to realise that it was important to take party leaders along for such a huge electoral exercise. In the process, he has been successful in wiping out the Congress from large parts of the country.
By Renu Mittal