Boots on the ground — that is what seems to have swung the election for the BJP, if the exit poll numbers are to be believed. And this is something that the Congress needs to introspect on as it prepares for a stint out of power.
From the time of Jawaharlal Nehru to even Rajiv Gandhi, the Congress had strong state leaders. Over the years, the state-level leaders seem to have lost their initiative and all focus was on the Gandhi family in Delhi. Now it is true that the Congress may have needed the family to hold it together, but in these elections, it seems to have sorely lacked the leadership of strong regional satraps.
In Tamil Nadu, the Congress has not been able to build up a single unifying leader. It is not for lack of talent, it is simply that the Congress has chosen to function in an highly centralised manner to the detriment of building the party at the grassroots. By the time Rahul Gandhi decided to go back to the ground level, it was too late.
In Andhra Pradesh, where it had once a leader like YS Rajasekhara Reddy, no one was there to shepherd the party in these elections. People air-dropped from Delhi have not been able to connect with the local people or understand their grievances or aspirations.
In Gujarat, one can hardly remember when the Congress last had a tall leader or any leader for that matter. This has enabled the Modi administration to edge out any potential Congress challenge in the state. In Uttar Pradesh, the crucible of Indian politics, the party put up fairly insipid candidates, unable to get even one major leader who could galvanise the masses. The party’s best bet here was again the Gandhi family who while doing their best could not create the waves needed in the big state. In Bihar too, the Congress seems to have given up the ghost, leaving the field to the BJP and regional parties as also in Orissa.
The Congress has an impressive portfolio of talent, especially the younger leaders. It is time to build them up as state leaders. There is hardly enough room at the Centre or indeed enough work for everyone. The Congress was the original pan-Indian party. It is in danger of losing that tag simply because it has not been very good with its future planning.
By the time the next election comes around, the Congress should be able to draw on the resources of its state leaders, rather than rely on the firepower of its central leaders. As we have seen this election, the centralised approach is one of diminishing returns.