It was supposed to be the big break of their fledgling political careers. Only, it turned out to be an unmitigated disaster for most of the young leaders handpicked from the NSUI and Youth Congress by the party leadership to contest the municipal elections. Only a few managed to register victories; the rest had to console themselves that they debuted in electoral politics at the wrong time – when the city Congress was scattered, disunited and on the defensive.
With the exception of Tarun Kumar of NSUI who won from the Inderlok Colony seat, none of the young candidates fielded by Congress could make a mark. The list of losers includes the Delhi president of the Youth Congress Amit Malik (Narela), Delhi University Students’ Union president Amrita Dhawan (Vikaspuri), NSUI’s Rohit Chaudhry (Quamuruddin Nagar) and Shashi Kant Sharma (Sangam Vihar).
“A party fields new candidates when it is on the upswing to create fresh leadership. We (youngsters) were merely used. The party just gave us the ticket and then left us to our devices. We were seen as expendable. Nobody helped the new candidates from NSUI and Youth Congress. We spent all our time trying to rope in local MLAs who were working against us. The state leadership also did not show any interest in the campaign,” said Malik.
Malik, who has served earlier as the NSUI state president and DUSU president, said senior state leaders did not even turn up for their campaign. “Our senior leaders did not even campaign for us. It was almost as if they pre-empted our loss. Have you seen the publicity onslaught launched by the BJP? All their senior leaders were campaigning on the ground. During elections, only hard work is not enough, you need logistical support from the party, which was missing,” said Malik.
Infighting within the party was one major hurdle that the first time candidates had to face. Dhawan, for instance, casts veiled aspersions on her area MLA Mukesh Sharma’s role in the elections.
“Some sitting MLAs do not want bright, young people to emerge,” she said, attributing her loss to the anti-Congress wave in the city and the poor performance of Congress MLA in her area as well as alleged tampering of the voters’ list. “People were unhappy with the Congress MLA’s work and that went against me,” said Dhawan. Even she admitted that the party’s rebuttal of the BJP’s propaganda could have been more robust.
“Only the leadership can answer why a campaign of an appropriate level was not launched to counter BJP’s propaganda. If the poll management was better and we had been able to convince voters that Congress did not conduct the demolition and sealing drive and that it was in fact a court order, we would have managed more seats,” added Dhawan.
Despite the anti-Congress wave, some of the NSUI candidates feel the electorate did not reject them outright. “I lost by only 700 votes despite being a debut candidate. That there is an anti-Congress wave cannot be denied, but there are other reasons as well,” said Rohit Chaudhry, Congress candidate from Quamuruddin Nagar and officiating vice-president of the NSUI.
Although Chaudhry said he was not unhappy with the support extended by the party leadership, he admits that some local Congress workers were irked by the fact that he got the ticket. “There was resentment among Congress workers who were angry that we were getting too much importance,” said Chaudhry. He said he sees the opportunity to contest the MCD elections as a chance to establish his identity.
“I am 25 and hope to serve Congress for another 25 years. They have given us an area to operate for so that a cadre of young leaders is ready for Rahul Gandhi. I will be only 30 years old and would still count as a youth if I contest polls 5 years later,” said Chaudhry. For his ilk, being in political reckoning is clearly more important that a poll victory.