If the just-concluded polls were indicative of poor planning on the part of the Congress, the aftermath was worse. Even with the largest number of seats in Manipur and Goa, the party has managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
The delay in getting off the starting blocks in Goa is astounding given the circumstances. After squabbling among themselves, the Congress held a secret ballot to chose a leader and then sent the name onto the high command to decide on it. Meanwhile, the BJP, displaying some deft footwork, cobbled together the numbers and staked claim to form the government, a ready candidate for chief minister in the form of Manohar Parrikar in place.
Similarly, in Manipur, despite the largest number of seats, the party was not quick enough to bring smaller parties into its fold and make a legitimate claim to form the government. Now, it is correct that constitutionally the governor is bound to call the largest party to form the government. But given the delay, the BJP was able to show that it had numbers on its side. The Congress, which has gone to the courts, got the reply that if it had the numbers it should have shown this in time. It did not and so the Supreme Court does not seem too sympathetic. The SC has told the Congress in the Goa case that it should have brought affidavits of support, which it did not.
The Congress seems to have lost its political touch completely. Once masters at outwitting opponents in the numbers game, today it seems like a rabbit caught in the headlights as a nimble BJP runs rings around it. The tussle is now on in the apex court, but whatever the outcome of the floor test in Goa, it shows up the Congress as unable to compete effectively in either quick reaction or political strategising.
Yet, the BJP and all other political parties in India learnt the tricks of the trade from the grand old party. The party also did not seem to understand that power flows to the victor. It must examine why, despite its numbers, the smaller parties and independents did not gravitate towards it. When quick decisions are needed, the fallback on the high command simply doesn’t work.
The Congress must see this defeat in Uttar Pradesh and its political failures in other states as a signal that it must rethink its brand of politics. It has so far been reactive when being proactive would have saved it some embarrassment. The writing on the wall is bold and clear: The Congress needs to reinvent itself drastically, now.