In their first formal reaction on the Uttar Pradesh poll results, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son and Amethi MP Rahul Gandhi blamed the party’s organisational weakness for its inability to translate into votes the popular goodwill and support for the Congress.
Addressing her MPs at the general body meeting of the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) on Wednesday, Sonia described the results as "very disappointing". According to her, though the party launched a spirited campaign, it was "organisationally not able to transform that goodwill into votes".
Rahul made a similar point while interacting briefly with reporters later. "Basically we don't have an organisation there and we have to build that. It is a process that we are going to work at. As far as we are concerned, our fight carries on and we are going to sort of bring the Congress back in UP," he said.
Sonia admitted that the task is daunting. "We now face a stupendous challenge, a challenge that we accept and that we will meet with hard work and determination," she said as she touched on various subjects in her speech, including monitoring prices and preparing a relief and rehabilitation (R&R) policy for special economic zones (SEZs).
Sonia did not mention Bahujan Samaj Party in her address. But she, like Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who attended the CPP meet, and Rahul congratulated Mayawati on her victory in UP.
Sonia’s speech did not mention Rahul who led the party’s campaign in the state. This was unlike 2006 when at the Congress Working Committee and other fora, she had emphasised Rahul’s role in her impressive victory in Rae Bareli when she sought re-election following the Office of Profit controversy.
But to ensure that result did not demoralise cadres who have to fight the BJP’s reported bid to communally polarise poll-bound Goa and Gujarat, Sonia acknowledged the dedication and hard work of party members at all levels.
The disappointment over the UP results was, however, offset by the satisfaction of seeing the Samajwadi Party and the communal forces defeated and by the hope and confidence that the people of Gujarat---which supported the Congress in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls--would vote to strengthen social harmony and secularism.
Without referring to Chief Minister Narendra Modi by name, Sonia spoke of the "shocking revelations of high-level patronage and contempt for rule of law" in the fake encounter case.
She urged the Manmohan Singh government which completes three years in office next week to take serious note of the dangerous trends set in motion in Gujarat and other BJP-ruled states, including the attacks and atrocities on religious minorities and on freedom of expression. "This kind of extreme intolerance goes against the very spirit of our democracy," she said. The UPA, she said, also needs to consolidate its accomplishments of three years, including steps to check prices.
On the issue of SEZs that led to violence in some states, Sonia emphasised that land acquisition must be done in a manner that fully protects the interests of farmers and those whose livelihoods depend on the lands being acquired. The eGoM, she clarified, had recently cleared only those projects where fresh land acquisition is not required or where acquisition has been done. "Our government is also working on a new R& R policy, a new R&R bill and on amendments to the exiting land acquisition act," she said.
She also underlined the need to take new and bold measures to restore the image and credibility of MPs and safeguard democratic institutions in the wake of the emigration scam that only added to the shame brought by members implicated in the cash-for-query scandal. She quoted reports to point out that almost 15% of those elected in UP have criminal records.