The Congress has plenty to be pleased about with the results of the 15th Lok Sabha polls. However, it should rest on its laurels. It must begin consolidating its position in different states if it hopes to get a simple majority on its own the next time. The process has to begin now and a number of fresh and younger faces have to be involved in the organisation in order to facilitate a smooth transition from one generation to the other at the party level too. This does not mean that experienced hands should be dropped. They should be become mentors for youngsters.
A pattern witnessed in the just-concluded elections is that both the top parties—the Congress and the BJP -- have done reasonably well in states where they had empowered the chief ministers or state leadership to conduct the campaign. The BJP, for instance, did well in states where it is in power (except Uttarakhand where there is a tussle and where the Congress performed well under Harish Rawat). This is also applicable to the good Congress performance say in Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.
In Punjab, the Congress did well essentially because Amarinder Singh, the former CM led from the front. In U.P, Rahul Gandhi’s initiatives and the return of the Muslim vote helped the party. All these factors are in addition to a concerted campaign carried out at the national level by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh whose personal image of honesty and integrity drew middle class voters to the party.
The next test for the party is going to come very soon when three states go to polls shortly. Besides, one Lok Sabha by-election in UP and nearly ten assembly segments will also help the party to re-assess its strength in the largest Indian state. UP surprisingly does not have even one Cabinet berth in the Union Council of ministers. Incidentally, Bihar, Gujarat and Orissa too do not have a Cabinet berth. This anomaly must be addressed without delay to overcome any dissatisfaction.
The big test for the Congress will be Maharashtra where it is seeking to come back to power for the third time consecutively in September-October. Some state politicians like Vilasrao Deshmukh, who was surprisingly inducted in the Cabinet despite having been shunted out unceremoniously in the wake of 26/11, have expressed the view that Congress should go it alone in Maharashtra. Prithviraj Chavan who is an important functionary in the ministry and party shares his feelings. But apart from his own Latur seat, Vilasrao was unable to secure a Congress victory in any of the adjoining seats. Prithviraj Chavan has never been tested in a real election so far.
In fact, Sharad Pawar had a dig at both of them last week when he sarcastically commented that he was having sleepless nights since the two ministers had declared the Congress intention of going it alone in the state. First, the High Command has to take a decision on whether to continue the alliance with the NCP. A break-up could have repercussions at the Centre too. It is an acknowledged fact that Sharad Pawar is the tallest leader in Maharashtra and taking him on this early is to needlessly get into a danger zone. Second, the party must give a free hand to Ashok Chavan, the Chief Minister handpicked by Rahul Gandhi to lead and oversee the state polls besides the MPCC leadership. He could consult senior leaders like Sushil Kumar Shinde who led the coalition to victory last time.
In Jharkhand, the party must select one leader and back him to the hilt. Subodh Kant Sahay has shown promise and is a member of the Union Cabinet who should help the party find its roots once again in the state dominated by tribal politicians.
The Congress also has to take a view on whether going for an election six months before schedule in Haryana is going to help matters. Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda has proved beyond that he can be depended upon to lead the party to victory. But there are forces within his party that want to destabilise him. Among the supporters of early elections are his colleagues Birendra Singh from whose assembly segment the Congress lost by 26,000 votes and Randeep Surjewala from whose segment the party lost by 12,500 votes. The party must go in for early polls with a considered view and like Ashok Chavan in Maharashtra, Hooda must also be given a free hand.
Overall, the Congress must give up practices that have been responsible for its downward slide in various states. It must give greater freedom and more powers to the state leaders. The overall leadership of Sonia, Rahul and Manmohan Singh will gain greater strength if the state chief ministers or top functionaries are empowered and given more responsibility. There is no point in testing the tested leaders from states. Party functionaries must stop playing games which could prove counter productive. Between us.