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Does polls verdict signal decline of Gandhi dynasty?

Verdict 2014 belonged as much to the abysmal showing of the Congress as it did to Narendra Modi. In particular, it underscored the steep political decline of the Gandhi family.

india Updated: May 17, 2014 19:37 IST
Harinder Baweja

For several hours after it became clear that the Congress had been decimated by a clear Narendra Modi wave, the Gandhi family stayed behind the high walls of 10, Janpath, the official residence of its president Sonia Gandhi.

A large posse of journalists waited outside for Sonia and her son and vice-president Rahul Gandhi to speak, but the time kept getting pushed. Sources revealed the mother-son duo — who Modi had torn into through the course of the campaign — waited anxiously for results from Amethi which Rahul had won comfortably in 2009 by 3.7 lakh votes.

But Verdict 2014 belonged as much to the abysmal showing of the Congress as it did to Modi. In particular, it underscored the steep political decline of the Gandhi family. "We can never say this in public but if the Manmohan Singh government is responsible for losing steam in UPA-2, Rahul is equally responsible for leading an insipid campaign devoid of any clear message," said a minister who lost.

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Sonia crafted the 'we are all equally to blame' line earlier this week in a bid to firewall son Rahul but the family has been hit the hardest by the party's worst-ever showing.

Though not formally named by the Congress as its prime ministerial candidate, Rahul was not just the face of the campaign. He also chose the candidates and ran an election office from his residence in Tughlaq Lane instead of the party's war room.

"We are not just disappointed by the results, we are shocked," Jairam Ramesh said in a television interview. What he did not say was that the shock was not restricted to the humiliating defeat.

The Congress had lost in the past but this time, it hasn't enough seats to become the principal opposition party. As one defeated Congressman pointed out: "When Modi kept saying he wanted a Congress-mukt bharat, he actually meant a Gandhi-mukt bharat. For the first time, the Nehru-Gandhi family is staring at political oblivion."

Many, in fact, point to Gujarat where Modi defanged the Congress and made it politically irrelevant since he became chief minister 13 years ago. Modi said as much when in a recent interview he predicted that the family's leadership could come under threat if it did not win 100 seats.

The Congress has split several times in the past — leaders like Sharad Pawar and P Chidambaram left the party. Questions are being raised this time too, albeit in certain circles. But as a Congressman said, "Let the humiliation sink in. The rumblings will take a while to start."

The problem for the family — as also the party — is that the Gandhis might get dragged into another battle if Modi were to go ahead with a probe against Robert Vadra, accused of windfall gains in shady land deals.

"If Modi takes that route to further his 'Congress-mukt Bharat' slogan, all three Gandhis — Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka — will get embroiled."

Believed widely to be the more charismatic Gandhi, Priyanka too appears to have taken a hit, with the margins of Sonia and Rahul falling. "This is precisely why Amit Shah pushed Modi to campaign in Amethi," a BJP insider said.

After the 2014 drubbing, the Gandhis will be forced to defend not just the party but themselves. "I take the responsibility as the Congress president," Sonia finally said, making sure Rahul did not have to field questions from the media.

A Congressman quipped, "Rahul must take more than just the blame, now that our fortunes have plummeted."

For Priyanka, however, it's a mission accomplished

Amidst an abysmal performance by the Congress all over the country, including Uttar Pradesh, where only Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi won, it was a mission accomplished for Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who campaigned hard in the two family bastions of Rae Bareli and Amethi.

Sonia won the Rae Bareli seat by a huge margin.

Priyanka was the lead campaigner for her brother Rahul Gandhi in Amethi and mother Congress president Sonia Gandhi in Rae Bareli. The reduced victory margin for Rahul indicates the challenges Priyanka faced while campaigning in the two constituencies.

Her task was obviously made more challenging by the entry of high-profile candidates – BJP's Smriti Irani and Aam Admi Party's Kumar Vishwas in Amethi.

Did Priyanka make a difference? The Congress had won only seven of the 10 assembly seats in the two parliamentary constituencies in the 2012 Lok Sabha elections.

A close look at the poll results indicates that the Congress led in all the five assembly segments of the two Lok Sabha constituencies in the 2014 polls.

Yet, Smriti and Vishwas appear to have made Priyanka's task difficult as they focused their campaign on the lack of development and poor power supply in the region. Though both Rahul and Priyanka listed the new projects that had been brought to Amethi and spoke about the works in progress, the rival candidates maintained their attacks on these issues.

Besides holding road shows in Amethi and Rae Bareli, Priyanka addressed nearly 100 street corner meetings -- about 50 each in the two Lok Sabha constituencies.

She also held a joint road-show with her brother in some areas on the last day of campaigning in Amethi.

She had launched the election campaign, addressing her first election rally in Rae Bareli on April 16. A day before, she held closed-door meetings with party workers, giving final touches to the poll strategy in Amethi.

She plunged into the task of reorganising the party units in Amethi and Rae Bareli soon after the debacle in the 2012 assembly elections in UP.

(With inputs from Umesh Raghuvanshi in Amethi)