Just days ahead of the assembly poll results, the Congress looked defeated by predictions made by several exit polls and the embarrassing interview given by former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan on the eve of the polls.
Chavan on Thursday issued an apology for the interview saying he did not intend to defame anyone. In the interview, given to a Kolkata-based newspaper, Chavan candidly admitted that three former chief ministers from the Congress were culpable in the Adarsh scam and if action had been taken against them, the party would have been decimated. Chavan had also admitted to leading a corrupt coalition government saying it was impossible to tackle the issue.
The BJP had carried excerpts of this interview as a full-page advertisement on the day of the polls, hitting its opponent hard over the issue of corruption.
“A mistake was made. I have apologised for it. There was no intention of defaming anyone. My informal chat post the interview was recorded..,” said a crestfallen Chavan to reporters in Pune, on his way back to Mumbai from his constituency Karad South.
It is learnt that the former CM was ticked off by the party’s top brass in Delhi and asked to tender an apology. Knives are also out for Chavan in the state. His rivals and senior state leaders hold him solely responsible for the mess that the party finds itself in. A majority of the state leaders are still recovering from hectic campaigning in their respective turfs, but there is an unofficial admission that the party has lost the polls quite badly.
“We had gone to the polls hoping for the best, but kept a target of 50 to 55 seats. Frankly, even that looks tough now. When the person who is leading the party gives up before the battle, what can be the outcome?’’ said a senior party functionary.
Officially, the party spokespersons have refused to accept the exit polls. A majority of the exit polls have predicted the Congress will get anywhere between 27 to 47 of the 288 seats it contested. If this is proven right, it would be the party’s worse performance since its first election. In the 2009 polls, the Congress had emerged as the single largest party winning 82 seats.
The poor show by the Congress in Maharashtra and Haryana, considered crucial for the party to recoup after its worst-ever electoral defeat, will put the state leadership in the line of fire.
Congress sources said Chavan and his Haryana counterpart Bhupinder Singh Hooda were given a “free hand” in ticket distribution and campaigning as well. “Any adverse outcome will make them susceptible to attacks by their detractors. In the end, the buck stops at their table,” a senior central functionary said. “They have to take the blame. There is no escape route.”
(With inputs from Aurangzeb Naqshbandi)