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Read the writing on the wall

The poor show by the Congress in the two recent Delhi Assembly by-elections should serve as an eye-opener for the party high command. The party must see the writing on the wall and re-assess its state leaderships, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Sep 21, 2009 00:09 IST
Pankaj Vohra

The poor show by the Congress in the two recent Delhi Assembly by-elections should serve as an eye-opener for the party high command. What is significant about these polls is that they go contrary to the party’s overwhelming good showing in the Lok Sabha elections held barely four months ago. They have also reversed the trend of the December 2008 Assembly polls, which brought Sheila Dikshit to power for a third consecutive term.

The Congress lead in the Okhla assembly segment during the 2009 Lok Sabha polls when the Chief Minister’s son, Sandeep Dikshit, contested was nearly 50,000. Now with both mother and son vigorously campaigning there for the by-election, the party lost by about 6,500 votes to the ultimate winner, Asif who was a nominee of Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD. The Congress candidate was third with the BSP bagging the second slot. Congress dissident Ramvir Singh Bidhuri was surprisingly relegated to fourth position, 100 votes less than the Congress.

Though some channels wrongly termed it Lalu’s victory, it should have been more aptly described as Sheila’s defeat. Asif won because of his individual popularity. Being the RJD candidate was just incidental. Had the selection procedure been conducted properly, he could have been the Congress candidate. Okhla was earlier represented by Pervez Hashmi who was elevated to the Rajya Sabha.

The same story was repeated in Dwarka where the BJP trounced the Congress by a huge margin. The seat was held by Mahabal Mishra, a migrant from Bihar who was subsequently elected to the Lok Sabha. Like Pervez, Mahabal was once in the Janata Dal and their entry into the Congress was never welcomed by the original partymen, even though they won three or four assembly elections.

There are many ways of looking at the Delhi elections which represent a trend started by the Congress’s showing in the municipal by-elections — where the party lost four out of five seats — the DUSU elections and, finally, the teachers’ elections. Is Sheila losing her magic? If so, the party should apply its mind to this development seriously. Second, the huge victory in the parliamentary polls in 2009 should be rightly attributed to both Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. The latest results have exposed the true colours of the party’s local leadership.

Third, the huge rise in power tariff on the eve of the polls, wrong billing, the poor condition of roads, sewage and water supply also made Delhi voters reject the Congress.

Fourth, the wrong interpretation of the victory of the 2008 Assembly polls when there was huge resentment against the Congress but got overturned because of the 26/11 incident, a few days prior to polling, is a factor which partymen refused to accept. The trend was anti-Congress but minorities of all shades turned to the Congress, the oldest political party, to provide them security in the post-26/11 scenario in 2008.

In addition, the CM has recently blamed migrants from UP and Bihar for many problems in the city. This may be true but was a politically incorrect statement. The voters have responded by turning their backs on Lok Sabha representatives who originally hail from UP and Bihar.

The Congress must see the writing on the wall and re-assess its state leaderships. In Andhra, trouble continues to brew beneath the surface, in Maharashtra there is no clear projection of the future leadership. In Punjab, Amarinder Singh who was to be named as PCC president waits in the wings even as Rahul Gandhi was told by partymen at Ludhiana recently that he alone could lead the Congress to victory in 2012. In Haryana, there are attempts to cut Bhupinder Singh Hooda to size despite his good showing.

The Delhi polls are a wake-up call. Sheila Dikshit must realise this and review her methods of governance. Between us.