The Congress is worried. Initial reports after the first two rounds of polling suggested on Thursday that in the two key states of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh it had not done as well as it was expecting to.
The party was hoping to add a substantial number of seats to its overall kitty from these two states — which between them hold 63 Lok Sabha seats — for different reasons.
In Orissa, the breakup of the 11-year-old alliance between the BJP and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), which had ruled the state for a decade, induced hope. The party believed that with the splitting of the anti-Congress vote, it was bound to profit, winning a majority of the 21 seats.
In Andhra, the Congress had done spectacularly well in the last Lok Sabha polls, picking up 32 of the 42 seats, amid a wave of anti-incumbency feeling against the then chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu. Chief minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy had been assuring senior leaders that the party would repeat the feat.
Now ground reports suggest that the Congress’s expectations may be belied.
“The Congress has not been able to reap the benefits of the BJP-BJD split,” a senior Congress leader confided. “Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik still has the edge.”
Despite the great attention given by both Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul to Orissa by repeatedly touring the state during both phases of the poll, the Congress campaign in the state never really took off. Some in the party blamed the new state president, K.P. Singhdeo who just could not get his act together. Heavyweight J. B. Patnaik, who had led the Congress in Orissa for over two decades, but was denied a ticket this time, was hardly seen campaigning.
In contrast Naveen Patnaik addressed nearly 250 meeting over a fortnight, hardselling his cheap rice promise and assuring his voters that Orissa would play a key role in government formation at the center if the BJD — and with it the Third Front — did well.
In Hyderabad, crowds were seen dancing outside the Congress headquarters and distributing sweets, but there were telltale signs that it was all a façade to keep up workers’ spirits. There was not a single well-known leader among the crowd. The chief minister residence was deserted.
One Congress leader ready to go on record was G Venkataswamy, Congress Working Committee member, but an open critic of the chief minister.
“All our efforts towards development and people’s welfare were defeated by corruption,” he said, adding that the rampant corruption among ministers undermined the goodwill created by the welfare schemes.