Poorly led Congress suffers Delhi debacle as social base erodes
The first is the limited appeal and credibility of both its national and local leadership. It is now clear that Rahul Gandhi is not able to inspire confidence among the electorate.Updated: Feb 12, 2020 02:22 IST
In 1998, the Congress — under Sheila Dikshit — wrested the city of Delhi from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and then transformed it over 15 years.
But the same city’s politics now has no space for the Congress.
The Congress has now lost five consecutive elections in Delhi. It failed to win a single Lok Sabha seat in 2014; it failed to win a single assembly seat in 2015; it failed to win the municipal elections in 2017; it failed, yet again, to win a Lok Sabha seat in 2019; and now, for the second consecutive term of the Delhi assembly, the Congress will not have a single member in the legislative assembly. It has also shrunk to its lowest vote share in the city — to 4.26%. And 63 candidates of the party lost their deposits.
What has brought the Congress to this state? There are three broad explanations.
The first is the limited appeal and credibility of both its national and local leadership. It is now clear that Rahul Gandhi is not able to inspire confidence among the electorate. The party’s national leaders put up a half-hearted fight, with Gandhi addressing four rallies in the last lap of the campaign. There was little reason for a Delhi voter to repose faith in Gandhi, when the alternatives were Arvind Kejriwal — or even a Narendra Modi.
But when the national leadership is weak, the Congress has performed reasonably well if it has a strong local leadership. But in Delhi, it has no such figure. Local leaders don’t get along with each other; and there is no one who could have credibly been put up as the CM face.
The party’s chief spokesperson, Randeep Singh Surjewala, acknowledged as much. “The Congress and its Delhi unit have decided to redraw from the grassroots and bring in newer, fresher leadership.”
Rahul Verma, fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, said: “The national leadership completely bailed on its state unit. The state unit including some of its heavyweights ran a lacklustre campaign that converted the contest in all 70 seats into a two-horse race, thereby decimating the party at its lowest ever vote share.”
The second problem was agenda. The AAP, in this election, stood for what it called politics based on performance. The BJP stood for what it claimed was nationalism. What did Congress stand for? Despite claims of a thoughtful manifesto, no one quite knew what the Congress would bring to the table if elected.
The third explanation is its depleted social base. Muslims moved to the AAP because it saw it as the only contender capable of defeating the BJP. The poor, living in slum clusters, benefited from AAP’s welfare schemes, and backed it. The middle class vote appears to have largely stayed with the BJP. The Congress was left with barely any social group.
Verma added: “The rainbow coalition of the Congress which late Shiela Dixit had created has all deserted; first the poor to AAP and middle classes to BJP, and now the Muslims are with the AAP and a section of Hindu voters across castes with the BJP.”
This combination of absence of credible leadership, the absence of a credible agenda which was communicated effectively, and the absence of any social base explains the Congress’s debacle in Delhi. Recovering from it will be a hard task.
Delhi used to be bipolar — where Congress and BJP were the primary contestants. It turned triangular with AAP entering the fray. 2020 has shown that Delhi has become bipolar yet again, 22 years after the Dikshit made it the Congress’s city.