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The face of defeat

The bad times for the Congress do not seem to be ending. After the avoidable defeats in Punjab and Uttarakhand, the party’s fortunes have not improved, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Apr 01, 2007, 23:34 IST
Pankaj Vohra
Pankaj Vohra

The bad times for the Congress do not seem to be ending. After the avoidable defeats in Punjab and Uttarakhand, the party’s fortunes have not improved. Lack of vision, planning and strategy continue to haunt the country’s largest political outfit. It is almost certain that its chances in the Delhi municipal polls and the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections are dim. No one expected the derailment to occur so soon, but the Congress has nobody else but itself to blame for its downward swing.

From distribution of tickets to working out of alliances, from organising road shows to organising strategy sessions, understanding caste equations and consolidating secular votes, the party is clueless. And all this is happening just ahead of the presidential polls due in a few months’ time. Had more thought been applied to the factors crucial in elections, the party’s standing would have been different. On top of that, a section in the party has deliberately ensured that Rahul Gandhi’s take-off, expected with the UP polls, does not take place and the blame for the defeat falls on his shoulders.

The BJP is recuperating but still has to go a long way to return to power at the Centre. The reason for this is not that its leaders have shown exceptional statesmanship or endeared themselves to the people. Instead, it is the disillusionment with the Congress’s conduct which is propelling the BJP back to centre-stage. This was true in Mumbai’s municipal polls, the assembly elections in Punjab, Uttarakhand and now in Delhi. In UP too, the saffron brigade is busy consolidating its position though it is behind both Mayawati and Mulayam Singh. The Congress is at a distant four.

The Congress’s bad days started with its poor coordination in Maharashtra where senior leaders spoilt their equation with the NCP leading to defeat. It would appear that lessons from the last assembly polls in Goa were never learnt and the obsession with slighting Sharad Pawar has cost the party heavily. There is no denying that Pawar continues to be the most well-known leader from Maharashtra and those who want to bring him down are, by default, helping the BJP and the Shiv Sena.

In Punjab, Shamsher Singh Dullo was given more importance than he deserved. Now Amarinder, who got the party 44 seats, has been made to facilitate Rajinder Kaur Bhattal’s elevation as Opposition leader. With Bhattal’s corruption case up for hearing later this week and allegations that she will not be stiff opposition to the Badals, the Congress may slip even further. In Uttarakhand, it was well-known that Narain Dutt Tewari, the reluctant Chief Minister, neither campaigned nor helped the Congress consolidate its position. Instead, a bunch of leaders distributed tickets among themselves, denying the Congressmen who had the ‘winability’ factor. The party surrendered the state on a platter to a divided BJP.

In Uttar Pradesh, it is the same old story. In many places, tickets were declared for people even before they joined the party. In some cases, new entrants refused to contest. Other leaders, expected to play an important role in the Hindi heartland after they were given Rajya Sabha berths on joining — like Obaidullah Azmi and Rashid Alvi — do not seem to have made any difference to the party’s fortunes. Azmi has, in fact, left the party accusing it of anti-people virtues. The question is what was the need to give a Rajya Sabha seat to someone like Azmi, an opponent of the party even in the past? And what has Alvi done to bring the Congress to centre-stage?

Rahul Gandhi’s road shows have been organised with such carelessness that they failed to have the desired impact. In many places, Congressmen were told about the road show barely a day ahead, leaving them little time to get organised. But what can be expected when leaders who have lost their own states are made to take charge of other states without an understanding of either the caste equations or the ground realities. The reference is obviously to AICC general secretary Ashok Gehlot, who along with former CM, Digvijay Singh, has thrived for reasons best known to Sonia Gandhi’s advisors. Gehlot is also incharge of Delhi where the party is in for a drubbing.

The less said about Delhi, the better. What can happen to a party which denies a ticket to the leader of the outgoing House Jitender Kochar. There is no strategy to capitalise on the new Master Plan. The participants of the much-flaunted Bhagidari scheme by the Delhi government appear to be actively helping the BJP improve its chances. The Chief Minister, who has taken credit for the good showing of the party in the last municipal polls must prepare herself to take the blame for the impending defeat. In fact, Sheila Dikshit has been scarcely seen in the campaign so far, although a belated road show is on the cards.

For Delhi, the poll could turn out to be a referendum on Dikshit’s eight years in office. But curiously the BJP is attacking the Congress on the price rise and not on the city government’s performance. It is clear that the BJP will hold the Centre responsible for the Delhi debacle after the polls. The Congress candidates who seem to be keeping the party afloat in some pockets include Mehmood Zia in Bazar Sita Ram and Ramesh Dutta in Daryaganj. In many places, builders have been given Congress tickets.

In the end, the Congress president needs to be wary of a design to corner her within her own party. She has brought the Congress glory in the past. All she needs to do now is to identify those trying to decimate her party from within. If the trend is not arrested, bad times will continue. Between us.

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