Can slogans and clever one-liners help win you an election? If that were the case, Congress president Rahul Gandhi is definitely ahead of the curve with ‘suit boot ki sarkar’ and ‘chowkidar chor hai. Elections, however, are serious business that need vision, political stamina, a process of give and take that culminates in alliances stitched up on time.The first phase of the grand battle for the next Lok Sabha is less than a fortnight away and the Congress looks like a party in disarray. Gandhi announced what he called the ‘final assault on poverty’, while outlining a pledge to roll out a monthly income guarantee scheme for India’s poor, but are sops and populist schemes the Congress’s answer to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) election juggernaut?The promise of a minimum of Rs 12,000 per month for 50 million families is an important lure but the Congress ought to have, by now, rolled out an entire blue print on how it plans to handle the economy, joblessness, national security and rural distress, to name only a few of the important issues jogging the voter’s mind.The party stayed focussed on the Rafale defence deal alone – after its wins in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in December last year – and believed the Narendra Modi government’s end was near.The attack on a Central Reserve Police Force convoy on February 14 and the government’s air strikes in Balakot – that hit Jaish-e-Mohammed assets deep within Pakistan – sent the Congress on the back foot. It took weeks for it to come out of the deep freeze.The silence exposed the chinks in the Congress’s armour. It simply lacked a ‘Chanakya’ that could keep the focus on the Modi government’s chinks. A government that was left red-faced after most of the demonetised money came back to the banks and a government that had questions over why it sat on jobs data, seized the Balakot narrative and went for the jugular.It went beyond, by blaming (Jawaharlal) Nehru for everything that went wrong, and hammering the outrageous and untrue point that most of what India has achieved has been achieved in the last five years.Politics is hard work, made for those who are willing to sweat. How is the Congress – which was reduced to 44 MPs in 2014 – going to take on the formidable Modi-Amit Shah duo? We do not know. What is their vision for the problems facing the country? We have not been told.The arithmetic of alliances is the only way to counter Modi’s chemistry we were told, but even in that department, the Congress has not been able to tick the right boxes. An alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi still awaits Gandhi’s decision. It’s not happening in West Bengal and the wrangling in Bihar has made more headlines than the deal itself.Is the criticism of the Congress unfair? Is the party banking on a constituency-wise strategy that includes fielding upper castes in Uttar Pradesh, so it doesn’t play spoiler in a state where the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party hope to keep their vote banks intact? The list of candidates is still to be announced and if that is indeed the party’s strategy, it must be hoping that 2019 doesn’t play out as a Presidential-style contest where Modi’s personality towers over the rest.It must be hoping for more: that the real issues of joblessness and rural distress triumph over the nationalism narrative that the BJP has so arduously built.