Unlike other Congress leaders, Rahul Gandhi did show some desire for introspection and learning from its four-state debacle, including from the Aam Admi Party (AAP); but will it be of any help?
Is there anything left for the Gandhis and the Congress to redeem?
With hardly a few months to go for the Lok Sabha elections, let Rahul and Congress do everything possible to shore up their chances; but will that be enough?
Rahul cannot transform overnight into a charismatic leader and Manmohan Singh’s intriguing policies cannot be substituted with genuine reforms that can take care of the country’s economy as well as the welfare of its people. So, for the time being, with neither a presentable leadership nor populist goodies to attract votes, all that the Congress can do is to routinely prepare for the elections because that in itself is a tough task.
Meanwhile, the Congress should be mortally worried: Where are its numbers going to come from? Will it be its worst ever elections?
When faced with questions such as these, the party’s TV spokesperson relies on the refrain that Congress is the only party that is ruling in 11 states. It’s true, and for the party cadres, it might sound promising. However, what he doesn’t say is that all these states together account for only about 180 Lok Sabha seats, of which the Congress holds less than 100.
In the last elections, the Congress and its allies had indeed done well in these states and managed more than half of the seats. Will they be able to repeat it this time as well?
Very unlikely, and that is going to hurt the party pretty badly.
Here are the reasons:
Congress is in serious trouble in Andhra Pradesh where it had won 33 out of the 42 seats last time. With its prospects plunging deep, thanks to the YSR family phenomenon and a lacklustre state leadership, the Congress now wants to split the state into Telangana and Seemandhra, with the hope that the former will offer them some relief. But now the TRS, which the Congress wanted to piggyback on, might not even touch it with a bargepole and go with the BJP. So, the Congress is a dud in the erstwhile Andhra.
The next big number in the Congress-ruled states is Maharashtra: 25 out of a total of 48 - 17 from Congress and eight from Sharad Pawar’s NCP. With the likes of Adarsh housing and irrigation scams, law and order failures, and no extraordinary governance to show, the Prithviraj Chavan government will certainly face the disadvantage of incumbency. Add to this, the nuisance of a wily NCP. Will they get anywhere close to their early tally, which by itself was only half the total number of seats? Moreover, the BJP and Shiv Sena, together with 20 seats, is not far behind.
In Hooda’s Haryana, out of the 10 seats, Congress had managed to get almost everything (9). But, in good times there was no Robert Vadra’s land deals or Ashok Khemka’s inside stories. Additionally, if the AAP expands contiguously to the state, the Congress’s goose will be cooked.
Tarun Gogoi’s Assam gave seven seats last time - half of the total in the state. Will he deliver again? In the wake of the recent rape-outrage and charges of misgovernance, he already looks like a defeated man.
Down south, often Kerala is a state that comes to the partial rescue of the Congress when everything goes against it. Out of the 20 seats in the state, the Congress presently has 13 and its allies 3. Today, the party and the government it leads is in a complete disarray, thanks to never ending scams - including its regular share of sex scandals - and internal fights. Unless the electorate is put off by the violent and opportunistic ways of the CPM, Oomen Chandy may not be of any major help.
So, the summary of the story so far is this: the number of Congress-ruled states that the party touts is meaningless and they are unlikely to deliver even half the existing numbers. The best case scenario might be about 50 plus seats.
Now, let’s come to the states which are not ruled by Congress or its allies, where it performed well last time. In fact these are the critical states - they are big and therefore are important for big numbers.
Rajasthan: Out of the 25 seats, Congress had won in 20 last time. But then, there was a pro-Congress wave and a triumphant Ashok Ghelot, which are now history. With the Congress biting the dust in the state, all that the Congress can hope for is a handful.
Uttar Pradesh: The most crucial state because it has the largest number - 80. Last time, the Congress had won 21, with more going to the ruling Samajvadi Party. If the multiple splits of the electorate (SP-BJP-BSP-Cong) continue, the Congress will gain nothing. If it has to make it big, it has to win big time in UP, which looks absolutely impossible. An alliance will not help much because both the SP and the BSP - if at all they choose to align with the Congress - will want to keep most of the seats to themselves.
Tamil Nadu: For the Congress, it is a hugely important state - With DMK, it had 26 seats (DMK-18 and Congress-8). With absolutely no anti-Jayalalithaa sentiment visible in the state now, the continuing taint of 2G and effete handling of the Sri Lankan Tamil issue will hurt the Congress-DMK combine. There is no extraordinary situation in the state that should go against Jayalalithaa who wants to win all the 39 seats.
As regards other non-Congress states with big numbers, will the situation change in West Bengal (6 out of 42) and Gujarat (11 out of 26)? So unlikely.
The only state that stands out for the time being is Bihar which has 40 constituencies where JD (U) and BJP together had won in 32. Will the JD (U) be able to repeat the performance with Congress filling in for the BJP? The odds are not completely in favour.
So, we come back to the basic question: where will the Congress get its numbers?
Whenever the Congress was in trouble, the southern states had helped. Even post-emergency, out of the 150-odd MPs the party managed, more than 110 were from the southern states and Maharashtra They also played a critical role in Indira Gandhi’s return in 1980. But today, even they look utterly helpless.
The Congress should be a deeply worried party. It’s in the same leadership vacuum that it was in the Narasimha Rao - Sitaram Kesari interregnum; but then there was the prospect of a Sonia Gandhi. With Rahul Gandhi turning out to be a perpetual non-starter, the party has nobody to turn to now.
Of course, the Congress has nobody but itself to blame for attempting to run a national party with the charisma of a single family. That too, for most part of its existence. If old family-held enterprises can fail because they failed to move with the times, why can’t a family-held party?
Probably, we are in for one of the worst disastrous electoral debacles for the Congress. As Mani Shankara Iyer noted on Tuesday, it’s time the Congress sat on the opposition.
The party has to completely change - it should get rid of people such as Manmohan Singh and the technocrat-careerists who are looking to occupy India’s policy-space, its welfare policies should be inspired by the genuine needs of people and not by political expediency, and it has to learn how to run its economy without excluding its majority. And if Rahul was not pretending to be contemplative, he should take the AAP lesson seriously - the politics in the country has to change.
And more importantly, the churning for a new leadership - dismantling of the high-command and complete decentralisation of power within its ranks - has to begin at the earliest
Updated Date: Dec 11, 2013 22:41:00 IST