After heavy losses in the Lok Sabha election, the Congress and Rahul Gandhi are being asked to introspect on how to revive the party. For starters, they need to look at the sort of candidates they fielded in Uttar Pradesh.
Of the 62 seats for which the Congress put up candidates in Uttar Pradesh, at least 23 were brought into the party between January and April this year. Only 39 were what could be called traditional Congress members. Even five of these 39 were not in the party in 2014, but joined before 2019.
The Congress imported candidates from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and even the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). From media reports, it is clear that five of these 23 joined the Congress in April, 12 in March and the rest over January and February. Of these, 10 are from the BJP, eight from the BSP and four from the SP, while one is from the RLD.
These candidates were almost immediately handed tickets for key constituencies but their electoral performance was pathetic. Five of them got less than 20,000 votes apiece, nine got less than 50,000 votes, another five got between 50,000 and 75,000 and of the remaining three, only one crossed the one lakh mark. By contrast, nine of the 37 longtime candidates of the Congress were able to secure over a lakh votes. Eight got between 60,000 and 95,000 votes and five got more than 50,000. The remaining 16 fared worse, getting between 15,000 and 45,000 votes. But on the whole, the old-timers and established faces performed much better than these borrowed figures.
For example, the party inducted strongman Bhalchandra Yadav from the BJP in March, after he had failed to secure a ticket from his own party. He was given the Sant Kabir Nagar ticket in April and got 1,28,506 votes — the maximum among imported candidates. Praveen Nishad, the BJP's candidate, secured 4,67,543 votes against Yadav and the BSP got 4,31,794. The latter lost by 35,749 votes. Undoubtedly, the Congress contributed to this defeat.
At the bottom of the pile in terms of votes secured stands Major Jagat Pal Singh, a former BJP MLA, who was inducted into the Congress in January. He has scored 12,105 votes in Sambhal. Long before the poor performance, it was his extravagant declarations that ought to have alerted Rahul and the Congress. He openly confessed during his campaign that in the 1990s, when he participated in the Ram Temple movement, he had made spurious claims to collect donations. Whether or not this is true, Singh stated that he had purchased an ordinary chakla-belan, a cooking implement, and claimed that it once belonged to Sita, the wife of the Lord Rama. His continued candidature shows that the Congress has digressed very far from its founding principles of secularism and non-violence.
Through several such nominations, Rahul's party has opened itself up to the charge that Opposition leaders dared not refer to secularism during this election, for they have belied the principle. This is a charge that even the prime minister recently levied, and it is tough to argue with it. Perhaps, Rahul needs to introspect on the salience of his party's attempt to out-Hindutva the BJP, which has deftly melded ideology with its development and nationalism plank in order to woo voters.
Against many imported candidates who got tickets from the Congress, party workers expressed discontent and even staged protests. For example, Congress workers burnt effigies of Triloki Ram Diwakar, a former RLD Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) who joined the party late in March and was given the ticket for the Hathras seat within 24 hours. Angered workers had vowed to ensure the defeat of their party for ignoring other contenders within the party. Diwakar bagged 23,926 votes.
Similarly, there were protests against Ramakant, another strongman and former BJP leader who joined the Congress in April and was given the party's ticket for Bhadohi. He got just 25,604 votes. Outraged Congress workers had also opposed the induction of Balkrishna, a former MP, who got a ticket from Ghosi. Their complaint against him was that he was a classic 'dal-badlu' or turncoat, who had been in the BJP, the Samajwadi Party and had been expelled from the BSP twice. He got only 23,812 votes.
In Hardoi, former BSP leader Virendra Kumar was taken into the party in late March, against the wishes of aggrieved Congress workers. He secured only 19,972 votes. In Kaushambhi, Girish Pasi, the strongest regional BSP leader, joined the Congress in March. He, too, bagged only 16,442 votes. Similar was the fate of Ashok Dohare, who left the BJP and joined the Congress in March. He could only get 16,570 votes from Etawah, a constituency he had won in 2014 for the BJP.
Raj Kishore Singh joined the Congress in April from the BSP and got the ticket for Basti. Balkumar Patel, who joined the Congress in March after leaving the Samajwadi Party, got the ticket from Banda. While Rajkishore is a strongman, Patel's brother is the dacoit, Dadua. They secured 86,920 and 75,438 votes respectively, adding neither victory nor glory to the annals of the Congress.
Nasimuddin Siddiqui, another former BSP leader, joined the Congress in February and contested from the Bijnor seat. Siddiqui, who was evicted from the BSP on corruption charges in May 2017, got only 25,833 votes. Similarly, Chandresh Upadhyay, who was fielded from Domariyaganj by the Congress, joined the party in April. Prior to that, he was with the BJP and had even been sharing social media posts in solidarity with the prime minister's "chowkidar" campaign. His fulsome praise for the BJP and Modi still lurks on social media, though obvious attempts have been made to delete every trace. He got 60,549 votes.
Of all the new candidates put up by the Congress, only one seems to have been picked from the Youth Congress, its student body that supposedly grooms tomorrow's leaders. Perhaps, the Congress president needs to introspect on how there is no substitute to nurturing candidates and constituencies consistently and over time. In a highly-competitive electoral scenario, quick-fix candidates seem to have only damaged Rahul's party, in terms of morale and also with respect to its ideological underpinnings. At the very least, he can draw the conclusion that its strategy of importing leaders did not pay off. (Another seven seats in Uttar Pradesh went to Congress allies, who performed as badly as the adoptive candidates)
The Congress can also introspect about why it ignored warnings from political pundits that by spreading itself too thin across Uttar Pradesh, it would damage the Grand Alliance. It managed managed to do this on eight seats — Sant Kabir Nagar, Basti, Banda, Meerut, Dhaurahara, Barabanki, Badaun and Sultanpur. That said, in the first three seats, the Congress had fielded imported candidates, while the latter five seats went to its existing leaders. The former only damaged the Opposition coalition slightly but took nothing away from the BJP's victory while dissipating the Congress' own strength and displaying a measure of the pique it harbours against the rival regional formation.
The Congress justified its decisions on the ground that it wanted to re-energise its cadre, and that recapturing its Hindi heartland votes would help it recover lost ground nationally. This was projected as a matter of pride and prestige as well as realpolitik. Ultimately, pride prevailed and the party strayed far from Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, where it had recently scored Assembly wins. These states, with 11, 25 and 29 seats, altogether send 65 MPs to Parliament, and only two of them are now going to be from the Congress.
Rahul is undoubtedly mulling over how to revive his party. Right through the campaign, he distinguished the BJP's ideology from his own but the strategy did not work. Fielding candidates who were never a part of the Congress, nor subscribed to its ideology and who have taints ranging from murder charges to corruption, is not how a 135-year-old party will win elections.
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Updated Date: May 29, 2019 16:26:20 IST