The Congress headquarters at 24 Akbar Road in Delhi wore a dejected look on Tuesday due to the sparse gathering of party workers, as results from Karnataka trickled in.
The workers had expected the party to do much better with Congress president Rahul Gandhi leading a spirited campaign. But 38 rallies, numerous temple visits and an impressive social media campaign did not prove good enough in the end.
Losing power in Karnataka is not just another loss for the Congress party. Even if it gets to be a part of the government — there is every possibility of a Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress alliance — it would be hard for it to digest the fact that it was ousted from power in the biggest state it had in its kitty. And the defeat is made worse by the fact that Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has trounced it in the numbers game.
The importance of Karnataka for Congress, that is now in power only in a handful of states, cannot be underscored. Moreover, Karnataka is a huge state, not just in terms of size but is also very vital for the Indian economy.
When asked about Rahul, the workers wore a confused look. There was visible sadness on their faces. The voices of some choked while speaking. Most of them gave evasive replies. They couldn't fathom what went wrong after such a well-planned campaign by the party and its president.
"We were 100 percent sure that Congress would win Karnataka with a thumping majority. Our president Rahulji led the party from the front. We are still unable to understand what went wrong. One defeat after another is lowering the morale of Congress workers. I don't know how we're going to pull it off in the forthcoming Assembly polls and the 2019 election," a Congress worker, with a lump in his throat, told Firstpost.
Even on Monday, Congress leaders in New Delhi were confident that the party would bag 127 seats. However, the party ended up second with 78 seats, while the BJP got 104 seats. JD(S) came third with 38.
So where does the problem lie? Was it Rahul's leadership, or were there other factors at work?
Anti-incumbency against the Siddaramaiah government emerged as one of the major factors. The Karnataka Congress likely failed to gauge the undercurrent of anti-incumbency. "It's definitely disappointing, because the result is way off the Congress' expectations. No doubt the party and its workers worked very hard. However, they failed to gauge the anti-incumbency factor. There was definitely a very strong anti-incumbency undercurrent," Congress spokesperson Jaiveer Shergil told Firstpost.
A direct fight with Modi
Rahul Gandhi tried to make it a direct fight with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But like in Gujarat in the past, it again didn't result in a victory. The result of a direct fight with the prime minister in an Assembly election meant the campaign got side-tracked. Even a delayed entry in Karnataka by Modi was enough to provide a boost to the BJP's election campaigning, while his strong presence eventually turned the election in the party's favour.
A leader is nothing without a robust grassroots organisation. The Congress president ought to revive the Seva Dal and other frontal organisations of the party to take on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). It's the grassroots network that ensures the BJP under Modi can win election after election. Unlike the Congress of today, the BJP has a strong and committed cadre at the grassroots — who act as the party's foot soldiers and ensure victory. The RSS and its affiliated bodies work silently at the ground level for years, not just before an election.
"RSS and its other affiliated bodies work at the grassroots like committed citizens of this country. We don't ask voters to vote for any particular party, but ask them to exercise their democratic right," a senior RSS functionary told Firstpost.
Lingayat issue backfired
The Congress hoped that providing the Lingayat community with status of a separate religion would help it win the Assembly elections. But it didn't. In fact, it angered a large number of Hindus in Karnataka who didn't take the decision in good stead.
"This is nothing but divisive politics by the Congress party. There's no bigger crime than politicising religion to create fissures in our social fabric. This move will open a Pandora's Box. It's the Congress party that has for the first time indulged in such a crime by attempting to create a new religion to win election by dividing the voters," senior RSS functionary and convener of the Muslim Rashtriya Manch, Indresh Kumar, had told Firstpost in an interview in April.
Rahul's messaging has to be more positive. Criticising Modi is not enough. He has to inspire a generation of voters on how Congress under his new leadership could bring about a positive change through the policies of the party. A continued effort is required, even when there are no elections taking place.
Visiting temples won't help
Since the Gujarat Assembly election late last year, the Congress adopted a soft Hinduvtva line. After Gujarat, Rahul visited temples during his election campaigning in Karnataka. It attracted criticism from various quarters. "Even in the past, Rahul had visited temples, like during Uttar Pradesh Assembly election. It's nothing new," the party said.
But the party's agenda to use the temple visits as a tool before the elections was viewed by many as a propaganda tool rather than a ritual.
According to statistics from the State Agriculture Department, as many as 3,515 farmers in Karnataka committed suicide between April 2013 and November 2017, out of which 2,525 were due to drought and farm failure. The initiatives promised in the Congress' manifesto to help the farm sector failed to cut much ice.
Despite the defeat, however, the Congress president has to keep his party cadre motivated ahead of the Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Like the BJP, which is always in election mode, Rahul too needs to ensure that Congress workers don't get too relaxed. "Every election victory or defeat impacts the morale of party workers. But Congress will strap its boots and not let this result affect our dedication and commitment to Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Rahul Gandhi has already started his work in Chhattisgarh, and we hope to keep the momentum going," Shergill added.
Updated Date: May 16, 2018 09:00 AM