By Trina Joshi
The Congress needs to go for a leadership revamp following its humiliating rout in the Delhi election, experts say, but the country’s oldest party does not feel that is necessary.
Political pundits say the massive defeat in Delhi has again put the focus on leadership deficit in the party and its need to reconnect with the people in view of its rapidly eroding vote share. The Congress failed to win any of the 70 Delhi seats, 67 of which went to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and three to the BJP. Worse, most Congress candidates lost by huge margins — and their security deposits too.
“It was a rude awakening for the party. Serious self-examination is required and the process is on,” Congress spokesman Sanjay Jha said.
Party leaders admit that while they had no great expectations from the Delhi battle, the scale of the setback has stunned them.
Jha said the party was hoping to retain, at least, the vote share it had clinched in the 2013 assembly election when it won eight seats.
But the vote share, which was 24 percent in 2013, dipped to 15 percent in the 2014 Lok Sabha election and ended with an alarming 9.7 percent in Delhi this time.
Hundreds of thousands of traditional Congress supporters from all social segments shifted their loyalty en masse to the AAP, a 27-month-old outfit that has come to occupy the left-of-centre political space.
Political analyst Aswini K. Ray said the Congress must reinvent itself and re-examine the leadership — read the Gandhi family.
“They don’t look for an alternative beyond the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, and the irony is that Rahul Gandhi (the party vice president) is himself a liability for the party,” Ray said.
“He doesn’t have the right political acumen it seems.
“Unless they resolve the leadership deficit and the ideological deficit internally and externally, they would go nowhere,” added Ray, a former professor of political science at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Agreed political analyst H.K. Dua, who said all Congress state units must be reconstituted to strengthen the leadership at the state and grassroots levels.
“Start from grassroots level and state level, then build the national structure. There is an absence of effective state leadership with factions that are weakening the party,” said Dua, an MP.
The Congress vote share has been on a downslide since 2013.
A party which once used to lord over India now governs only Assam, Kerala, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Karnataka and Arunachal Pradesh.
The suggestion to dump the existing leadership cuts no ice with Congress leaders.
“We have full faith in the leadership of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi,” Jha said.
“It is the same leadership that won us two Lok Sabha elections — in 2004 and 2009.
Instead, the need is to “strengthen our connection with the people and the leadership at the village level,” he said.
“We need strong, empowered state leadership across the country.
“Although Delhi went through a massive transformation under the leadership of Shiela Dixit (chief minister for 15 years until 2013), we failed to sell ourselves,” he added.
Congress leader P.C. Chacko, who is in charge of Delhi, said the Congress was thinking about how to go about it form here.
“We wanted to save our skin by getting the reasonable percentage of votes in Delhi this time. But what surprised us is the drop in the vote share this time,” he said.
“We are looking at a long-term solution and not short- term. Our vote bank is dwindling,” he added.
Like Jha, Chacko also feels that the Gandhis remain the best hope for the Congress.
But after the Delhi disaster, party workers staged a procession outside the Congress headquarters here raising slogans demanding that Priyanka Gandhi, daughter of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, should take over the leadership of the party that was founded in 1885.
Ray, who views Priyanka Gandhi as a potential alternative to her brother Rahul, feels she has some of the leadership sparks from her late grandmother and former prime minster Indira Gandhi.
“The Congress should not insulate itself from that option. Once it reorganises its leadership issue, it can revive itself given its enormous historical legitimacy,” he added.