The results of the Haryana and Maharashtra assembly polls came as a shocker for the Congress and made its revival even more difficult as the party has been defeated in the states that had been its traditional strongholds. The Congress finished third in both the states.
The results once again raised questions on Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi’s leadership with no clarity yet about the party’s roadmap for restructuring. They also revived demands for giving a more active role to Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, highlighting the party’s dependence on the Nehru-Gandhi family.
With the party having received severe drubbing in the Lok Sabha polls, Congress leaders were not expecting a miracle in the assembly election in the two states but the results were below their own assessment.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi campaigned aggressively in the states addressing about 35 rallies, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi participated in fewer rallies.
The defeat came at the hands of Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, who have been talking about “Congress-free” India.
A worrying factor for the Congress is the party’s inability to gain ground in the states where it has lost election to the BJP. The Congress has lost successive polls to BJP in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat.
The results Sunday also resulted in Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) – a key ally of the Congress in the UPA government – virtually joining hands with the BJP. The NCP has offered outside support to the BJP and ended scope of an early realignment with the Congress. The NCP had parted ways with the Congress days before the Lok Sabha polls.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is not only seeking to displace Congress from its strongholds, the party is also seeking to gain opposition space in states ruled by the regional parties.
Reduced to 44 seats in the Lok Sabha, the Congress is facing challenge of shrinking social base. The party also has to contend with Modi’s growing stature as a campaigner and a national leader.
With polls in Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand expected in a few months, the Congress still has to put its act together.
Both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi had taken responsibility for the Lok Sabha debacle but no major revamp of the party structure has taken place over the past five months.
In their responses to the polls verdict, both Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi emphasised that the defeat had come after the party’ successive triumphs in Maharashtra and Haryana.
“The Congress party will work hard on the ground to once again earn the confidence of the people,” Rahul Gandhi said.
Sonia Gandhi sought to boost morale of workers thanking them for “their tireless and unstinting commitment to the party and its ideology”.
A senior party leader told IANS that efforts for revival will be difficult in short term as the Modi government was still carrying the momentum of the Lok Sabha victory.
Congress spokesperson Sanjay Jha said the party was “very disappointed” with the election results of the two states.
He said the party had not been “very aggressive” about its achievements in Haryana and Mahrashtra and needs to reach out to people by all media and platforms.
Jha dismissed suggestions that Rahul Gandhi was not measuring up to the task expected from him.
“He is leading the campaign personally. He takes the full responsibility about crucial decisions. He is leading from the front,” Jha told IANS.
He also said that the party worked as “a collective team” and an individual could not be blamed for the failure.
On Priyanka Gandhi Vadra taking a more active role, he said it was for her to take a decision.
“We take the defeat seriously. We will take stock and move forward,” he said.
Political commentator and senior journalist S. Nihal Singh said the Congress has been facing difficulties as Rahul Gandhi is not performing the role expected from him.
“The problem is basic. What do you do if the leader does not perform. Where do you go from there. If it is a dynasty-led party, the person concerned has to perform,” Nihal Singh said.
A.S. Narang, who teaches political science at IGNOU, also said the problem is the party’s leadership.
“They have to introspect about the leadership, organisational programme. They have to find out reasons for shrinking social base and take remedial steps,” Narang said.