The 100-year-old Congress party has suffered yet another blow as they have received a severe drubbing in the Assembly polls in four states and Puducherry. The only minor consolation for the party has been the victory of its DMK-led alliance in Tamil Nadu.
The party drew a blank in West Bengal, as a Congress partyman said, with no clear game-plan to approach elections, no local ground-level leadership and last minute planning. Neither could it win the confidence of the voters of Assam and Kerala, where it was hoping to stage a comeback after Congress leaders had invested time and energy campaigning vigorously in these states.
Despite the Congress scion’s deep diving skills that he had showed off in Kerala, and their attempts to ride on the anti-CAA wave in Assam, the Congress was routed in these states. Their disappointment with the results in Assam and Kerala was acknowledged by Congress’ chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala at a press conference on Sunday evening (May 2).
“We recognise that the election results are not as per our expectations, particularly those of Assam and Kerala,” he told the media.
There is bound to be ramifications for this humiliating loss, a yet another setback in their electoral fortunes. Experts felt that this election rout will strengthen the voices of the dissenters within the party –the Group 23 – that are challenging the Gandhi family’s leadership, who had aside their grievances to fight these Assembly elections. Also, the demand by some Congressmen to build a non-Congress front to take on the BJP may gain momentum in the party.
The poll results have come as a big blow especially to former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who had actively campaigned in Kerala. Congress has the maximum number of its MPs from Kerala, including Rahul Gandhi who represents Wayanad. The odds of them losing were low, said a Kerala leader. But, many political observers felt that the infighting between multiple camps of the Kerala Congress had probably led to this debacle.
The two main camps in question being the Oommen Chandy camp and the Ramesh Chennithala, who are always looking to outdo the other. And, Rahul Gandhi was unable to quell the internal factionalism in the Kerala unit and deal with it with a strong hand and this probably proved very costly to them.
The Left Democratic Front (LDF) ended up retaining Kerala bucking the historical trend of governments alternating every five years. The Congress had clearly underestimated the popularity of Pinayari Vijayan. In contrast to Kerala, Rahul Gandhi barely made an appearance in West Bengal, and quickly cancelled the rest of his campaign owing to the spike in COVID-19 cases.
With Mamata Banerjee emerging as a victor, there would be more claimants to the opposition leadership space in the coming times, even though Congress feels it is the only party with a national presence and outlook. The post-election phase in the Congress would be crucial as the debate on leadership is likely to be revived, especially in light of the January 22, 2021 decision of the Congress Working Committee that the party “will have a new president by June 2021 at any cost.”
The leadership of the Gandhis would once again be questioned in the party, where the G-23 leaders, including Ghulam Nabi Azad, Kapil Sabil and Anand Sharma, will make their next moves. Calling themselves the “conscious-keepers” but considered as “dissenters” within the party, they would be sharpening their knives once the poll analysis and deliberations on losses are done. Accepting the poll verdict with alacrity, Rahul Gandhi meanwhile flatly said, “We will continue to fight for our values and ideals”.
It was left to Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala to put up a brave face in front of the media and state the party may have “lost” elections in Assam, Kerala, Puducherry and West Bengal but has not “lost its morale or resolve” to continue to be the peoples’ voice in these tough times. He added that the party would deliberate on its failures and do course correction after internal deliberations.
“The Congress Party will definitely study the results and all the reasons diligently and we are committed to correct our mistakes and do appropriate course correction,” Surjewala said, which in retrospect seems to be the refrain of the Congress party of late. Former Union Minister Ashwani Kumar meanwhile said the chastening election results are an SOS for the Congress ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
The need for demonstrable and purposive action to address the organisational and communication gaps was never more evident, he said. “For Congress, to retain its resilience and relevance in national politics it must secure internal cohesiveness and establish an emotional connect with the people. It needs to work on its messaging and accurately assess the barometer of popular sensitivities,” Kumar told PTI.
At this juncture and considering the political realities in the country, Sonia Gandhi’s unifying leadership of the party is necessary, he said however toeing the party line. “The foremost task is to keep the party together through an extensive reach out and to enlarge the network of political alliances while involving all leaders in rejuvenating the party,” he noted. The Congress also has to deal with a number of internal issues, even as the leadership will be questioned on poll alliances with AIUDF in Assam and ISF in West Bengal.
A section of party leaders had expressed their reservations about tying up with “communal” parties in these states. And that it may cost the party dearly in the coming times. The Congress is in power on its own only in a couple of states such as Punjab, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and has allied with other parties in Maharashtra and Jharkhand. Will the party just continue on its downward spiral or will the dissenters within the party be able to steer its fortunes back to first create a more robust opposition, which this country sorely needs?