BY: DEEPIKA BHAN
The Assembly elections in the five states had one stunning outcome: the irretrievable downslide of the Congress. Sonia Gandhi and her two babies — Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra — need to comprehend the people’s verdict and the moral of the story: It is the end of the road for them if they don’t accept reality.
Out of the 690 seats whose fate was decided in the five states, the Congress could manage to win only 55. State-wise, of the 403 seats in Uttar Pradesh, Congress got two; in Punjab, where it was in the power, it won 18 out of 117; in Goa’s 40-seater Assembly, Congress managed 11; out of Manipur’s 60 seats, it had to be content with just five; and in Uttarakhand, it could manage only 19 out of 70.
On the vote share front, too, the share of the Congress is drastically down. In Uttar Pradesh, the Congress vote percentage is a dismal 2.33 against the BJP’s 41.29; Manipur has given only 16.83 per cent to the Congress and 37.83 per cent to the BJP; in Goa, the Congress got 23.46 per cent and the BJP 33.31 per cent; in Punjab the Congress managed 22.98 per cent and the BJP 6.60 per cent. The only saving grace for the Congress is Uttarakhand, where it notched up a decent share of 37.91 per cent, against the BJP’s 44.33 per cent.
These figures clearly show the state the Congress is in today and exposes the distrust and displeasure of the masses with the three. Talk to any random person on the road, Rahul Gandhi’s name evokes dismissive laughter; worse, his actions and statements are perceived to be not serious. For many, he is a joker who is helping the BJP to create perceptions.
His younger sister, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who was projected as the harbinger of a change in the difficult political terrain of Uttar Pradesh, has been rejected by the people of the state. The people valued Akhilesh Yadav more than her and gave him more seats and votes. The statistics clearly show that the people in Uttar Pradesh have more faith in Akhilesh than Priyanka.
The fact that the Congress vote share is down to just 2 per cent in the state after all the “hard work” and personal attention of Priyanka is a telling comment on her performance. In the last Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, Rahul lost the family bastion to Smriti Irani and this time Priyanka could not retain any of the Assembly segments in another Congress bastion, Rae Bareli, the Lok Sabha seat of Sonia Gandhi.
Punjab’s overwhelming vote for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and eviction of the Congress only confirms the grave disconnect between the ‘Grand Old Party’ and the voters.
Having a huge number of followers on social media accounts is no guarantee of support from the masses. Rahul and Priyanka need to understand this. Together, they have 24.7 million followers on Twitter and lakhs like their Facebook posts, but when it comes to voting, even the followers don’t seem to deliver. The electoral numbers that AAP, on the other hand, is notching up should be a serious cause of concern for the Sonia-Rahul-Priyanka triumvirate.
AAP is proving to be the real bulldozer in today’s political landscape, crushing all other parties — repeatedly in Delhi and now in Punjab. It is being viewed as the rising alternative to the BJP. Its performance in Punjab has further destroyed the myths that the Congress swears by, including the one that it is the only political party in the country that cares for the minorities.
In Delhi and in Punjab, the minorities rallied behind AAP as much as the majority community. This is what should shake up Sonia-Rahul-Priyanka and their strategists.
The trio has challenges to confront from within the party. The G-23 leaders, upset with the poll results, met on March 11, a day after the verdict, and demanded a new Congress president as soon as possible.
One of the senior G-23 leaders, Ghulam Nabi Azad, said: “I am shocked, my heart is bleeding to see our defeat in state after state.”
He said that he hoped the party leadership would take note of the weaknesses that the G-23 had been mentioning. Another party leader, Shashi Tharoor, has also called for leadership reform.
The Congress has been steadily losing elections since 2012 and along with it several leaders and workers have abandoned the ship. According to a media report, 177 MPs and MLAs have left Congress since 2014, besides a number of leaders. When Narendra Modi became Prime Minister in 2014, the Congress had nine states; the number has now shrunk to just two — Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Congress is staring at an existential crisis and will sink further if it does not act now.
In the past many of the leaders who could not find space for growth in the Congress, have proved their mettle outside — Mamta Banerjee in West Bengal, K. Chandrashekar Rao in Telangana, Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, Himanta Biswa Sharma in Assam, and, of course, Sharad Pawar is firmly ensconced as the kingmaker of Maharashtra. The Congress did not value them and in due course they became successful challengers.
It is high time Sonia-Rahul-Priyanaka rejig themselves, otherwise the Congress will get decimated. It is still not too late for them to give up the claim of being the sole guardians of the party and step aside to allow a new party president to work with a free hand, focusing on grassroots politics, attacking the government credibly on policies and decisions, and above all. stop taking personal swipes at Prime Minister Narendra Modi that go down well with the people.
In 1978, R.K. Laxman drew a memorable cartoon to describe the future of the Congress with the caption: “The real Congress will be so reduced in size through constant splits that a special device will be needed to see it.” That was 44 years ago; today, the cryptic line reads like a prophecy, and is also the moral of the story.
(Deepika Bhan can be contacted at [email protected])