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Action call as loser snores

New Delhi, May 25: Amid the sliver of hope for the Congress in Karnataka — its tally has risen from 65 to 80 — many in the party want it to draw clear lessons from the defeat and fix accountability.

The Congress also hopes to increase its vote percentage from 35.27 to close to 40, but all this is being seen as a “consolation prize”.

“The bottom line is, we lost the state and allowed the BJP to form its first full-fledged government in the south,” a general secretary acknowledged.

As the party geared up for the usual motions of an “introspection”, preparing reports and having a Congress Working Committee meeting, sources stressed that the response ought to be more “substantive and result-oriented” this time.

Not only because the party has lost several elections in a little over a year but also because it has to fight another four in the heartland before the big one in 2009.

Party leaders want “action” on several fronts:

Pinning accountability

Reviewing the policy of not projecting a chief minister candidate

Dropping incumbent MLAs

Clarity on fielding candidates from sections such as the minorities and women, even fixing a “quota” if possible

Ever since it lost the Bihar polls in November 2005, the Congress has been expected to bring out a “detailed” report on what went wrong, act on suggestions and monitor the results. But nothing has happened yet, and the party has not even reconstituted its state executive.

“The result? Come another election and we will hang on to Lalu Prasad’s coat tails and then curse him when we lose,” a source said.

The subsequent losses have been swept under the carpet, giving the impression that the Congress bosses are afraid to face up to shortcomings.

As for accountability, spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan suggested that the central apparatuses — the government and the party — were blameless. “The verdict is not a referendum on the Centre’s working because the election was fought entirely on local issues,” she said.

Congress sources, however, questioned the logic of drawing a centre-state distinction. They said that with the party command structure being so centralised, Delhi could not escape blame whenever it was convenient.

“Most of the district units have not been reconstituted for years because the state leaders look to the high command for direction; and they get nothing because someone wants his nominees to get in but another person shoots down the names,” a source said.

Delhi was more than adequately represented in these elections.

Prithviraj Chavan, the general secretary in charge of Karnataka, and Digvijay Singh were grounded in the state. And the state heavyweights who mostly live and play politics in the capital had decided to call the shots once it was election time.

“The nub of the problem is that there is no connectivity between the high command and the state leaders, and between the state leaders and the workers,” an official said.

The sources also cited how the Congress had refused to project a leader, saying this was not its “tradition”, and how it had failed to identify a committed caste or social grouping as its core vote bank.

One lobby had backed state Congress president Mallikarjuna Kharge, hoping his Dalit-Ambedkarite antecedents would swing the Dalit votes. But the upper caste lobby advised the high command against projecting him and Kharge was told to lie low. Whether or not this was the reason, the BJP picked up most of the Scheduled Caste seats.

The sources also wondered why the Congress had refused to drop sitting MLAs and counter anti-incumbency. As many as 36 of its 65 MLAs lost.

Many are also asking why the Congress campaign sounded defensive against the BJP’s aggressive electioneering, and if the time has not come to fight an election on the party’s own terms instead of letting the BJP set the agenda.

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