New Delhi, March 6: To those in the Congress who often dream of raising the partys charisma level by fielding Priyanka Vadra if Rahul Gandhi fails, the message from the family pocket borough of Amethi-Rae Bareli should be piercing enough to jolt them out of their fantasy world.
The Congress won just two of the 10 Assembly seats in the twin Lok Sabha constituencies, held by Rahul and Sonia Gandhi, where all the poll talk revolved around Priyankas charms.
The Congress leadership had high hopes of her campaign and debated whether she should be unleashed in the rest of the battlefield, apparently oblivious to the changing realities in the heartlands political terrain.
Experience should have taught the party that individual charisma had its limitations and that organisational structure and local electoral logic were far more important.
After all, the politics of seduction cannot override the politics of service, a disgruntled senior leader remarked wryly today, conceding that local networking and permanent presence among the voters was the key.
The Congress leadership seemed to have drawn the right lessons after the Gujarat defeat in end-2007. It had admitted that local leadership, from the state level to the districts, had a bigger role in winning the peoples confidence than the high-fliers who descended to bless or charm the voters occasionally.
Still, no corrective steps were taken and, in the Bihar elections three years later, the Congress went to battle riding solely on Rahuls charisma and lost. The irony is that the ordinary Congress members prescription after that defeat was charisma transplantation — from Rahul to Priyanka — rather than addressing the problems of politics and organisation.
Even in Uttar Pradesh, the majority of the candidates thought that Priyankas campaign would alter the electoral equations.
Rahul today indicated he had learnt from his Uttar Pradesh experience, admitting that organisational paralysis was the prime reason for the poor showing.
Asked about the reasons for the defeat, he said: It is too early for us to know why it happened, but organisationally we were not where we should be.
To a question about the disaster in Amethi-Rae Bareli, he said: We havent done well in the whole of UP.
On the perception that certain remarks by Digvijaya Singh, Salman Khurshid, Beni Prasad Verma and Sriprakash Jaiswal had boomeranged, Rahul said: People say statements have harmed us. But the truth is that the fundamentals were weak.
Digvijaya, who handled the Uttar Pradesh elections for the party, too pointed to organisational weaknesses, arguing that the Congress had failed to translate goodwill into votes.
Janardan Dwivedi said Rahul should be given credit for the massive upsurge against the Mayawati government although it was the Samajwadi Party that reaped the benefits.
However, despite its apparent realisation that organisational muscle and strong political presence in the states — even outside the election season — are the two imperatives for election victories, its anyones guess how determined the party is to plug these holes.
While there has been little effort to foster strong local leaderships in the states, even the party workers live with the notion that the Gandhi familys charisma would be enough to bail them out.
Certain recent decisions by Sonia appear to reflect a lack of concern for the organisational weaknesses. Although few among her general secretaries, except Digvijaya who at least understands mass politics, have any support base, Sonia chose to fill her secretariat with little-known people during the All India Congress Committee shuffle.
The decision that stunned party leaders the most was the choice of Prithviraj Chavan, a rank outsider, as Maharashtra chief minister.
Some Congress leaders hope that Rahul would undertake an overhaul of the party and resist the temptation to empower lightweights and those who pose no political challenge to the entrenched leaders.
Rahul cannot work any harder than he did in Uttar Pradesh, and even Priyanka tried her best in Amethi-Rae Bareli. The lesson is that the Congress needs a strong organisational machine to exploit the charisma of its stars.