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Cong lesson: don’t ignore politics
Price of leaving vacuum unfilled

Sonia Gandhi after addressing the media on Sunday. She turns 67 on Monday but no celebrations are planned because of Nelson Mandela’s death. (PTI)

New Delhi, Dec. 8: The pathetic performance in the Assembly elections demonstrates the crisis of politics in the Congress.

The Congress leadership terribly erred in presuming that welfare schemes were a good substitute to politics, that government initiatives would make up for the disconnect with the masses, that a few shining young faces could ensure mobilisation of youths, that the threat of communalism was enough to keep right-thinking citizens in its fold and that election-time patchwork could fill the leadership vacuum in the states.

All these false assumptions have become key ingredients of Congress politics.

In states like Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Bihar, the Congress central leadership can hide behind the excuse of weak organisation but that’s not the case in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh or Delhi.

In Delhi and Rajasthan, the governments of Sheila Dikshit and Ashok Gehlot are thought to have performed better than their counterparts in many states but the perpetual crisis of politics did them in. If Sonia Gandhi or Rahul thought the rural job scheme and food security won votes, they should analyse the message delivered by the voters carefully.

The Gehlot government gave free medicine but that could not cure the failure on the political front; caste equations were floundering, there was inaction during communal riots, leaders were plotting against each other, ministers were entangled in rape cases and political activity was restricted to lack-lustre government events.

Dikshit made flyovers, universities and hospitals but the Congress withdrew from the political space, thinking that the Aam Aadmi Party would take care of the BJP by splitting the anti-incumbency votes. The reliance on AAP for survival was the best manifestation of the political bankruptcy of the country’s largest party.

Lost in the illusion, the party could not realise AAP was mobilising the masses on corruption, price rise, high electricity bills, women’s safety and, most of all, filling the political vacuum created by the Congress withdrawal.

Senior Congress leaders had threatened to confront “these forces” during the Anna Hazare movement by going to the people but remained inside their cosy spaces after Arvind Kejriwal formed a political party, presuming that the infant would take time to get out of the cradle. Veteran Congress MLAs who came third or fourth in Delhi never conceded AAP was making inroads into the people’s hearts.

When AAP volunteers were tirelessly working on the streets, listening to the poor and explaining their point of view to the youths, the Congress concluded that their entrenched MLAs would manage the election in the last 15 days.

Chief minister Sheila Dikshit and state unit chief J.P. Agarwal worked at cross purposes during the entire tenure and the high command intervened two months before the polls, begging for peace and unity. So arrogant were Congress leaders and MLAs that even the minorities opted to vote for AAP to teach them a lesson — something that a large number of voters echoed on the day of polling.

All these factors appear not that decisive if viewed against the massive clobbering the Congress got but they bear testimony to the festering crisis in the party. Delhi may offer some excuse to the high command as a 15-year anti-incumbency does have its impact.

But the Rajasthan government faced its first test and was viewed as a laboratory for the politics of “welfare and entitlements”. Rahul, who forcefully started his campaign this time by attacking the BJP politically, changed tune after one controversy over his Muzzaffarnagar remark, restricting himself to talking about schemes alone.

Rahul will have to go to the drawing board, though his war room is full of leaders who rarely contested or won elections, and analyse if this strategy would work in the general election if it failed in these states. He will have to find an answer to the key question: why anti-incumbency did not topple governments in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat?

Karnataka and Uttarakhand bucked the trend, not because of the Congress but because of the mess in the local BJP.

The Congress won Himachal Pradesh recently primarily because it had a towering leader in Virbhadra Singh who did round-the-year politics in the hill state, unlike a Jyotiraditya Scindia who was hoisted at election time.

Rahul, who talked about opening the system and introduced elections in the Youth Congress, has himself ended up promoting leaders who have little knowledge of the party organisation or have never fought an election.

At the cost of Sonia’s trusted lieutenants, he promoted Mohan Prakash, a former Janata Dal leader, who promised 200 seats in Uttar Pradesh, 150 seats in Gujarat and now a clear victory in Madhya Pradesh. He was rewarded with a better assignment after every failure, although Rahul talks of a merit-based system.

The importance given to leaders like Madhusudan Mistry, Jairam Ramesh, C.P. Joshi, Mohan Gopal and K. Raju has also raised eyebrows in Congress circles while veterans are often found complaining that they are not aware of key decisions.

Today’s shock is bound to mount pressure on Rahul, and Sonia will have to enlarge her role for the Lok Sabha elections.