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Cong picks its villains: Team R

- Knives out for Rahul’s advisers after election rout

New Delhi, May 17: Several senior Congress leaders today asked what they could have done in the face of a “ferocious” Modi wave, causing concern within the party that they were looking for excuses, not answers, after its worst-ever election battering.

These leaders chose to overlook that Narendra Modi had built the “wave” himself, drop by drop, aided by the Sangh parivar machinery. Whether it was the corporate or media outreach, caste engineering or the endless rallies, Modi meticulously worked out every detail.

Essentially a state leader till a few months ago, he expanded his appeal across the country while the Congress did nothing, lulled by its ideas about the limitations of a divisive politician.

The Congress’s vote share fell to 19.3 per cent. The previous worst, 25.82 per cent in 1998 under Sitaram Kesri, had prompted Sonia Gandhi to take the plunge into politics.

Rahul Gandhi, who led the party’s 2014 campaign, had in his first address to a Congress plenary, in Hyderabad in 2006, identified that “the party declined because Congressmen stopped going to the field, giving voice to the people’s concerns”.

But no action followed. Leaders who had never fought an election continued to run the party’s affairs while many multiple election winners were ignored.

During the campaign for the last Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, Rahul had promised to stay with the state’s people irrespective of victory or loss. But after the Congress was routed, he did not keep his word.

In Bihar, no senior leader visited the state after the defeat in the 2010 state elections.

The same story was repeated in Odisha where the Congress won 38.5 per cent votes and 38 Assembly seats in 2004, and 29.11 per cent votes and 27 seats in 2009. This time, it has been left with 25.7 per cent votes and 16 seats.

“Our strategists were trying to extract votes from the computer,” a Congress leader said sarcastically.

The leadership’s reluctance to analyse the problems and prescribe the right medicine has caused dismay. Rumours that Sonia and Rahul might offer to resign at Monday’s working committee meeting, owning responsibility for the rout, too have evoked exasperation among most.

“What is this nautanki (drama)?” a senior leader told The Telegraph. “We know that only Sonia can steer us through this crisis. Everybody in the Congress knows that Sonia is needed more than ever now.”

Another leader said: “If Sonia indeed offers to quit, there will a high-decibel public show of loyalty and sycophancy and people will make fun of us. This is the time to show maturity and grit.”

The leader added: “There is no denying that Rahul should be asked to mend his ways and Sonia herself should convey this to him at the working committee. Rahul should accept his mistakes and promise to take corrective measures. He can’t escape responsibility for this shameful rout.”

Rahul’s “body language” — he was smiling — when he appeared before the media yesterday to accept defeat has become a talking point in the party.

The knives are out for the Congress vice-president’s “chosen team”, which has handled party affairs for the past two years.

Congress leaders, young and old, are pointing largely at the same set of “villains”. Mohan Gopal, Mohan Prakash, Jairam Ramesh and Madhusudan Mistry are being blamed most often, with some targeting Janardan Dwivedi, C.P. Joshi and Kanishka Singh too.

Gopal, who heads the Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies, is the key behind-the-scenes strategist; Mistry played a significant role in candidate selection; Jairam, the rural development minister, was part of Rahul’s core team of advisers and helped draft policies and speeches.

Prakash, Joshi and Dwivedi are general secretaries; Kanishka is the key figure in Rahul’s office. Dwivedi is being blamed because he looked after the media and communication cell for years.

Several former MPs and state leaders are questioning the policies and strategies framed by the party vice-president and his team, though they may not be able to say this in front of Rahul.

The sentiment is not new, not born after yesterday’s rout — they have been talking about it for a long time, especially since the poor results in the December Assembly elections.

Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi has admitted in an interview that he had warned Rahul several times about the party’s failures in communication.

Rahul’s idea of primaries and his “na´ve” experiments in the Youth Congress have also come under heavy criticism.