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Plainspeak forces Cong to shift focus to revival

A.K. Antony

New Delhi, June 23: The A.K. Antony-headed panel reviewing the Congress poll debacle has shifted focus to a revival plan as home truths voiced by candidates from different states expose the widespread rot in the party for which the high command is no less responsible.

The committee has been talking to candidates and office-bearers separately and allowing them to express their feelings without fear. Most of them are talking candidly about issues ranging from the central leadership’s failures to local problems.

If they are pointing at the negative image of the erstwhile Manmohan Singh government, they are also talking of the inaction and the apathy of the party high command, disunity among senior leaders and neglect of grassroots workers.

Most candidates have raised the question of money power and argued that the BJP and regional parties were far ahead of the Congress. But they also blame poor planning, bad campaigning and the strong anti-incumbency against the UPA for the disastrous outcome.

Communication failure is a common thread in all interactions, with candidates and office-bearers arguing that even the good work done by the UPA could not be conveyed to the people effectively.

A participant told The Telegraph: “For the last two years, the BJP ruthlessly attacked the Congress and the government, painting us totally black, and we couldn’t confront them.

“On the other hand, Narendra Modi was touring the country, telling people that he would solve all problems. The RSS was present from the state capital to the panchayat level.

“And our organisation was sleeping… senior leaders were conspiring against each other and ministers were busy enjoying the fruits of power. Their conduct foretold the disaster.”

If Bihar leaders blamed bungling in the coalition-making exercise, Bengal candidates said the Congress stood little chance in a completely polarised atmosphere. They admitted the party’s organisational limitations and demanded a complete overhaul and a new approach to connect with the people in Bihar and Bengal.

Candidates from Odisha spoke of poor state leadership. Those from Jharkhand blamed a host of factors, including organisational weakness, JMM’s unpopularity and the Modi wave in the country.

Another leader said: “If the Congress had become so weak nationally, what is the point in discussing local issues? There was an anti-Congress wave. People chose regional parties where they decided not to vote for Modi. The central leadership should ponder over this; we would have lost badly even if local factors were handled better.

“The high command knows why we lost. The entire country was told ‘Abki baar Modi sarkar’ and the Congress leadership was thinking the Muslim factor would prevent Modi from getting majority. This is a futile exercise, they should change their ways.”

The review committee includes Mukul Wasnik, Avinash Pandey and R. Khuntia, apart from Antony who has analysed several election debacles.

There is no fixed criterion for calling representatives from states for discussion. However, PCC chiefs, legislature party leaders and candidates who lost with minimum and maximum margins have largely been called.

From some states, former PCC chiefs were also called. Many leaders who had something significant to say were asked to give reports in writing, along with suggestions for a revival plan.

The dominant view among leaders from different states has been negative; some termed the exercise a meaningless drama and wondered if corrective action would be taken. There is also extreme anger in the party.

A party veteran said: “We have seen such meetings in the past. This is an old ploy to maintain status quo. We will wait for follow-up action to believe they are really serious this time. It does not appear that senior leaders have changed despite the party being reduced to 44 seats.”