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MCD polls: Congress leaders fear party running out of time, wait for Gujarat

Even Muslim strongholds slip out, from campaign to narrative to Delhi Cong chief, all come under attack

Delhi Congress office wears a deserted look on the counting day of the MCD Polls, in New Delhi, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022. (PTI)
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“Wrong narrative”; “internal bickering”; “faulty ticket distribution”. Congress leaders in Delhi Wednesday blamed several factors for the party’s massive rout in the MCD elections. The trouncing saw the party also lose from its strongholds in Muslim-majority areas such as Old Delhi, making the fact that seven of its nine winners are from the Muslim community a pyrrhic victory.

Sources said that Delhi Congress president Anil Chaudhary, a Rahul Gandhi appointee who many believe was completely ineffective, would be replaced soon and a new team would be put in place. The question is only about the timing – whether to do it before the Bharat Jodo Yatra reaches Delhi or wait for it to cross the city.

The reasons for the disastrous performance vary, depending on whom you speak to. The overall sentiment, however, is of deep despondency and apprehension that the party would again end up with a duck in the Lok Sabha elections in Delhi if the situation remains the same.

Now all eyes are on Gujarat to see the vote percentage and seats that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) gets in the state. “If the AAP manages to get 15% or so of the votes, then it is really bad news for the Congress… The AAP will expand its national ambitions and would pit itself as the challenger to the BJP,” a senior Delhi Congress leader said, adding that the MCD collapse was disheartening given that the party had managed to ensure that the AAP finished third in Delhi in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

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Another leader said: “We have to do a lot of work on our organisation at the grassroot level. Secondly, our senior leaders who have fought and who have to fight the Lok Sabha elections did not work as was expected of them. Shaktisinh Gohil was the Delhi in-charge. At the last minute, in the first week of November, we made Ajoy Kumar the in-charge since Gohil was busy with elections in Gujarat. It is difficult to understand micro-level, booth-level issues in a month, in the middle of elections. We all knew Gohil had to concentrate on Gujarat elections, why didn’t we give the charge to someone else earlier? The ad hoc way of doing these things, these decisions are inexplicable.”

A leader pointed out that senior names such as Ajay Maken, Sandeep Dikshit, Rajesh Lilothia and Arvinder Singh Lovely did not campaign much. On the other hand, the aides of the latter said that those running the party in Delhi did not consult them or involve them in electioneering. A leader close to Maken said he was not consulted when it came to deciding candidates even in Rajouri Garden, which he had represented in the Delhi Assembly thrice in the past. Ironically, the Congress did turn to Dikshit later, but only to rush him to Gujarat, to tackle the AAP’s challenge there.

Internal bickering too played a role. On the eve of the elections, Dikshit hit out at Devendra Yadav, who had been a working president when Dikshit’s mother and former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit was the PCC chief.

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Then, days to go for the MCD polling, in another unsavoury news from the Congress camp, Maken wrote to the leadership, expressing his inability to continue as Rajasthan in-charge.

One leader said the campaign theme of the Congress, which was centered around “Sheila Dikshit’s Delhi”, too was wrong. “The moment we talk about Sheila Dikshit’s Delhi, the poor, the lower middle class, those living in slums, get a 1000 Watt shock. It was they who used to get high electricity bills, faced delay in regularisation of unauthorised colonies, lack of toilets in jhuggi clusters… We talk about flyovers, infrastructure (when we talk about Sheila Dikshit)… all these don’t resonate with the poor, who are Kejriwal’s vote bank now,” the leader said.

While the AAP has cornered the votes of the poor in Delhi, the richer classes are now a BJP support base.

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Apart from his lacklustre performance, Chaudhary’s misery was compounded when, in a major embarrassment for the Congress, its Delhi chief was unable to cast his vote since his name was not on the voters’ list. “That was shocking. You are the Congress president, you came to know that your name was not in the visit after reaching the polling booth! It means there was no ground work. Our booth workers did not even check the voters’ list,” one leader pointed out.

Another leader said that what made this even more unforgivable was the fact that the Congress candidate in the seat was Chaudhary’s nephew.

On Muslims still reposing some faith in the Congress, the party leaders say that won’t be enough. “The Muslims are upset with Arvind Kejriwal because of his inaction and silence during the Delhi riots, his flirtations with Hindutva. But only Muslim vote will not help us in any way,” a leader said, adding that if it did not work even in the MCD, it was even less likely to in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections and the Assembly polls of 2025.

First published on: 07-12-2022 at 18:07 IST
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