Updated: March 11, 2022 12:34:39 pm
The Congress, its footprint shrunk to just two states, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, from the nine it had when Narendra Modi took charge in May 2014, was once again staring at a crisis of credibility and leadership.
This crisis isn’t new — the party has won just five of the 45 elections held since 2014. But what struck a different note this time was that even the familiar refrain of the need to re-invent was absent. Instead, there is a sense of despair and a foreboding of impending internal upheaval.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi signalled that the meeting of the party’s Working Committee will be called soon to discuss the way ahead but several leaders The Indian Express spoke to were groping in the dark. Some younger leaders, referring to the landslide AAP victory in Punjab, did argue that the “old and jaded” need to make way for fresh blood.
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Many veterans, represented by the G-23, said this was a we-told-you-so moment. “I am shocked, my heart is bleeding to see our defeat in state after state,” said CWC member Ghulam Nabi Azad. “We gave our entire youth and life to the party…I am sure that the party’s leadership will take note of all weaknesses and shortcomings which my colleagues and I had been talking about for quite some time.”
Party leader Shashi Tharoor, meanwhile, reiterated his call for leadership reform. “All of us who believe in @INCIndia are hurting from the results of the recent assembly elections. It is time to reaffirm the idea of India that the Congress has stood for and the positive agenda it offers the nation — and to reform our organisational leadership in a manner that will reignite those ideas and inspire the people. One thing is clear – Change is unavoidable if we need to succeed,” he tweeted.
Sources said some G-23 leaders will meet at Azad’s residence tomorrow to chalk out the next course of action.
The immediate concern, sources said, is to keep the party united amid concerns over defections and even a split.
“We can’t keep arguing that the BJP has won playing the Hindu-Muslim card or polarisation. We will be deluding ourselves if we keep thinking so. Where are Muslims in Punjab? Or, for that matter Uttarakhand, Manipur or Goa? It is much more than that. Our leadership lacks credibility. We have to accept that fact. But how can we, given our party structure,” a young Congress leader told The Indian Express.
“Priyanka Gandhi Vadra addressed 209 rallies and roadshows in Uttar Pradesh alone. She and Rahul Gandhi went to Hathras, raised the Lakhimpur Kheri killing of farmers to the hilt. But nothing has worked. We could not have done much in UP given the caste and religious polarisation. The women-centric campaign came from that realisation. But it did not touch any chord. It is a sad realisation that we and our leaders lack credibility which makes it difficult to convey our message,” one leader said.
“I am just completely foxed,” said senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid.
After Punjab, the challenge comes from the AAP in Himachal Pradesh, a leader said. “There are many seats there bordering Punjab. There will be an impact. Many of our leaders, including MLAs, could leave the party. Is the leadership aware of this challenge? If they are, are they doing something? I really don’t know,” he said.
“While it is highly disappointing and frustrating, the defeat was not unexpected. The way the election was handled….it was not unexpected,” former Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan told The Indian Express. “Everything went wrong. There was no intention to contest seriously…We should have fought with full strength like Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. There was confusion in the organisation in Punjab by changing leadership. Our innings is almost coming to an end. But the future of youngsters in Congress is at stake,” he added.
Many leaders questioned the leadership for what they called the “fiasco” in Punjab: the way a CM was removed and the manner in which Navjot Singh Sidhu kept undermining the party’s government with “no intervention” from the leadership.
Accepting the defeat, Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “Humbly accept the people’s verdict. Best wishes to those who have won the mandate. My gratitude to all Congress workers and volunteers for their hard work and dedication. We will learn from this and keep working for the interests of the people of India.”
Officially, the party said it had expected better results in Uttarakhand, Punjab and Goa. Party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala earlier in the day claimed “emotional issues” overtook “fundamental issues affecting the lives of people”.
Surjewala had a message for his colleagues too. “If we break the branch on which we are sitting, then the tree, the branch and the leaders will also fall as has been evident today in some states,” he said. “Whether the war or the quest for positions has become so bitter that we are harming or cutting the very tree that the Congress people are sitting upon. That is a question each one of us must think about,” he said.
With inputs from Yogesh Naik
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