THE Congress’s abysmal showing in the Delhi Assembly elections did not come as a surprise to many in the party but the slide in its vote share — leading it to conclude that it could have lost both Hindu as well as Muslim votes — is forcing the central leadership to think how to navigate the minefield of the ideological issues the BJP pushes and the emergence of parties like AAP which take a nuanced centre-right position.
The other challenge for the Congress is that in states where there are strong regional parties, it is increasingly ceding the anti-BJP space to them. And where regional parties are in power, the BJP is squeezing the Congress out.
The Congress, for instance, came third in local body polls in Telangana last month. Same was the case in Odisha. The party met the same fate in West Bengal in the Lok Sabha elections.
In the last few decades, the Congress has struggled to regain lost ground in states where its vote share dipped below 15 per cent, party leaders feel, citing examples of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal among others.
The 22 per cent vote share that the Congress secured in Delhi in the Lok Sabha elections led it to believe that all was not lost in the capital but this hope was shortlived. The party in Delhi, leaders said, is staring at a future like in UP, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, where it has never made a comeback.
Many Congress leaders believe that Arvind Kejriwal showed better political adroitness in handling divisive issues like the abrogation of Article 370, the new citizenship law and the protests in its wake.
Despite the AAP’s poor showing in the Lok Sabha elections just nine months ago, the party managed to more or less retain the vote share it secured in 2015 Assembly elections. The AAP secured 53.6 per cent of the votes, only a minor dip from 54.3 per cent in 2015. The BJP’s vote share, on the other hand, saw a nearly 8 per cent jump from 32.1 per cent to 38.5 per cent, excluding the 1.26 per cent votes polled by allies LJP and JD(U).
Party leaders said the votes secured by the AAP in some of the seats with substantial Muslim population show that the community has leaned towards the AAP. “There was tactical voting…it was understandable…but what worries us more is that increase in the BJP vote share which means our votes have moved to the BJP,” a senior leader said.
In Delhi, the Congress got 9.65 per cent of the votes in 2015 which went up to 22.43 per cent in the Lok Sabha elections in 2019 — it had come second in five of the seven Lok Sabha seats. Its vote share plummeted to 4.26 this time. As many as 63 of its 66 candidates lost their deposits (each got less than a sixth of the votes polled) — in 2015, 62 of its candidates had done so.
While the Congress had taken a strident position on the CAA, NPR and NRC, the Aam Aadmi Party was cautious. And unlike the Congress, Kejriwal supported scrapping of Article 370. “Even after handing such a massive defeat to the BJP, Kejriwal did not utter a word about the divisive and hate politics played by the BJP. He was silent on Modi as well. He is smartly sidestepping these issues. And look at our leaders. We were quick to term today’s result a defeat of the BJP’s divisive politics,” a senior leader said.
“We are essentially standing where we were after Lok Sabha elections. Although the BJP could not form the government in Maharashtra, the fact is that we had come fourth. In Jharkhand, we piggy-backed on the JMM. In Haryana, where we improved our tally, there was a strong Jat polarisation against the ruling BJP, the Jats wanted to defeat M L Khattar, a Punjabi, and that helped us and Dushyant Chautala. There was no turnaround in the ground situation,” another leader said.
Many Congress leaders believe the party can hope to revive only when it resolves the leadership issue at the central level, take pragmatic and nuanced positions on divisive issues and hit the streets on livelihood issues like unemployment on a regular basis.
“We should also learn to publicise the good work done by our state governments. We need to get into that bandwagon and get out of the bandwagon of giving every credit to the Gandhi family. We are not able to build leaders because of that. If you work and promote leaders who have done work..then the party also gains,” a senior leader said.
Some felt it was time for the Gandhi family to step aside. “The era of the top (Gandhi family) is over. They are not getting us anything. It is time our leaders show some self-confidence and start standing up. And tell them that if you can’t shape up, step back for a while. We will die if we don’t do that; it is not that Rahul Gandhi and all don’t have a capacity. But right now they are not a saleable commodity…A same commodity can be unsaleable at one time but can suddenly become acceptable at another point of time…” one leader said.
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