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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

At its lowest point in capital, Congress admits: Just introspection won’t do

Under the leadership of former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, Congress came second in five of seven parliamentary constituencies during the Lok Sabha polls.

Written by Astha Saxena | New Delhi | Published: February 12, 2020 3:11:49 am
At its lowest point in capital, Congress admits: Just introspection won’t do At the Delhi Cong office. (Express photo by Praveen Khanna)

In a repeat of 2015, the Congress, which ruled Delhi for 15 years, failed to win a single seat in the assembly polls. While the party got 9.65% of the vote share in 2015, it trickled down to 4.26% this time. Of the 70 Assembly seats, the party did not manage to come second in even one. In 67 seats, 63 of its candidates and four RJD candidates — with whom the party formed an alliance — lost their deposit.

After the 2015 assembly polls, the party had managed to improve its vote share in the 2017 MCD polls (21.09%) and the 2019 Lok Sabha polls (22%). Under the leadership of former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, the party came second in five of seven parliamentary constituencies during the Lok Sabha polls.

But the gains made in the Lok Sabha did not have any impact during assembly elections. “People’s mandate is against us, we accept it… Our vote percentage (across the elections) has come down from 22% (in 2019 Lok Sabha election) to 5-6%. This is a matter of concern and needs evaluation. The Congress and its Delhi unit have decided to redraw from the grassroots and bring in newer, fresher leadership,” Congress’s chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said later.

A senior leader admitted: “The party’s performance has been the weakest this time. It did not have an agenda and there was no support from the leadership. The number of rallies and public meetings organised by top leaders could not attract voters. During the entire election campaign, the party kept criticising AAP and BJP instead of focussing on their own issues.”

Senior leaders in the party, who have been a part of Dikshit’s government, said the Congress needs a complete overhaul. After Dikshit died on July 20 last year, the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee (DPCC) was left headless for six months, until Subhash Chopra was appointed to the post in October last year.

Leaders said the party lost crucial time in those six months. “While no one can replace her, we should have at least tried to make up for lost time. We will have to learn to take decisions quickly,” said Kiran Walia, a three-time MLA and who also served as Minister of Health and Family Welfare in Dikshit’s cabinet from 2008 to 2013.

Another crisis facing the party in the capital is its dwindling cadre strength — something both AAP and BJP heavily rely on to reach every single door. Continuous infighting and lack of trust within the party has also been affecting its performance.

Many also blamed the leadership for not infusing energy into candidates. While BJP and AAP kicked off their campaigns early, top leaders and star campaigners from the Congress came to the ground only in the last week of polls.

Even during public gatherings, candidates had only one thing to talk about: Work done by Dikshit in Delhi. According to leaders, running a campaign based solely on highlighting Dikshit’s achievements had no impact on voters, who want to look ahead, not to the past.

“Jab leadership nahi dikhegi, toh candidate kya karega?,” said Mangat Ram Singhal, another Congress leader who worked in Dikshit’s cabinet.

The road ahead for the party will need much more than just introspection. All India Congress Committee national spokesperson Sharmistha Mukherjee admitted as much, when she tweeted: “If we are to survive, time to come out of exalted echo chambers! We are again decimated in Delhi. Enough of introspection, time for action now. Inordinate delay in decision making at the top, lack of strategy and unity at state level, demotivated workers, no grassroots connect – all are factors. Being part of the system, I too take my share of responsibility.”

Chopra said, “I worked for 20-21 hours every day, but I am not tired yet. Delhi Congress will continue to fight. Attempts to polarise were made by both parties (BJP and AAP) and they were successful to an extent.”

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