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'No lessons have been learnt from election results'

June 03, 2014 21:17 IST

'He should have at least offered to step down. He should have shown some grace as head of the government in whom the party leadership reposed so much faith.'

'Sonia Gandhi is essentially a democrat. She does not like to disturb chief ministers. It is a reflection on the person's style of functioning when they mistake this trust as their personal power.'

The humiliating defeat suffered by the Congress in the Lok Sabha election has resulted in a major churning in the party. While party Vice-President Rahul Gandhi and his coterie of advisors have come under attack, the electoral debacle has also intensified the infighting in the various state units.

Former Union minister and Rajya Sabha member Kumari Selja, who has had a long-running battle with Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, has sharpened her attack against him after the results.

The Congress won only one seat in Haryana.

In this outspoken interview to contributor Anita Katyal, Selja lashes out at Hooda for running a one-man show in Haryana.

What went wrong in Haryana?

There are multiple factors -- there cannot be one single issue -- anti-incumbency in Haryana was one of them. Every state had its own set of issues and Haryana had its own share of them. Let's not forget, Haryana has been a one-man show. Here, the chief minister's style of functioning was a factor.

Instead of taking everybody along, the party organisation over the years has been weakened as it has been playing second fiddle to the CM.

Over the years, we have been raising this issue that our workers need to be more involved and that the workers and the government should be on the same page.

This is nothing but a case of missed opportunities.

Instead of Congress workers, bureaucrats were given greater say. Grassroots workers have been completely alienated and there is a real danger here for when you alienate the workers, you get alienated from the common man.

After all, the party worker is the link between the party, the common man and the government.

Our workers only wanted to feel a sense of involvement with the government they had helped bring to power. They wanted respect and wanted the administration to be more response to their legitimate demands. But we have a situation in Haryana where the state unit president has been quoted as saying that the state administration was totally unresponsive to their grievances.

There were complaints about uneven development in the state -- all the resources were reportedly ploughed into the chief minister's constituency while others were neglected.

Haryana has been a one-man show for the last 10 years now. While there has been development in the state, the fruits of development should be evenly distributed throughout the state. There was a feeling that all development was concentrated in Rohtak (Chief Minister Hooda's son Deepender Hooda's Lok Sabha constituency).

The rest of Haryana felt that development was not taking place in a fair manner.

Do you think Chief Minister Hooda should have stepped down, taken moral responsibility for the party's dismal performance in Haryana?

I am not asking for his resignation. But he should have at least offered to step down. He should have shown some grace as head of the government in whom the party leadership reposed so much faith.

There has to be a sense of responsibility and accountability, but it was missing.

The Congress has been in power in Haryana for two terms now. If you look around, you see that several chief ministers have won their states -- take the case of Odisha, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. What is the reason that the Congress government could not win more than one seat?

In some places we stood second and in other constituencies our candidates lost their deposits. How does one explain this? Some hard questions need to be asked.

Those in power must carry people along -- surely some effort could have been made in this direction.

Has any effort been made at course correction after the results? After all, an assembly election is due in Haryana later this year.

Unfortunately, no lessons have been learnt from these election results. There has been no effort to engage with party workers or other state leaders.

Recently, a beginning was made by disbanding of the state unit executive, district and block level bodies and observers have been appointed to go around the state to get feedback. But, again, some of these appointments have been mired in controversy.

I have also read that the chief minister and the PCC (Pradesh Congress Committee) president and the AICC (All Indian Congress Committee) general secretary in charge will be going to different districts to meet workers. All these years, the CM never made any effort to tour the state and meet party workers.

I hope it is not a case of too little, too late.

All the issues you have mentioned were brought to the notice of the Congress leadership. Congress President Sonia Gandhi had met Hooda and you to sort out these differences. What happened?

I agree there was intervention at the high command level, but it came to nought. Unfortunately, nothing changed. Mrs Sonia Gandhi is essentially a democrat. She does not like to disturb chief ministers. It is a reflection on the person's style of functioning when they mistake this trust as their personal power.

The Congress suffered a humiliating defeat in the Lok Sabha election. What are the factors responsible for this rout?

There are various factors -- price rise, rationing of cooking gas cylinders were some of them. The government's social sector schemes were well-conceived, but the problem arose at the stage of delivery.

The implementation of these schemes is the responsibility of state governments. Each state had different issues -- it also depended on the state of the party organisation.

The Congress leadership, especially Rahul Gandhi and his advisors, have come under attack after the election results. They are being held responsible for the party's poor performance.

Unfortunately, our leaders have become easy targets after the results. All of us need to introspect and reflect on what went wrong and the corrective measures we need to take in the future.

These are the same leaders who led us to victory in the past. Suddenly, after one defeat, people start finding fault with them. It is just not fair. There might have been shortcomings, but these should be rectified.

It is also being said that there was a communication breakdown between the party and the government and between the leadership and the workers.

These are matters of detail and can be looked into. The main thing is that we must learn from our mistakes and see how we can rejuvenate the party organisation and galvanise our workers. These are the challenges we face. We have to introspect and re-strategise.

There are also murmurs in the party that Sonia Gandhi should play a more pro-active role in the organisation. She is the most credible face in your party.

I agree. Her credibility is unquestioned. But don't forget we are the ones who elected Rahul as party vice-president at the Jaipur AICC session. Both have to play their respective roles -- Sonia as the party elder and Rahul as her second-in-command. Each will have to play a complementary role.

There is no doubt that the Nehru-Gandhi family holds a special place in the hearts of the people and every Congress worker.

I am in total agreement with the decision of our senior leaders who rejected their resignations at the party's Working Committee meeting. They have led us in the past and they will lead us in the future. We need them at this stage when the party faces such serious challenges ahead.

The Congress is down to its lowest tally. Is it possible for the party to recover?

We don't need to feel disheartened. These things happen in the evolution of a democracy. But our party has strong roots and dedicated workers -- we simply need to reach out to them.

Anita Katyal in New Delhi