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Verdict: Why Cong should not protect its first family

By Seema Mustafa
March 06, 2012 14:38 IST
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Nothing offered by Rahul Gandhi and his family has worked and the Congress will have to take stock of the ability of its first family to not just deliver the votes, but to pull it out of the doldrums where it has been left after this assembly election, says Seema Mustafa.

The Congress is reeling under the impact of the results, not just in Uttar Pradesh but also in states like Punjab, Uttarakhand and Goa where it had expected easy victories. And while the party spokespersons are putting up a brave front in a concerted to bid to protect the Nehru-Gandhi family from attack, it is apparent to even the casual onlooker that the arguments are forced and the depression deep.

The Samajwadi Party has emerged as the single largest party in Uttar Pradesh. It is clear that it does not need the support of the Congress and its ally, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, to form the government. In fact, the Congress-RLD combine slumped dramatically as an alliance and failed miserably to enthuse the voter.

For the purpose of this analysis, let us examine what went wrong for the Congress. The questions that need to be answered are why, from predicting over a 100 seats, the party dropped to an abysmal low. Is the Nehru-Gandhi family responsible, or is it the party organisation as UP Congress chief Rita Bahuguna has been first off the block to insist.

It is clear that the Nehru-Gandhi family used UP as a test case for its popularity and efficacy in first generating goodwill, and then turning this goodwill into votes. The Congress took a decision to use UP as the launching pad for Rahul Gandhi, based, of course, on some initial in-house surveys and intelligence estimates.

In what were described by Congressmen as 'carpet-bombing' tactics, Rahul Gandhi went on a blitz campaigning through the nooks and crannies of UP while sister Priyanka set up camp in the Sultanpur-Rae Bareilly-Amethi belt, and mother Sonia Gandhi airdropped at specific venues by helicopter. All in all an impressive show that mesmerised the Delhi media to initially predict an over 100-seat tally for the Congress, that dropped gradually as the elections in UP progressed.

It was clear that the Muslims shifting alliance from the Bahujan Samaj Party were going back to the Samajwadi Party as there is this strange affinity and trust between the community and Mulayam Singh Yadav. The fact that Kalyan Singh had been thrown out by Netaji, and Amar Singh had been replaced by the polite, affable Akhilesh Yadav greatly boosted the party's prospects insofar as the poor electorate was concerned.

The Congress pulled out all the stops to persuade the Muslims to return to its fold but this did not work largely because the deficit of trust could not be bridged, following continuing reports of the arrest of innocent Muslim youth from states across the country. The impact of the Batla House encounter was not limited to Azamgarh.

Secondly, the Muslims who did respond somewhat positively to Rahul Gandhi did not feel that he was in a position to win.

And third and equally important were the issues of corruption, inflation and price rise for which the Muslims along with others blamed the central government led by the Congress party.

Rahul Gandhi clearly does not have the charisma to cut into hard political arguments, and despite going on and on about development was unable to convince backward UP that the Congress was in a position to deliver. Nothing offered by him and his family has worked and the Congress will have to take stock of the ability of its first family to not just deliver the votes, but to pull it out of the doldrums where it has been left after this assembly election.

The highly centralised campaign also cut into the morale of the few local leaders that the Congress still has in UP. The tickets were decided by Rahul Gandhi and his men in Delhi, the campaign was carried out by Rahul Gandhi and his men in Delhi, with little to no space being left for the few MPs and MLAs of the party.

One candidate told this correspondent during the campaigning that the meetings with Rahul Gandhi were always a 'You will win, Sir', with no one bothering to acquaint him with the true position on the ground. This candidate incidentally had predicted 35 to 40 seats for the party in the state.

It is true that the absence of an effective party organisation is also responsible for the failure of the Congress to mop up the votes. But this failure is not on the part of the UP state leaders, but directly attributable to Rahul Gandhi who has spent no time in setting up a viable organisation in the state.

He has limited his role to campaigning not just now, but over the past year, and instead of stopping to stitch together a good organisation, he has been victim to the propaganda that his 'magic' would bring in the dividends.

This has not happened as the voter in UP is a wise, tested individual. He or she does not part with the vote easily, knowing that the next chance will come only after five years. The people have been betrayed over and over again, and while aware that the Samajwadi Party might again fail to develop the state despite the promises, clearly did not want to vote for a party that would compound the problem by generating insecurity as well.

The Congress leaders will do well to make the Nehru-Gandhi accountable for this defeat. And instead of cocooning them, insist on deep introspection leading to remedial measures on the ground. But then the proverbial question arises: Who will bell the cat?

And as no one will have the courage, all will once gather around to defend the indefensible, taking the blame and absolving those who are to blame for the bitter defeat in not just UP, but in the assembly elections in Uttarakhand and Punjab as well.

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