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Congress must ask: Who's to blame for another defeat?

By Aditi Phadnis
May 24, 2019 13:36 IST
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The party managed only 52 seats on its own and many of its top leadership, including Rahul Gandhi, Mallikarjun Kharge and Jyotiraditya Scindia were defeated in the polls.

Aditi Phadnis reports.

IMAGE: Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and party leader Rajeev Shukla during Rahul Gandhi's press conference in which he congratulated Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his win after the declaration of the Lok Sabha election results. Photograph: ANI Photo

The Congress’s precipitous defeat in the Lok Sabha election has many top leaders of the party wondering if it will still be around or whether the Bharatiya Janata Party has attained its objective of ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’. The party that hovered around 50 seats, marginally more than the 45 in the last Lok Sabha, managed to get seats primarily in Punjab and south India (four in Telangana, eight in Tamil Nadu and 19 in Kerala).

“We seriously have to introspect. It is time for a complete organisational overhaul,” said a party contestant from Tamil Nadu, who was leading his rivals. The party had to deny speculation that Congress president Rahul Gandhi had offered his resignation as party president.


“The reports are incorrect,” said spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala. When asked on fixing responsibility for the loss, Rahul said: “This is between my party and me. Between me and the Congress Working Committee.”


The sobering fact for the Congress is that everywhere it managed to win in the south, it was part of an alliance -- it did not win anywhere on its own steam. In Tamil Nadu, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam helped the party. In Kerala, it led the United Democratic Front. Being part of the mahagathbandhan in Bihar did not help it -- the party won a single seat. Only in Punjab did the party report a handsome victory on its own.

The party is now terribly afraid that it will lose at least two of its state governments -- one in Karnataka and the other in Madhya Pradesh -- as it has a wafer-thin majority in both states.

In the 2018 Karnataka assembly election, having won 104 seats, the BJP failed to secure a majority (113 seats out of a total of 224 in the assembly). As a result, the Janata Dal-Secular with 38 seats and the Congress with 77 seats came together to form the government. According to this deal, H D Kumaraswamy became the chief minister. It needs just nine MLAs to cross the floor and topple the government. In Madhya Pradesh, the majority margin is even lower with the difference between the Congress and the BJP being just five MLAs.

The losers are so many it is hard to count. Apart from Rahul Gandhi himself losing from Amethi (the party’s lone winner in Uttar Pradesh was Sonia Gandhi from Rae Bareli), the party’s entire top leadership in Karnataka (including the former leader of the Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge and senior leaders like B K Hariprasad) were defeated. In Madhya Pradesh, its former chief minister Digvijaya Singh lost from Bhopal as did Jyotiraditya Scindia from Guna. Scindia was considered so influential that he was also made party in charge of western UP.

The party fielded Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as its scout in eastern UP. Her political influence appears to have been minimal.

The party has been wiped out in Maharashtra and despite reporting earlier gains in Gujarat, it has not been able to win a single seat there. It did not report any victories from Himachal Pradesh or Uttarakhand. Though it won from three seats in Assam, Sushmita Dev, the charismatic Mahila Congress chief who contested from Silchar, came second.

The party will no doubt set up a committee to understand why it lost the elections. In 2007, then party president Sonia Gandhi had set up the committee to address future challenges.

The panel which included big names as members, including Sam Pitroda, continues to have a presence - on the website of the party. The leadership might think of reviving it now in the face of its defeat and looming elections in Maharashtra and Haryana due at the end of the year. 

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Aditi Phadnis in New Delhi
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