Congress’ Latest Poll Debacle Unlikely To Impact Party’s Leadership Issue

For many in the party, Rahul’s promotion is a mere formality but the ongoing Covid-19 crisis may yet again force the party managers to defer the internal polls for a few months.

The Congress’ poor show in the recently concluded assembly polls is unlikely to have a bearing on the leadership issue being debated within the party for long.

The internal elections, widely expected to return Rahul Gandhi as party president, were slated to be held in June in the hope that a good show in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry would provide a positive background for the elevation of the leader.

But the results came as a shocker for the Congress.

The party failed to open its account in West Bengal, where it once ruled, and could not dislodge the Left Democratic Front in Kerala and the BJP-AGP combine in Assam despite opportunities.

Infighting in the Kerala unit came in the way of the grand old party repeating its performance in the 2019 national polls when the Congress bagged 19/20 Lok Sabha seats in the coastal state.

The Congress unit in Assam failed to capitalize on the widespread anti-Citizenship Amendment Act sentiment against the ruling BJP and could not mobilize the opposition votes despite a grand alliance comprising the AIUDF, Left parties and AGM.

The saving grace is the victory of the DMK-Congress alliance in Tamil Nadu where the bigger share of credit in dislodging the AIADMK should go to the regional giant.

The NDA has won in Union Territory Puducherry, which was under Congress rule till two months ago.

In all four states, Rahul Gandhi took the key decisions and led the party’s poll campaign (briefly in West Bengal). In a normal course, the poll verdict would have been linked to his likely elevation but fortunately, the knives are still not out.

For many in the party, Rahul’s promotion is a mere formality but the ongoing Covid-19 crisis may yet again force the party managers to defer the internal polls for a few months.

If that can’t be done, an online platform is always available to go through a democratic process for the selection of the new party president and some key posts.

Either way, the outcome is known to the party insiders who understand that the voices from the younger lot highlighting the need to introspect, come out of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter and hit the streets will soon subside.

Such concerns have been raised in the past as well but did not alter the way the grand old party conducts itself, leaving little scope for radical changes in the days to come.

But that did not stop Congress spokesperson Ragini Nayak from pointing out the misplaced priorities of the party and asking “if we will look for our happiness in Modi’s loss, how will we introspect over our defeats” after some state leaders started highlighting that the BJP failed to win West Bengal and could not make a dent in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

In Kerala and Assam, which looked promising but slipped out of hand, Congress managers have started arguing that the opposition alliance’s vote share was close to that of the ruling combine, indicating the grand old party fought well but lost the poll due to the better strike rate of its rivals who managed to get more seats.

Such arguments may be clever explanations of defeat but hardly serve the party in the long run.

Sensing that a fresh bout of criticism was about to follow, former finance minister P Chidambaram came out saying the poll results should not be linked to the leadership issue as the problem was more about fixing the nuts and bolts of the organization which has weakened over the past years.

Soon after, Kapil Sibal, a key member of the G23 or the group of seniors who had flagged the leadership issue in 2020 and demanded a visible and full-time party chief, too said a post-mortem of the poll debacle in states can wait.

The general view within the party is that it is time to remain united and focus on fighting the pandemic and exposing the central government over its handling of the crisis rather than dissect the poll outcomes in states.

Though it may not yield electoral dividends in the short run, the efforts of the party’s youth wing and various state leaders in helping people during the pandemic is winning them appreciation from the public which is questioning the Centre.

But sooner or later the Congress will have to sit down, identify the reasons behind the recent poll debacle and take corrective measures. Chidambaram’s nuts and bolts theory is fine but is hardly a revelation as the leadership has been aware of the problem for long.

Interestingly, the party had started preparing for the state polls much earlier which calls for evaluating the way it formalizes election strategies and rolls them out.

In West Bengal, where the Congress was divided over joining hands with the newly formed Indian Secular Front, backed by cleric Abbasuddin Siddiqui, the move cost the party dear, taking away its remaining lot of Muslim support base in Murshidabad and Malda districts.

State unit chief Adhir Ranjan Choudhury, who acknowledged the need to hit the streets and come out of social media, now faces a huge task in resurrecting the party.

The party’s formal position on the poll results articulated by Rahul that “the Congress accepts the election verdict with humility and will continue to fight for the people” is a sober expression but the situation on the ground calls for some tough measures to stem the rot.

Whether he assumes the post of party chief formally or appoints a proxy, Rahul will continue to be in a position of eminence in the Congress system, which must revive and regroup itself not only for the party’s sake but also to strengthen parliamentary democracy which requires a robust opposition.

If electoral reverses continue for the Congress in states, it would further shrink the party and fuel the aspirations of the regional parties, who may want to replace the grand old party as the anchor of an opposition grouping to take on the BJP in the 2024 national polls.

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