The whitewash of the Congress in the just-concluded round of state assembly elections reaffirms the worst fears of its leaders and supporters: that this generation of Gandhis simply doesn’t have it in them to lead a revival of the grand old party.
The brother and sister duo of Rahul and Priyanka was visibly involved in planning, strategising, mobilising and campaigning in the three states where the Congress had stakes — Kerala, Assam and Tamil Nadu.
In Kerala, the Congress’s performance was worse than five years ago. In Assam, despite stitching together what seemed like a formidable alliance on paper, the Congress was unable to dent the BJP’s hold. And in Tamil Nadu, it upped its seat share somewhat, only by riding on the coat tails of the DMK as a very junior partner.
A Personal Blow for Gandhi Siblings
Rahul Gandhi’s dip in the sea with Kerala fisherfolk, his pushups in Tamil Nadu and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s dance with tea garden workers in Assam, made pretty pictures but proved to be hollow politics when the results came in.
The outcome is a personal blow for the brother and sister. Rarely have they planned as early and as intensively for an election as they did this time. They marginalised most veterans and struck out on their own with a team of trusted aides. This is why the defeat hits hard and is bound to erode their hold over the party in the months ahead.
Also, it is highly unlikely that Rahul will take on the mantle of Congress president, certainly not on the back of such a miserable performance. But it’s just his reluctance. Many in the Congress would not want him as president as their faith in his political abilities has hit rock bottom after these polls. The leadership crisis of the Congress is doomed to continue and can only hasten its downslide into near oblivion
Unlike other elections that the Congress has fought in the recent past, this time, Rahul and Priyanka decided to take charge and start early. In fact, they began planning for this round of polls almost a year ago.
They roped in Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel to revamp the organisational machinery in Assam. It had rusted with the exit of state strongman Himanta Biswa Sarma 6 years ago. Sarma took his formidable skills to the BJP and has helped it script two successive victories in the state.
Priyanka & Rahul Stepped Out Of Comfort Zones. Why Didn’t It Pay Off?
For Kerala, they requisitioned the services of Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. His brief was the same as Baghel’s: to set up an election machine taking a leaf out of Amit Shah’s book by enrolling panna pramukhs, door-to-door campaigners, social media teams, etc.
But the high point of the strategy was the unleashing of the Gandhi star power in the three states. For the first time, Priyanka stepped out of her Uttar Pradesh ‘Lakshman Rekha’ and campaigned in Assam and Kerala. And Rahul devoted enormous energy and time to Kerala and Tamil Nadu, something he has only done in UP in the past.
Priyanka’s Shocking ‘Failure’
The biggest shock for Congress supporters at large is Priyanka’s failure. She was informally in charge of the Assam campaign and it was her idea to bring Baghel and Gehlot to help the party out with organisational revamp. Her tactics did not yield dividends.
Priyanka has always been considered the party’s ‘brahmastra.’ If Rahul failed, there was always Priyanka to fall back on. Doubts about Rahul have been swirling around for many years. But now questions are being asked about Priyanka as well.
Most Congress leaders and workers can’t envisage a future without the Gandhis. But after this rout, maybe the time has come to consider other options. And murmurs are already surfacing about bringing together ex-Congress leaders like Sharad Pawar and Mamata Banerjee, who clearly have political skills that the younger Gandhis lack, and craft a new ‘old Congress’.
(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. She tweets @AratiJ. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)