NEW DELHI: A big question – and there still is no clear answer. Will Rahul Gandhi remain as the Congress President after the party’s huge debacle in the Lok Sabha Polls 2019 – after it was completely wiped out of the heart of India, the Hindi belt yet again? Chances are that the Congress party would put up a rubber stamp president, and Rahul Gandhi will lead the Congress party in the Lok Sabha, a post held by Mallikarjun Kharge from Karnataka in the last house, but was defeated in the LS Polls 2019. Or, he might as well stay put, and lead the party from the front. The choice is his — and his own.
The rubber stamp Sitaram Kesri era in Congress was not an impressive period. Then, Sonia Gandhi came from behind and took charge of the party. Under her leadership, the large-scale corruption in the party and the governments it led resulted in an awkward situation for the Congress. The party still has its strong points. It remains in power in Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattigarh, and shares power with the regional entity the JDS in Karnataka. It won 19 per cent of the total polled votes, against the BJP’s 37.55 per cent, buoyed as the saffron party was by the mature leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Senior Karnataka Congress leader Veerappa Moily has urged Rahul Gandhi on Sunday to end the drift and make up his mind about continuation as party chief. There are other leaders who quietly advise the scion of the Nehru family to continue leading the party, come what may. Significantly, Rahul Gandhi emerged out of his isolation and visited Wayanad constituency that elected him this time to the Lok Sabha. He was on a thanksgiving mission, held forth again against PM Modi, and told the minorities that he would stand up against Modi’s “politics of hatred” and spread the message of love across India. It meant, he has more or less made up his mind to lead the party. No sense of dejection marked his utterances in Wayanad, even as he was often seen to be downcast.
Senior Congress leader and confidant of Sonia Gandhi, former Defence minister AK Antony has strongly backed the continuation of Rahul Gandhi as Congress president. Failure as happened in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections was not new to Congress. It happened during the period of Indira Gandhi too, Antony told the media here, and pointed out that the Congress party has a silver lining even in its defeat this time. As high as 12crore people voted for the tricolour party, he noted, and said this was guarantee to its strong existence and come-back to power in future.
Antony is at the receiving end of inner party criticism that he was among those who led Rahul Gandhi up the garden path. In specific, an allegation against Antony is that he had led down the Congress in Uttar Pradesh by advising Rahul Gandhi against a tie-up with regional parties in UP. The old guard in the party, with the exception of leaders from minority communities, reportedly did not actively got themselves involved in the LS campaign for the party this time, as they felt Rahul Gandhi was depending more on a new set of leaders to push his political agenda.
After the results were out, the Congress party is facing serious odds. Its president Rahul Gandhi went into a state of silence and locked himself at his home in Tuglaq Road. He emerged from there back to public life two weeks after the results were out, by travelling to his Lok Sabha constituency of Wayanad, to thanks the voters for the four lakh plus margin he got as the victor in the polls. Wayanad is a tribal belt in Kerala with over 45 per cent population drawn from minority Muslims and Christians.
Several state units of the Congress are facing critical situations. The units in states like Odisha are virtually defunct for years. The party is virtually wiped out of the entire north-east, due mainly to local dynamics which favoured the ruling party at the Centre.” Two-thirds of the Congress MLAs in Telangana state crossed over to the ruling TRS party shortly after the LS results were out and the Congress seemed pitiably-placed. The Congress shares power in Karnataka with JDS, but the government might fall sooner than later due to internal alliance problems. In Maharashtra, several Congress leaders are waiting in the wings to side with the BJP. The party in Gujarat too is facing serious odds. In capital Delhi, the party fails to re-energise itself. The Congress is virtually finished in West Bengal, and so is the CPIM there.
In Tamil Nadu, the party is not in good form. As was widely noted, what came to the advantage of the Congress in the LS polls was its alliance with the DMK, whose leader Stalin is the most popular leader in the state after the demise of his father M Karunanidhi and AIADMK leader J Jayalalithaa. AIADMK is dying a slow but steady death in TN. Stalin swept the LS polls in the state, conceding only one seat to the AIDMK, while DMK allies Congress and the two Communist parties benefited from the pro-DMK wave. In the 2014 polls, the AIADMK had won 37 parliament seats, leaving one each to the DMK and PMK one seat each. This time, the reverse happened. The DMK won 23 seats, the Congress eight seats and the two Communist parties two each besides one each seats won by the Muslim League and the VCK in association with the DMK.
The Congress party is not strong in Kerala, but it rides piggyback on the communal strengths of the Indian Union Muslim League and the Kerala Congress groups, which are backed by Muslims and Christians respectively, who form 45 per cent of the population.
In Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, where it won assembly polls in 2018, the selection of chief ministers hurt the Congress. Young leaders were sidelined and old hats with questionable reputations selected for the CM post – namely Ashok Gehlot and Kamal Nath. The LS poll results saw the BJP regaining the upper hand. This is also interpreted as a vote for a repeat of PM Modi at the Centre, and not a vote against the state Congress governments. The LS polls saw the BJP making a near-clean sweep of the total 29 seats in Madhya Pradesh, conceding only one seat – Chhindwara – to the Congress. In the 2014 LS polls, the Congress had won two seats – Chhindwara and Guna. This time, Chhindwara was won by Kamalnath’s son, Nakul Nath. Chhindwara has been a Congress bastion for many decades.
There is large-scale resentment in the Congress in the state over Kamal Nath refusing to vacate the PCC chief post after he became CM. He is controlling all powers in his hands, and several senior leaders are cut up over this, as also Kamal Nath’s image of being a corrupt Congressman. In the state, former BJP chief minister Shivrajsingh Chouhan retains much of the BC support for the BJP even after his exit from power. The Congress does not have a majority in the state assembly, and Nath is running the show with support from BSP, SP and independents.
In Congress-ruled Rajasthan too, the Congress stared point blank at defeat. The BJP won all the 25 seats in Rajasthan this time, much to the discomfiture of chief minister Ashok Gehlot.
In Chhattisgarh, the BJP won nine out of the 11 seats, though the party failed to retain power in the state in the 2018 polls. The assembly polls saw win for the Congress, but the LS polls reversed the trend.
BJP VOTES TALLY
The BJP won 37.5 per cent of the total polled votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The NDA votes tally was 45 per cent. In the 2014 polls, the NDA had got only 38 per cent of the polled votes.
By contrast, the Congress party polled 19.5 per cent of the polled votes; about the same as it got in 2014.
About 67 per cent of the eligible 900million voters across India participated in the voting process.
In all, the BJP won 303 seats, and its allies in the NDA won 50 seats.
RAHUL PADA YATRA
Reports are that Rahul Gandhi might stay on. He is planning new ways to rejuvenate the Congress party. He would undertake a padayatra from the South to the North, in the same way LK Advani promoted the fortunes of the BJP by undertaking a Rath Yatra from Somnath to New Delhi to Ayodhya in 1990 September. ==IHN-NN
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