In denial: Congress takes refuge in 'introspection', again
In the current political scenario, "introspection" is the Congress' go-to word whenever the party is dire straits. It happened after the 2014 general election, and it happened again on 19 May when the results of five assembly elections were announced.
As expected, shielding Rahul Gandhi from any blame for the loss, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala called for introspection and assured that the party "will look into all the reasons for our loss".
The party's general secretary Mukul Wasnik added, "It will take some time for us to assess the various reasons which contributed to the losses in various states and after making an assessment of the various factors, we are confident that under the leadership of Smt. Sonia Gandhi and Shri Rahul Gandhi, we will strengthen ourselves to meet the various challenges in the coming assembly elections and prepare ourselves for the parliamentary elections."
Asked, repeatedly, whether Rahul, credited for the win in the municipal polls in Delhi, would take responsibility for the losses, Surjewala "totally rejected" the suggestion. Sonia and Rahul had gracefully accepted responsibility of the debacle in 2014, but it wasn't the case on 19 May when Rahul took to Twitter to thank Congress workers who had toiled on the ground.
While there was jubilation at the BJP headquarters in Delhi, the Congress office at 24 Akbar Road wore a deserted look. Even senior leaders who are usually present on odd days were missing. Journalists waiting to get reactions from Congress leaders were greeted by locked rooms, or by office assistants saddened by the emerging trends.
Although Wasnik, the party's in charge of Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Kerala, did make a brief appearance, he offered no explanation, instead repeating Rahul's words of accepting the verdict with all "humility".
General Secretary CP Joshi, who is in charge of Assam and West Bengal, was missing. A senior leader claimed he was stuck in a traffic jam. Over an hour later, there was still no sign of Joshi.
Speaking off the record, a senior Congress leader was quick to shift the blame for the losses on state leaders. The Kerala debacle was pinned on Oommen Chandy, Assam on Tarun Gogoi and West Bengal on the state leadership.
"Oommen Chandy had requested 20 seats for particular candidates which was opposed by the Pradesh Congress Committee, but we went ahead with them. Chandy was our face in Kerala and we gave in to his request. Who knows what may have happened if we hadn't," he said.
Likewise, Gogoi was made the scapegoat for the Assam debacle. Pointing at his differences with Hemanta Biswa Sarma, the Congress leader claimed the rift could have been handled better. "He was after all chief minister for 15 years, how could he be ignored? In hindsight, some hard decisions could have been taken to avoid such embarrassment," he stated.
Although the Congress didn't fare badly in Bengal - it is after all the main opposition party with 44 seats - there were murmurs about whether going it alone would have helped the party do better. Yet, here too, the decision to ally with the Left Front was pinned on the state leadership. "They were convinced that the alliance would work, but that wasn't to be," the Congress leader said.
Amid this blame game, a section within the party raised the uncomfortable question: will those responsible for the debacle be held accountable? "Or will history repeat itself and they again be allowed to spearhead campaigns in other states?" asked a general secretary who accused "these leaders" of keeping the central leadership in the dark about the "stark realities" on the ground.
He described Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh as the "symptom of this rot". "By not acting against these yes-men, we are only helping the BJP in realising its dream of Congress-mukt Bharat," he said. Worried about the BJP making inroads into what were once Congress bastions, he talks about the party's shrinking footprint across the country.
"It can only happen if the party has lost all connect with its voter base, which is drastically shrinking. Listening to the workers and not just leaders should be the mantra for the party if it has any dreams of consolidating its support base. Otherwise, all hope is lost," said the general secretary.
With one regional satrap after another falling, the road ahead doesn't look promising for the Congress as it gets ready to face another round of polls in UP, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Goa next year. Except for Uttarakhand, the prospects of the party faring any better than the latest verdict seem unlikely. Political pundits have placed it at fourth position in UP, while Punjab is expected to vote AAP to power. News from Karnataka isn't encouraging either. The party needs to really introspect if it has to remain relevant.
On the brighter side, the results could pave the way for the organisational reshuffle that has been on the cards for a while now, and Rahul could finally take over as the party president. A senior Congress leader claimed this would happen sooner than expected. The reshuffle could possibly divert attention from the party's latest debacle and also "rejuvenate party workers and give the party a chance to bounce back in 2017", the general secretary said. "All hopes rest on it."