State assembly elections are over, and there wasn’t much surprise in the results, just replicating the opinion polls and surveys. “Congress drowned in all four states”. The level of anti congress wave surprised everyone; even hardcore Congress supporters are sceptical about the chances of Congress wining in 2014 general election, if they continue to function in the same style.
Senior Congress leader Mani Shanker Aiyyar openly stated "Who can be even half-way realistic and expect the Congress to return to power?" It seems to be a clear reflection of Congress rank and file too. Precisely, a gloom that is palpable among Congress workers.
History repeats - Congress is now facing the biggest perception battle in the upcoming general election, same as the 1989 General election when Rajiv Gandhi faced the false accusation of the Bofors scam. Factually speaking UPA has a fairly good track record in infrastructure development, power, economic growth, sanitation, telecom, poverty eradication, urban development, education, positive relationship with the neighbouring countries, terrorism handling etc. However, with all these good work in their kitty, they failed miserably in marketing themselves and converting it to votes.
Congress failed to visualize the emergence of the new medium of branding, like Face Book and Twitter along with its impact in the 21st century. The current social medium amplified the minute weaknesses of the UPA government, and the opposition capitalised on the non existence of the congress in social media.
Most of the Main stream media’s (MSM) being owned by the powerful corporate, contributed only towards spreading negative news about UPA, constantly accusing the UPA and the Gandhi family with every petty issue.
Responsibility goes hand in hand with Authority, and when the authority is given by the people, it has one more addition along with the responsibility i.e. expectation of the billion in this country. So, when the people of India gave a second chance to Congress, that too with more seats in almost every state, their expectations were obviously high.
However Congress failed in many areas, some which no government could have stopped from happening, one of it being the Global slowdown resulting in economic down trend in India. However lot of it could have been managed better - CAG who stepped out of his mandate to criticise policies of the elected govt, Judge who passed an unprecedented judgement which led to cancellation of all 2G spectrum licenses, Finance minister who levied retrospective tax on Vodafone which the SC waved off initially, lady who derailed railway and reforms at same time , opposition party who believed that their role is to stop democracy from functioning, a self appointed Gandhian who believed in fighting corruption in the style “my way or the high way”. All these played their own specific roles in ruining our economy and the existing good governance. And these factors resulted in less job creation, loss of existing jobs, leading to anger among urban middle class. Unprecedented inflation and LPG, petrol and diesel prices increased, this derailed middle class people’s budget, and congress slowly became pro Aam Aadmi to Anti Aam Aadmi.
It wouldn’t justifiable if I say “Congress lost only because of media or because of the impact of the social media”. They failed on the basic deliverables of any party competing to form a government whether it is selecting the right candidate, managing rallies, booth level campaigning or to the basic level of having enough polling agent to cover all the locations. In addition to that in many places party were in disarray, either because of factionalism or because of friction between government and party.
Congress leadership failed to counter the Modi factor. When Modi was dictating headlines Congress failed to expose his rhetoric, and put forward a vision before the country. Congress never put any effort in building its credibility or defended its ideology through a team in social media or in public which ultimately led to a one side game for the opposition party.
Rather than saying it was the failure of Congress strategy, it would be right to say Congress didn’t even have any clear strategy in place for this election. They should have anticipated and actioned based on the results from the UP, Punjab and Goa Assembly election held in 2012. Quite obviously, if someone is out of touch with ground realities similar setbacks will continue to follow.
What Congress had to do was clearly given by A K Antony committee in 1999 after the debacle in Lok Sabha election, few points from that report .
1. Announce party candidates a month in advance for assembly constituencies and three months ahead for Lok Sabha elections
2. Congress would enter into coalitions only as a last resort, that too based on a common minimum programme
3. Replace district Congress committees and block Congress committees with Lok Sabha and assembly constituency committees
4. As part of the democratisation process from the grassroots, it has been recommended that the process of secret balloting by active members of the party will be introduced even in the election of booth, village and block committees
5. The disciplinary action committee should give its decisions within a month of conclusion of elections to ensure timely action against those who sabotaged the party's prospects from within the ranks
6. No politician who joins the party, particularly on election eve, should get the party's ticket without being a member for a while.
7. Enrol the intelligentsia and make space for them in its deliberative and decision-making organs to counter their distancing from the party. The election results had confirmed the party's growing alienation from the educated, urban middle class and the Congress president should have direct access to the intelligentsia
8. create the party's own dalit support base rather than depending on other parties, the Congress has also decided to build up its own dalit leadership wherever possible . Priority to retrieving the scheduled caste and scheduled tribe seats and their votes
9. OBC voters should be brought back to the party's fold by giving them adequate representation in the organisation and elective bodies
10. reach out to Muslims and to women.
11. the need to have dedicated full-time party workers to combat the cadre-based communal organisations. It expressed concern over the army of activists the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party have built up over the decades and the variety of educational, cultural and sports activities through which they have been "spreading their tentacles".
Even though CWC had accepted Antony committee’s recommendation, there were no concrete efforts put in by the party to implement the same. Post the UP, Punjab, Goa elections again Congress appointed Antony committee to find reasons for its failure, few points from that report
1. Faulty ticket distribution as one of the main reasons for the poor showing and suggested that the screening process (of candidates) be tightened.
2. No tickets should be distributed to Congressmen's sons, daughters or wives till their "winnability" was absolutely clear
3. It should go back to the "traditional way of campaigning"
4. no one should be projected as the CM candidate, the focus should be on poll issues and development, and the strategy should be planned well in advance
5. Party should take feedback from the social media, Social media could be used to widen the net in reaching urban voters
6. The need for discipline in the party, ensuring compliance not just among the workers but also leaders
7. The Congress' efforts to woo U.P.'s Muslims failed as statements made by senior leaders were perceived to be communal
8. Congress, which deployed the caste factor in these elections, got its arithmetic wrong, and too many tickets were given to party outsiders, who failed to strengthen the Congress while alienating traditional party-men
9. The disconnect between party leaders and grassroots-level workers was one of the major reasons for the Congress's abysmal performance in these elections, So State unit chiefs, Congress Legislature Party leaders and Chief Ministers be accessible to party cadres
Tickets were given to kith and kin of party leaders (DigVijaya son, Ajit Jogi’s son & wife, Motilal Vora’s son, Sajjan Kumar’s son , Madrena’s(who is facing kidnapping and murder cases) wife, criminal candidates were given ticket, tickets were given to candidates who just joined party( In Delhi ticket given to Asif Mohd Khan some who is having 16 criminal cases yet joined congress in August ) . Did congress think that voters can be taken for granted ? No party can win election coming to people once in 5 years or by nominating parachuted candidates. If congress needs to change it has to take the painful way of Indira, use iron fist and implement, because from now on it should look at a new and a clean come back.
As a political observer I would like to add and amend few points on Antony reports
1. Congress has to declare Rahul Gandhi as Prime Ministerial candidate , Rahul has to communicate more , he has to use Twitter & Face Book to reach youth . Use social media to take on opponents. Engage with youth like Shashi Tharoor does.
2. Give more importance to frontal organizations like NSU. Youth Congress, Seva dal, Mahila Congress and INTUC .Give seats to office bearers of these organizations for elections
3. Implement Kamaraj plan , ask all senior ministers to resign and go to states to strengthen party . There should be visible change in the functioning of UPA
4. Alliances will decide winner in 2014, Congress has to strike alliances in all major states.
5. Ask all Congress Chief Ministers to implement Kerala’s Mass Contact Programme in all states to redress grievances
6. Ask all Congress MPs to do Mass contact programme in different parts of their constituencies, redress grievances of common man and party workers
7. Ask all Congress MPs to publish their 5 years report card to the public
6 months is a very short time, but in Indian politics it’s a long time. Rahul Gandhi is honest young man, definitely people of India will understand his good intentions and vision . Silver lining in this episode is that Rahul Gandhi came out and dared to face media and accept failure. Remember Narendra Modi gone hiding as a coward for three days after Karnataka election. If Rahul can honestly carry forward what he said in Jaipur, if he can show same anger when he said “this bill is nonsense” , if he takes his opponents in same vigour and hit back on them no doubt that people of India will give another chance to Congress. People of India is looking for a decisive leader who can lead from the front, who is visible, who connects with youth, middle class and Aam Aadmi . Future of Congress depends on how Rahul Gandhi takes up this challenge and scales up, if he continues with same advisors and same style of functioning then there is no need to wait for 2014 to know the known results.