It may not be apparent from the party's online presence and bravado, but the Congress seems to be losing the plot — and campaigners and voters along with it — in the poll-bound states. The development is exacerbated by the fact that the Congress is really struggling to return to power in a number of these states — especially Uttar Pradesh.
UP is excessively important for the Congress because it has sent the most number of prime ministers to office, including the current one: Narendra modi was elected to the Lok Sabha from Varanasi. Also, Congress has not been in power in UP for decades now.
There has been talk in political circles of how much the Congress needs an overhaul. Without it, and due to a number of other developments, the Congress seems to be losing voters and supporters in the poll-bound states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur, Goa and Punjab. Here are five reasons why this is happening:
1. Continued absence of Rahul Gandhi: The Congress vice-president has been on vacation since the end of last year, and only returned to India on Tuesday, January 10. Given that the dates for the election in the five states was announced on January 4, the prolonged absence of the Congress scion is especially jarring.
2. Lack of focus: The Congress has been in power in Punjab, and desperately wants to make a comeback. However, the way they are going about the campaign raises the question of whether it is really confident of a good result. For starters, Manmohan Singh — who is generally panned for his mostly silent decade spent as prime minister — released the party manifesto for the Punjab Assembly elections, and that too from Delhi. "Is Punjab really so far that Congress leaders from Delhi can't go there?" was the question on many lips.
3. Weak state-level leaders: The Congress seems to have no big leader in UP. There is no other explanation for why its chief-ministerial candidate in the state is scam-accused Delhi former CM Sheila Dixit, and Assembly election campaign chief is Raj Babbar — an actor-turned-politician from Punjab. Similarly, the party's CM candidate for Punjab is expected to be Navjot Singh Sidhu, who may have had some electoral success, but has often been criticised for playing truant in Parliament. What gives?
4. Exodus of supporters: Several big and small supporters and sympathisers are leaving Congress. True, it is happening with all parties and everywhere, but what seems to be catching our eye is the exodus from the Congress. The latest was Dhirendra Singh, who may not be a big party functionary, but has significance for Congress in UP. He was the man who Rahul Gandhi rode pillion to participate in the protests against land acquisition in Bhatta Parsaul in UP in 2011. That marked Rahul's entry into the big league of Indian politics.
5. Whither, allies? The Congress is hard-pressed to find an ally in states where it could hope to play the kingmaker. The party plans to win Punjab, where the pitch is queered by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). A possible alliance there, like the one that propped up the first AAP government in Delhi, could help it. Similarly, the Congress is eyeing an alliance with the Samajwadi Party (SP) in UP. However, with the infighting in SP, that looks unlikely: The regional party will either win big as Akhilesh emerges as a strong leader, or lose miserably because of its lack of campaigning. In either case, it won't need the Congress.
In all, the Congress looks really weak in all the poll-bound states, and can now be saved with only a strong overhaul, or if Rahul Gandhi puts on an entirely different persona and charms the voters off other parties.