New Delhi: The Congress’s drubbing in the 2021 state assembly elections doesn’t bode well for Rahul Gandhi, given the series of internal rifts and the vast number of party leaders who have questioned his leadership in the past year.
The Congress has been cut to size in West Bengal and failed to defeat the BJP in Assam despite attempting to ride on the anti-CAA movement in the state.
In Tamil Nadu, the party managed to win piggybacking on its lead alliance partner, the DMK, while in Puducherry the party lost to the AINRC-led NDA alliance.
However, the biggest disappointment for the party is the Kerala loss, one that defied the four-decade-old seesaw tradition of the state’s voters, alternating between the UDF and the LDF.
According to CNN-News18, the UDF secured 41 seats, while the LDF got 99 seats in a 140-member assembly, making this a historic defeat for the Congress in the state.
“We recognise that the election results are not as per our expectations, particularly those of Assam and Kerala,” Congress’ chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said in a press conference Sunday evening.
The results will most likely have an impact on the internal dynamics of the Congress — pushing Rahul Gandhi further against the wall.
Kerala and Rahul Gandhi
Party leaders in the state say the Kerala loss, in particular, will come as a huge embarrassment for the party as it invested more time and resources there than in any other states, which went to polls.
Gandhi spent the maximum amount of time campaigning in Kerala, as opposed to the other states.
“This is because Kerala was always seen as the one state we would easily win. The odds of this loss happening were very low. Kerala voters are usually predictable, but this time we have been taken by surprise,” a Kerala Congress leader said.
But besides the ‘winnability’ factor of Kerala, the fact that Gandhi couldn’t ride the state to victory despite being an MP from there, makes it more embarrassing a loss for the party.
As an MP from Kerala’s Wayanad, Gandhi led the party’s campaign in the state, holding multiple rallies, road shows, and public meetings in the last few months. Many of his videos interacting with the audiences even went viral, and were largely well-received.
#WATCH | Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had #Easter lunch with children at Jeevan Jyothi Orphanage in Kalpetta area of Kerala's Wayanad today. During lunch, some children talked to party leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Rahul's phone. pic.twitter.com/g5Px4PgWU6
— ANI (@ANI) April 4, 2021
Despite these, the party did not fare well.
“We clearly underestimated Pinarayi Vijayan’s popularity. Although Congress has almost never had a CM face before going to polls, perhaps declaring a CM face this time would have helped. We haven’t ever had to do that in the past and won comfortably, but this was a different time. Now everyone looks for faces to resonate with,” said a Congress leader, who didn’t want to be named.
Infighting between multiple camps of Kerala Congress has been a recurrent theme. The two camps in question being the Oommen Chandy camp and the Ramesh Chennithala, both looking to outdo the other.
Both Chennithala and Chandy accepted the party’s loss Sunday evening and called for introspection.
“I am not saying that we have done everything optimally. The UDF and Congress would identify the mistakes and rectify them”, Chandy said.
Drubbing in other states
In other states too, the party’s dismal performance is likely to directly hurt Gandhi and raise further questions over his leadership skills.
In Assam, Gandhi and the Congress led a sharp anti-CAA campaign ahead of the polls, one that didn’t result in gains for the party.
In Bengal, Gandhi barely made an appearance, leaving it to the end of the elections to hold a rally there in April, following which he suspended all rallies owing to the Covid spike.
In Tamil Nadu, the party won on expected lines, but only as a junior ally of the DMK alliance.
Resistance to path of party presidency
The party, in its CWC meeting in January, pushed the date of presidential polls to June, citing preparation for assembly polls as a reason.
However, sources in the party told ThePrint that the reason was simple: To ensure that victory in the elections smoothens Gandhi’s path to the post of being the party president. But now, after the party losses, there is a high possibility of a heightened resistance by the leader of the ‘G23’ to Gandhi’s presidency.
“This loss is merely symptomatic of what we have been highlighting since the start. We don’t have a game plan to approach elections, we start last minute and have no local ground-level leadership,” said a member of the group on condition of anonymity.
The G-23 is a name given to the group of 23 leaders of the Congress, who in August last year wrote to party president Sonia Gandhi, demanding a “full time and effective leadership” — a leadership that is both “visible” and “active” on the field.
“This was a test for Rahul Gandhi, one that he has clearly failed in. It will hurt his push for party presidentship going ahead,” said another leader of G23.
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