Lucknow: Locked doors, an empty podium, a few hangers-on and a long wait for word from the top leadership — gloom and confusion prevailed in the two-storey Congress headquarters at Lucknow Saturday following the party’s drubbing in the Lok Sabha elections.
With just one seat of Rae Bareli, Congress workers and leaders in UP have spent the days since the poll result, declared Thursday, contemplating mistakes that have led to the rout even as they wait for directives from the party’s New Delhi office.
A deserted Congress office
On Saturday afternoon, as the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting was underway in New Delhi, the party’s Lucknow office wore a deserted look.
In February, the same office had been thronged by scores of booth-level workers, senior leaders not just from UP but also Delhi, when the two newly-appointed AICC general secretaries — Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Jyotiraditya Scindia — landed in Lucknow to take charge of the state.
Three months later, locks hang on the office doors bearing black nameplates.
Faces of senior Congress leaders — Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka, Scindia and others — smile down on an empty assembly ground from hoardings attached to trees along the office’s boundary wall.
This assembly point outside the Congress building had been teeming with supporters, workers and the media who had all gathered to meet or just catch a glimpse of Priyanka during her February visit.
“We are just waiting for the party to decide the next course of action. We expect a complete overhaul of the party’s organisation in UP,” said a Congress leader from the state, on the condition of anonymity. “But this will happen only after a couple of months. A serious rethink of what went wrong needs to be done.”
‘Wrong poll narrative led to defeat’
While requesting anonymity, UP Congress leaders and workers offered their reasons for the embarrassing defeat in the state, which included party president Rahul Gandhi losing his family bastion of Amethi to BJP’s Smriti Irani.
“We deployed a negative poll narrative. By using the Chowkidar chor hai slogan, we ended up disrespecting the prime ministerial post,” said another Congress leader. “This is how voters looked at our campaign.”
The discussion, however, was interrupted by a ringing cell phone. One leader answered and said, “He has not given it in writing. He had posted a message on Twitter and people are assuming that this was connected to his resignation but he has not resigned… I would advise you to check the facts before writing a story on this.”
The call was from a local journalist who was keen to know if the UP Congress chief Raj Babbar had resigned.
The Congress leader then explained that the party should have seen the red flags before elections. “In the assembly polls, the BJP had swept Amethi and Rae Bareli,” the leader said.
“Smriti Irani who is a union minister and a senior BJP leader had been camping in Amethi for three months prior to the polls whereas even our UP leaders reached the constituencies just a month ago. This is not how one fights an election.”
The party’s local leaders further felt that Priyanka’s official entry into the party had come too late and it failed to enthuse party workers. They further pointed out that the morale of Congress workers took a further hit when tickets were given to “outsiders” in UP.
“In so many seats, people who had joined Congress from outside were given tickets. This was done after top leaders assured us publicly and in closed-door meetings that those who work on the ground would be promoted,” the second leader said.
“Rahul Gandhi had said from this very office that ‘helicopter’ leaders will not be given preference. But when it came to fielding candidates, the party chose these new entrants.”