Poll outcome crucial for Congress

After results on March 11, the party will have to take quick decisions on formalising the leadership

March 08, 2017 11:26 pm | Updated March 09, 2017 03:45 am IST - New Delhi

Rahul Gandhi. File photo

Rahul Gandhi. File photo

For the Congress, the outcome of the current round of Assembly elections for which polling ended on Wednesday is crucial: it is defending its governments in the hill States of Uttarakhand and Manipur; it is the principal opposition party in Punjab and Goa.

And in Uttar Pradesh, on which the media spotlight has been, its alliance with the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) is on test.

In recent weeks, the Congress has fared poorly in the Maharashtra civic elections, where it fought separately from the Nationalist Congress Party; it has been decimated in the Odisha panchayat polls, coming a poor third behind the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD), followed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Now, the party has put its entire weight behind its Delhi State unit for the coming civic elections, with vice-president Rahul Gandhi addressing a big workers’ convention in the national capital, and party leaders P. Chidambaram, Ajay Maken and Jyotiraditya Scindia presenting a “Draft Roadmap for a Fiscally Self-Reliant MCD.”

Leadership issue

This round of five Assembly elections also provided the Congress and Mr. Gandhi to put off his takeover of the leadership of the party.

But with Congress president Sonia Gandhi staying away from the campaigning and the entire focus on Mr. Gandhi as virtually the outfit’s only significant campaigner, even in as large a State as Uttar Pradesh, it was clear that the country’s oldest party is in transition.

The alliance that the Congress struck with the Samajwadi Party in U.P. was intended to approximate the arrangement it had made with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) in Bihar in 2015 that had a very successful outcome.

But in U.P., with not just the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) but also the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and smaller parties such as the Nishad Party and the Peace Party that are not part of a bigger SP-led alliance, the consolidation of anti-BJP votes has not taken place.

It has been a triangular contest in the State.

In the case of Punjab, the Congress leadership should not have waited till the nth hour to announce Captain Amarinder Singh as its chief ministerial candidate, many people in the party feel.

It was only after cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu joined the Congress and there was confusion on who the party’s face was, that the official announcement about Capt. Singh was made.

Crucial date

After the results come in on March 11, one way or the other, the party will have to take some quick decisions on formalising the leadership. If the Congress performs reasonably well, there will be pressure on Mr. Gandhi to take over formally quickly. If it underperforms, the simmering discontent in the party will only grow as was visible in the far-flung districts of U.P.

But with two and half years left for the next Lok Sabha polls, the Congress will have to take some decisions on its future and on its leadership — and not put them off till the next round of Assembly elections later this year.

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