It would be putting it mildly to say that the Congress party put up a dismal show in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. It just managed to score a half century in these elections, up 8 seats from 2014 tally, to 52.
The party failed to win a single seat in 12 states and 4 Union Territories. The future of the Congress is at stake and it needs serious introspection. While nobody expected it to win 200-plus seats, there was some hope, especially after its success in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh state elections.
But, it miserably failed to touch even the 100-seats mark. So what went wrong for the Congress? Let’s analyze:
1. Lack of leadership
Although Rahul’s popularity increased overall from 24% in 2014 to 34% in 2019, people still see him as a hesitant leader, not a serious or career politician. He was officially not declared as the prime ministerial candidate of the Congress and this also hurt his prospects.
Meanwhile, PM Narendra Modi continued his lead over Rahul in leadership ratings. As many as 46% people preferred to have Modi as prime minister over Rahul, an increase of 1%, despite 5 years of normal anti-incumbency which generally creeps in. Rahul’s barb ‘Chowkidar chor hai’, didn’t work on the ground clearly.
2. Failure to seal alliances
The Congress, along with other Opposition leaders, was hoping to put up a united front and make 2019 a one-to-one contest against the BJP. However, despite several round of talks it failed to stitch an alliance with the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh, Mamata/Left in Bengal, AAP in Delhi, TDP in Telangana/Andhra Pradesh. It even failed to keep some smaller parties led by Prakash Ambedkar happy in Maharashtra.
All of this led to a division of anti-BJP votes and helped Modi secure a massive second term.
3. Loose campaign
The party ran a loose campaign focused only on Modi. Rahul targeted him day in and day out. Burning issues like unemployment, farm distress, economic performance were all put on the backburner. This showed the Congress does not seem to have learnt any lessons from Gujarat. Modi becomes stronger the more you attack him. Rahul was attacking Modi, Modi was talking about himself at his rallies, this only gave more publicity and visibility to Modi.
4. Priyanka was wasted in a tough state
Priyanka Gandhi was sent to a wrong state -- UP, which was a tough contest, due to the presence of the ‘Mahagathbandhan’. The Congress was not the number two party there. It only damaged the Mahagathbandhan’s prospects in some seats.
It even lost the traditional seat of Amethi with Rahul losing to Smriti Irani. There was a lot of demand for Priyanka as the star campaigner in south and east India where people’s attachment to Indira Gandhi and weakness of the BJP would have helped the party perform better and yield good results.
5. Rahul focused on wrong states in campaign
The top 4 states for Rahul’s rallies were UP, Rajasthan, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh. As Priyanka was already in-charge of UP, there was no need to spend too much time there. Rahul held 16 rallies and half of them were in his family strongholds of Amethi and Raebarelli.
Kerala which sends just 20 MPs and where the UDF won 60% of the seats in 2014, did not need such attention.
Even if the CPI-M would have won a few more seats, they had no option but to support the Congress in a hung Parliament situation.
The focus should have been more on Maharsahtra (hotbed of farm distress), Chhattisgarh and Gujarat where it did well in Assembly elections. Even Karnataka needed more attention. In Odisha, Rahul cancelled a rally in Phase 1 and came only in Phase 4.
6. Harping on Rafale was unwise
The Congress focused a lot on wrong issues like the Rafale issue. ‘Rafale’ is not something which impacts everybody’s lives. Additionally, what was the allegation? The Congress didn’t allege that BJP leaders were bribed. It’s allegations of crony capitalism didn’t stick with the people, neither did the voters believe that Modi is corrupt.
7. Raising issues, not providing solutions
The Congress was seen only raising issues but not providing solutions. They were saying unemployment is the biggest issue but did not have any strong mechanism to increase jobs in their manifesto. For farm distress, the party promised farm loan waivers which even farmers agree is not a long-term solution.
People felt that if the Congress failed to solve these issues in 55 years of governance, how can it do better now? The Congress faced a serious credibility issue. ‘NYAY’ was seen as just another ‘Garibi Hatao’ slogan, which helped Indira Gandhi win in 1971, almost 50 years ago. NYAY further alienated the middle class.
8. ‘Soft-Hindutava’ backfired
The Congress was seen copying BJP’s Hindutva agenda. This irked its traditional vote base of minorities which backed regional parties instead of the Congress. Why would people vote for a duplicate when the original is available?
To sum up, the results also in a way are a rejection of the dynasty politics of Congress. Rahul, Milind Deora, Jitin Prasad, Vaibhav Gehlot, Jyotiraditya Scindia, all lost the elections.
Now it is time for some serious questions and honest answers. Else, Congress-mukt Bharat 2.0 will soon be launched by the BJP.
With Inputs from Neha Shukla.