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Rahul Gandhi faces tough questions after Congress’s UP elections debacle

LiveMint logoLiveMint 12-03-2017 Anuja

New Delhi: Facing defeat after defeat in assembly elections, Saturday was not very different at 24, Akbar Road, the official headquarters of the Congress in Delhi. The only difference perhaps was the magnitude of the loss, particularly in Uttar Pradesh.

In the 403-member Uttar Pradesh assembly, the Congress won only 7 out of the 105 seats it contested, the scale of its defeat apparent from the fact that Apna Dal (Soneylal), a regional ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had a higher tally than the Congress, winning 9 out of just 11 seats it contested.

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Ever since its historic rout in the 2014 general elections, the top leadership of the Congress had focused most of its energies in the “prestige battle” of Uttar Pradesh, the state which in 2014 sent only two Congress lawmakers to the Lok Sabha—party president Sonia Gandhi and vice president Rahul Gandhi.

Many in the party felt this focus happened at the cost of other states. The losing spree continued in the neighbouring Congress-ruled state of Uttarakhand, where the party was pummelled by the BJP, whose MLAs will now occupy four-fifth of the assembly.

Although the Congress is the largest party in the smaller states of Goa and Manipur, it failed to cross the half-way mark in both. That the BJP is claiming support of smaller parties in these states to form coalition governments comes as further bad news for the Congress. (Read more here and here.)

With Sonia Gandhi unofficially handing over the party reins to her son, the Congress’s performance in these state polls put the focus back on Rahul Gandhi and his leadership. Many in the party feel the leadership is in a flux amid continued uncertainty over his elevation, which means any organizational revamp will have to wait.

“These are no longer defeats, these are crises. Now, the worry for our top leadership should not be about how we are going to win the next set of state polls. Their worry should be, how do we continue to be relevant as a political party? As long as the regional and state leaders are not promoted, or at the least allowed to work on their own, the party’s situation will remain unchanged,” a senior Congress leader said, requesting anonymity.

Does Congress’s rout in Uttar Pradesh elections make Prashant Kishor irrelevant?

Indeed, the only good news for the Congress on Saturday came from Punjab where its CM face Captain Amarinder Singh steered the party to a decisive victory, winning 77 out of the total 117 seats. Singh has been credited almostly entirely with the win in Punjab.

Several analysts and Congress leaders feel that unless the state leadership is given a free hand in political and electoral affairs, including the responsibility of rebuilding the party at the grassroots, the party will find it hard to emerge from the current crisis.

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