Last week’s election in Haryana was proof that even if the Gandhis stay away from election campaigns the party can function on its own. All it needs is a plan!
The results of the recently concluded Assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana were not at all surprising. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in both the states again. However, the performance by their alliance partners and Opposition parties who had a larger space in both the states, especially Haryana, is what surprised many.
Even though Manohar Lal Khattar takes oath as the chief minister of Haryana for the second term, the power did not come on to him so easily. The BJP had a tough fight from Congress led by Bhupinder Singh Hooda, as the party doubled its tally in Haryana elections this year.
The result of the half-hearted campaign by the Congress that had hardly picked up a month before the election was a bolt from the blue. Contrary to what the Congress chief Rahul Gandhi had predicted that non-Jats would continue to determine the course of Haryana politics, the results saw the Jats giving a tough time to the BJP. Hooda delivered a mandate for the Congress and was in the lookout for forming a government with the help of fledgling Jannayak Janata Party (JJP). However, a planned move by the BJP to Dushyant Chautala weaned away the JJP from the Congress.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor agrees that the party was “stunned into negligence” by the defeat in the May general elections and as a result delayed state-level changes in Haryana which, had they happened six months earlier, could possibly have improved the party’s showing in the recent elections.
Hooting for Hooda
A month before the election, not even a single party representative from Congress or for that matter a single hoarding of the Congress was to be seen anywhere in Haryana. BJP became the early bird pitching an ambitious goal of 75 plus seats in a 90-seat assembly.
Rahul Gandhi addressed just two rallies in Haryana making sure that Hooda was not seen sharing the same frame or stage with him in Mewat and Mahendergarh. Sensing the negligence Hooda had threatened to walk out of the party ahead of the elections. It was only after Sonia Gandhi’s intervention about 50 days before the elections that Hooda was handed over the reins of the Congress in Haryana, replacing Rahul Gandhi appointee Ashok Tanwar.
It was through the efforts of Hooda that Congress was at a sniffing distance of power as the party won 31 seats in the assembly, more than doubling its tally of 15 in the 2014 state elections. As soon as the results were out, Hooda made an open appeal to all non-BJP parties to join hands to keep the BJP away from power and even-handed out an olive branch to Dushyant Chautala’s JJP. However, Chautala had already joined hands with the BJP which was short in numbers and had enlisted support of his 10 MLAs in forming the government.
The biggest setback for the Congress is that it always listens to its so called advisors who can hardly be seen among the people. Whereas if one sees the action plan of BJP, even its top leaders including Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are mostly found consulting with advisors who are working at grassroot level.
“If the Congress was on the ground, effective among the people, they would have done much better with some strategy, vision and agenda. The results could have been very different,” said Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav to an Indian media.
Just addressing the issues on Article 370 or Ram temple in Ayodhya will not bring voters from the entire country together. An issue that might be important to a voter in Kerala might be least important to another in Uttar Pradesh. Congress needs to come up with an effective action plan targeting every voter at every level.
The results of the assembly election particularly of Haryana reinforces the belief that Congress might serve better if the Gandhis let the regional subordinates call the shots in states and limit themselves to matters that concern the national politics.