Around 150 days before electioneering actually begins for Parliamentary elections, the exit polls for four Assembly polls have given a clear cut message – the rise of Narendra Modi and the fall of Rahul Gandhi. It also suggests that the process that began with the Bihar elections of 2010, followed by Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and so on has continued, establishing beyond a doubt that the Congress’s first family cannot be a reliable vote catcher for the Congress. The problem for the Congress, however, is not just limited to that.
What Congress leaders will have to think about over the next weeks is the prospect that the grand old party could be wiped out of the political map of the bigger states in the northern and eastern parts of India, with governments only in three smaller states in this region, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Haryana. That is a disastrous prospect for the party, given that it has no chance of revival in Bihar, UP, Odisha, West Bengal or Punjab.
In fact there are indications that the party is set for a downslide in UP where its surprise 22 seats in addition to the landslide gains in Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan proved to be a clincher for the Congress in 2009. The party’s chances in Andhra Pradesh have now ebbed and electoral history of Rajasthan shows that whichever party rules the state sweeps Parliamentary elections too. Currently the Congress has 21 MPs and the BJP has 4 in the desert state.
What does this mean? For one, the Congress's woes go well beyond the fall of Rahul Gandhi as a leader who the cadre looked to for inspiration -- there is evidence now of systemic organisational failure in a party that dominated the political landscape for long.
This equally means negation of Sonia Gandhi's brand of politics and Sonianomics, imposed through her super government, super constitutional arrangement of the National Advisory Council. The exit poll predictions suggest that people clearly rejected or did not accept her attempts to lure voters by offering the Food Security Bill. The Congress had touted the food security bill and direct cash transfer with a slogan aapka paisa aapke haath as the “game changers” but the Assembly poll results may prove that it was indeed a game changer, but in a reverse way.
A 0-4 result may also prove that instead of mesmerising and mobilising the electorate, Rahul Gandhi’s aadhi roti…poori roti khayenge Congress Ko Jitayenge punch line in fact boomeranged on him and his party. The party’s think tank will either have to abandon the term 'game changer’ or will have look afresh to other ideas and projects to reclaim the term.
For, if those were Sonia’s game changing ideas, Rahul’s was the land acquisition bill. In all his speeches the Congress vice president would remind listeners that he personally toiled on foot from Bhatta Parsaul in Noida in UP to wherever to understand the issues related to land acquisition and that he then pushed the UPA to adopt his ideas as law, that the compensation for acquired land will be raised to four times the market value in rural areas and twice the market value in urban areas.
He clearly seemed to forgot that the landed gentry was already well entrenched in the political game and knows how to play it to their best interests. Business and industry was already heavily opposed to it for it would inflate costs and make the process so cumbersome that no new ventures would be practically possible. But Rahul, Sonia and the rest of the Congress party remained blissfully oblivious of it.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot too will be paying the price of believing the Sonia and Rahul brand of politics -- Do nothing for the four years and then offer freebees and doles in last year of government and think that electorate can be fooled and vote blindly for the government of the day. As exit polls predict that the Congress could well suffer its worst ever defeat, a near rout in the state that Rahul claimed to be best governed and a role model for others.
Rahul Gandhi's tear jerker narration of his mother’s illness, her regret of not carrying her resolve to press the button during voting in Parliament for the Food Security Bill, him being a loner, how assassination of his grandmother and father impacted his life had no worthwhile impact on voters. Even his belligerent “tear and throw” pronouncement of a "nonsense” ordinance approved by his own mother and his own government did seem to impress the voters.
In the aftermath of reversals in UP and Gujarat, senior party leaders were quick to blame failure on state orgnisational units, without caring to think about who was ultimately responsible for organisational health. Sonia heads the Congress and Rahul is second-in-command, but the same old excuses will be parroted again. The Congress, however, will find it difficult to keep up morale of the party workers to fight the big bang battle against a resurgent BJP with an aggressive Narendra Modi in command.
Party workers are not surprised at this turn of events. If there were any doubts among the believers, they were set to rest by the thin and departing crowds in Ambedkar Nagar in Delhi and in Jodhpur in Rajathsan. There have been reports that he was deeply upset with UP Congress Committee on low turnout of people at the rallies he held recently in his home state, Uttar Pradesh. But then he is crown prince, 42-year-old supposed youth icon for his party and thus has to be hailed as the leader, no matter how much he failed them.
The problem for Sonia and Rahul is that they will have to find new speech writers and new contents for they have already exhausted their right based governance rhetoric in this round of assembly elections and people have negated it, at least that’s the sense that comes out of exit poll predictions.