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Why Congress Lost Delhi
While the popular mood against politicians and corruption, the yearning for a break with the past explain may have been a reason, here are 11 reasons one can think of for the party’s debacle.
COMMENTS PRINT
Elections 2013
The Congress shows a steady march to imminent eclipse in the 2014 elections
Saba Naqvi
Delhi Elections
As verdict 2013 rolls out, what has the broom, that has mauled the waving hand and stopped the lotus from completely blooming, achieved in Delhi?
Anuradha Raman
Verdict 2013
After the landslides in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, victory in Chhatisgarh, and emerging as the leading party in Delhi, what are the lessons for the BJP?
Prarthna Gahilote
Verdict 2013
Five quick takeaways from BJP's landslide tally of 162 seats, and Congress being reduced to 21
Panini Anand

The actual vote shares will give a clearer indication of what happened in Delhi but as Congress leaders huddle over the drawing board, some factors that worked against the party are clear as daylight.

If Congress can lose Delhi, then it can conceivably lose the country, and possibly for many of the same reasons. Although a fuller understanding of the spectacular surprise sprung by the Aam Aadmi Party will have to await a clearer picture of the vote share, one can perhaps make an attempt at explaining why the Congress lost Delhi in so spectacular a fashion. The upsurge of AAP also needs to be seen in terms of the decline of the vote share of the two national parties. Or did the Congress supporters switch sides and voted for AAP while BJP supporters remained committed to it? There is also the possibility that the BJP’s vote share also shrunk but it won more seats in a triangular skirmish. 

While that will be debated in the coming days and weeks, what is not disputed is the fact that Delhi remains the most ‘liveable’ city in the country and has changed for the better during the last 15 years. Both the state government led by Sheila Dikshit and the union government led by Manmohan Singh can take credit for cleaning up the city, providing it with a rapid transport system and inviting investment in the National Capital Region, which benefited Delhi as well as the neighbouring states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. But none of it helped the Congress retain Delhi. Its crushing defeat indicates clearly that voters wanted to punish it in no uncertain terms, that the party has indeed lost the confidence and trust of a large section of the people in the national capital.

What could have led to such a crushing defeat ? Can the popular mood against politicians and corruption, the yearning for a break with the past explain it fully? While they have undoubtedly been key factors, there are 11 other reasons one can think of for the party’s debacle.

  1. Commonwealth Games: I was in Chandigarh when the Commonwealth Games were held in Delhi. But even from a distance one could sense the rising resentment. Slums and jhuggis, eyesores, were relocated to give Delhi a better look. But the relocation pushed up the transport cost of many daily wage earners and migrants, who continue to spend hours on their bicycles because they cannot afford to travel by either Metro or even by buses everyday. Traders and businessmen made their share of the money and the middle class could gloat in rising property prices. But it hit the poor below the belt.
  2. Inability to handle Anna Hazare, Ramdev and the anti-corruption movement : With TV channels beaming live footage of the show at Jantar Mantar, the government’s ‘paralysis’ was more than evident. Neither Dikshit nor the home ministry seemed to be in control with even senior ministers like Pranab Mukherjee and Kapil Sibal rushing to the airport one moment to receive and hold discussions with Ramdev and almost the very next moment rushing the police to disrupt the agitation. A more dynamic chief minister could have turned the agitation to her advantage by offering to engage the people, listen to their grievances and take appropriate action against the inefficient and the corrupt. But Dikshit’s silence, one suspects, led to a great degree of disillusionment.
  3. December 16 gang rape: The gangrape and subsequent death of the physiotherapy student and brutal assault of her friend last year earned Delhi the dubious title of the country’s “rape capital” although it was the BJP ruled Madhya Pradesh which was recording the highest number of rapes. And although Delhi police seemed to have reached the spot promptly and rushed the victims to the hospital, and though Sonia and Rahul Gandhi personally visited the student’s family and the government went out of its way to rehabilitate the family, it mishandled the public outrage. Once again the party seemed paralysed and unable to engage with the angry youth and ask what they wanted. Sonia and Rahul again met some of them on the footpath outside 10, Janpath and close to midnight at that. But that was clearly too little and too late. And no OB van was present to telecast the engagement.
  4. Underestimating the popular mood and AAP: Contrary to the proverb that public memory is short, several AAP supporters went before the camera on Sunday to recall how a union minister, Kapil Sibal, had mocked them during the agitation for a Lokpal and had dared them to contest elections, get elected and change the law. The refusal to take AAP seriously and dismissing the jhadu or the broom, the fledgling party’s symbol, as a mere tamasha or a circus was clearly frowned upon by the people. A party and a government which claims to serve the people cannot afford to dismiss even the joker in the pack in a cavalier fashion.
  5. Inflation and onion prices: The Congress shot itself in the foot on food inflation. For the past two years Congress leaders and finance ministers, first Pranab Mukherjee and then P. Chidambaram, continued making statements that prices would come down in the near future. While prices of vegetables go up during the rainy season every year, the government passed the buck to the states. On petroleum price hike, they suggested that state governments should reduce sales tax to give people relief. Onion prices which reached Rs 100 a kilo, were the proverbial last straw. Even people in Delhi, with higher per capita income than in Gujarat, felt the sting. Congressmen sprinkled salt on the wound by talking of macro economics instead.
  6. Demoralised workers and non-existent party apparatus: While both AAP and BJP campaigns were visible on the ground, Congress workers looked dispirited and demoralized and banked on the leaders to bail them out. The disconnect between the workers and the people was evident and Rahul Gandhi needs to provide some explanation to the party why he failed so spectacularly to galvanise the workers in the national capital.
  7. Sheila Dikshit left in the lurch: During the closing days of the campaign, people were openly talking of how Dikshit was fighting a lone battle, of how Congress leaders were nowhere to be seen, that Rahul Gandhi arrived late at a Congress rally and left after a seven-minute speech. Whatever the reason, the perception was that the party had already given up the fight, not a very reassuring signal to the faithful.
  8. Muslims taken for granted: Results would suggest that the national capital’s minority votes, taken for granted by the Congress, actually swung to a great extent in favour of AAP. While the conclusion is subject to an analysis of the vote share and awaits more details, the disenchantment among the minority community is something that the Congress can no longer ignore. Accused of minority appeasement by the BJP, the party is often guilty of going on the defensive and of stretching itself to show that it does not follow such a policy. By trying to do a balancing act, it would seem to have lost the support of both.
  9. The party’s spokespersons on TV: The party’s talking heads need to share part of the responsibility. While the BJP spokesmen were combative and earnest, Manish Tewari, Kapil Sibal, Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Renuka Choudhury et al came across as condescending, patronising and aloof. Manishankar Aiyar was prone to throw a fit while Jairam Ramesh, Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia remained under-utilised. With neither Sonia Gandhi nor Rahul Gandhi or the Prime Minister accessible to the media to answer questions every time a crisis developed, the party’s viewpoint remained both obscure and confusing. The party will have to revisit its media strategy and go for some serious course correction in the coming months.
  10. Neglecting the youth: If there was one state where the Congress and its vice president could have gone in for a paradigm shift, it was Delhi. With a preponderance of educational institutions and universities, it could have projected much younger candidates and candidates who were better educated and could inspire confidence of the young. In hindsight of course, it has paid the price for sticking to an old, tired face and most of her cabinet colleagues.
  11. Bureaucratic failures: The last, but to my mind the most important reason for its loss is the total loss of control over the bureaucracy. The failure in the implementation of direct cash benefits or in ensuring Right to Education etc were bureaucratic failures, not political failures. But giving a long rope to the bureaucracy ended up as a noose round the party. Good governance requires a good, responsive bureaucracy but in recent years we have heard a lot about political corruption and inefficiency but not much about corruption and inefficiencies in the bureaucracy.
COMMENTS PRINT
Elections 2013
The Congress shows a steady march to imminent eclipse in the 2014 elections
Saba Naqvi
Delhi Elections
As verdict 2013 rolls out, what has the broom, that has mauled the waving hand and stopped the lotus from completely blooming, achieved in Delhi?
Anuradha Raman
Verdict 2013
After the landslides in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, victory in Chhatisgarh, and emerging as the leading party in Delhi, what are the lessons for the BJP?
Prarthna Gahilote
Verdict 2013
Five quick takeaways from BJP's landslide tally of 162 seats, and Congress being reduced to 21
Panini Anand
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