Silence, deafening and depressing silence. That’s the first impression that 24, Akbar Road, the headquarters of the Congress party in New Delhi gave out, on Monday, a day after Exit Polls for the Lok Sabha elections predicted that the party’s hopes of a substantial electoral revival could well come to nought on May 23.
Barring a few stray party workers visiting in the failed hope of meeting some senior leader or the other, ancillary office staff and the usual, prying media personnel, there was hardly anyone else, least of all any Congress office bearer, who visited the headquarters for a better part of Monday. The official Congress briefing by party leaders, which had understandably been a regular feature during the five long weeks of the bitterly fought Lok Sabha polls, was not held either.
Officially, the Congress is yet to respond to what it thinks of the post-poll surveys, which have predicted another landslide win for the NDA and only marginal gains for the grand old party, whose president, Rahul Gandhi, had just three days ago claimed that “the Congress has managed to dismantle the idea of Narendra Modi”.
By Monday evening, a ‘bulk SMS’ attributed to Gandhi was sent to journalists covering the Congress. “Thank you for participating and expressing your right in India’s democracy. The people’s mandate will be upheld. Rahul Gandhi,” the SMS read. The message was in line with the rather anodyne assertion that the Congress president has been making over the past few weeks whenever asked about his estimate of the seats that his party could win.
Gandhi has responded to such questions by saying that he does not wish to “pre-empt the wisdom of the people of India” and that “we must wait till May 23 to know the will of the people.”
Going by the exit poll predictions, one wonders whether Gandhi’s statements are a veiled acceptance of anticipated defeat. The mood in the Congress headquarters, on Monday, certainly would suggest so.
Ever since Narendra Modi and his BJP shrunk the grand old party to its lowest-ever tally of 44 seats in the Lok Sabha, the Congress office has been shrouded under this pall of gloom with alarming frequency. Occasional sounds of celebration, brought in by a handful of assembly poll victories in Bihar and Punjab, or most recently in M.P, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, have almost appeared out of the ordinary. Certainly, if the exit polls had predicted that though Modi may be set to return to power, the Congress’s tally could see a substantial increase, the mood at 24, Akbar Road would have been slightly more upbeat.
Off-the-record though, party leaders, especially those who contested the Lok Sabha election, have been reiterating that oft-heard caveat about exit polls – “they have been wrong in the past”.
Some have taken a more cautiously optimistic stand. A party veteran who contested from a constituency in Rajasthan, where the Congress had managed to form a government just five months ago but is tipped for a rout now, told Outlook, “the exit poll may have got the mood right, but the projections seem very exaggerated… in Rajasthan, we knew that we won’t be winning a big chunk of seats but we were and are still confident of winning at least 10-12”.
Ever since it became a makeshift office of Indira Gandhi’s breakaway Congress (I) faction over four decades ago, and then cemented its position as an iconic political landmark as headquarters of the Indian National Congress, 24, Akbar Road has seen its fair share of electoral crests and troughs. Come May 23, the actual results will show whether the flurry of activity associated with this sprawling Lutyen’s Delhi bungalow will return or whether Monday’s melancholia will have an extended spell.