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Cong dissects Gujarat debacle
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 24
A day after its dismal performance in the crucial Gujarat Assembly poll, Congress leaders involved with the campaign cited the lack of a charismatic leader who could counter Narendra Modi and the party’s inability to respond aggressively to the BJP leader’s communal campaign as key reasons for the party’s shock defeat.

These were some of the preliminary thoughts which were thrown up at a special meeting called by Congress president Sonia Gandhi as the party started the process of analysing the reasons for its poor performance. Gujarat Congress leaders as well as seniors like Pranab Mukherjee, Arjun Singh, Ahmed Patel, A.K.Antony and Prithviraj Chavan were among those who attended this meeting.

Gujarat state unit chief Bharatsinh Solanki and CLP leader Arjun Modwadia were asked to submit detailed reports which will be taken up for a deeper introspection at a subsequent date. B.K. Hariprasad, AICC general-secretary and incharge of Gujarat, who has already owned responsibility for the defeat, will also be giving his analysis on the basis of these inputs.

Admitting that they had misread the situation, all the speakers maintained that their failure to project a chief ministerial candidate had also cost them dearly as the BJP had a strong, credible and an effective leader in Narendra Modi. “Our problem was that we did not have a demagogue like Modi,” remarked a senior AICC functionary.

It was also agreed that they paid a heavy price for relying on BJP rebels in the Saurashtra region. Instead of improving on its last tally of 18 in this region, the Congress ended up loosing three seats which clearly indicated that the rebels did not have the kind of ground support which the Congress had anticipated. Another view was that the party ended up alienating its traditional support base of Kshatriyas and Rajputs by banking on the disenchantment of the Patels.

Although nobody is saying so publicly, there is a growing view in the Gujarat Congress that Sonia Gandhi’s ‘merhcants of death’ remark did alter the discourse of the campaign. The party had taken a conscious decision to take on Modi on the development agenda to avoid any polarisation but the plan went awry midway during the campaign. Modi turned the tables on the Congress by using this remark to switch to a communal agenda. Instead of taking on Modi aggressively, the Congress instead sent out confused signals and was almost on the defensive which only made matters worse. “We succeeded in giving the impression that the Congress had blinked,” said a Congress minister.

Union minister Shankarsinh Vaghela, a former BJP leader and one of the key campaigners of the Congress, has already admitted that the BJP’s excessive reaction to these remarks did benefit the party as Modi was able to use it to rake up the Sohrabuddin encounter issue to his benefit.

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