Just days before the General Elections were to start; the talk in the political corridors of Delhi was that the Congress had thrown in the towel even before the battle of the ballot began. The Congress headquarters at 24, Akbar Road was a building where few leaders of significance could be spotted. Adding to this perception was the fact that the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party's high-octane campaign had gained considerable steam and the Congress was not even there. The fact that this buzz hurt the party core group could be gauged by the fact when a senior leader of the Congress stated in the middle of the voting "we are fighting…we are in the fight''.
Yet, it became clear that after having been in power for a decade, the mighty ship steered by the Congress was battered by a series of corruption charges and was gradually sinking. Barring the decision to field heavyweights like Capt Amarinder Singh, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ambika Soni, the party never appeared keen to stop the BJP juggernaut.
The Congress had lost the momentum. And when the results poured out on May 16, the party had recorded its worst-ever performance with only 44 seats. Thirty years after his father Rajiv Gandhi rode the party to a stunning 404-seats victory, his son Rahul Gandhi, the de-facto Chief of the Congress and second-in-command, dropped a digit, albeit from the middle.
The social media sites were full of jokes with many imaginative slogans and derisive comments on the fate of the Congress in the Lok Sabha. Such was the ridicule that during the peak of summer when the mercury crossed 44° C, a line that went viral said that for the first time the temperature was more than the number of seats the Congress has in the House of the People.
What remained unsaid was the sense of despondency that gripped the party and its workers who seemed clueless at the deep gorge the Grand Old Party found itself in. The results reflected the sullenness of the people against a government they had voted back to power in 2009 on the image of a clean and honest Prime Minister in Dr Manmohan Singh. The middle-class just abandoned the Congress while the lower strata disengaged.
Adding to the Congress woes was the brilliant campaign unleashed by the BJP backed by its strategy to divide the opposition votes, a tactic replicated across large swathes of the country. While 10 years ago — 2004 to be precise — the Congress under Sonia Gandhi wrested power from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, mocking its high-profile `India Shining' campaign, in 2014 her son and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi dropped the baton at the changeover phase.
It was not just the Congress but its allies and erstwhile partners who, too, took the hit. The Nationalist Congress Party of Sharad Pawar, the National Conference of the Abdullahs, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam under veteran Karunanidhi and his warring sons, M K Stalin and M K Alagiri, regional satraps like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Laloo Yadav, Nitish Kumar and Shibu Soren — they all fell down in electoral battle of 2014.
Does it mean the end of the road for these regional satraps? Well, it is too early to write a requiem as the by-elections in Bihar proved that politics make strange bed follows. The JD (U) and RJD sunk their differences to win 6 of the 10 Assembly seats in August this year to stem the rising BJP tide in the State.
The results also spurred the erstwhile partners of the Janata Parivar — with the exception of Biju Janata Dal — promising to work as one in future. Can it happen? Considering the fractious nature of Janata politics where individual egos of leaders overrode cold political calculations scepticism remains. After all, these leaders be it Mulayam or Lalu, Gowda or Nitish walked away to form their own parties, unable to work under the other.
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