The Congress had won 44 seats in the 2014 general elections, their lowest-ever tally. This time around, they might end up with 51 or less, according to the latest Election Commission trends. On the contrary, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday led his Bharatiya Janata Party towards a huge victory. Modi’s campaign revolved around security, nationalism and Hindu pride was wholeheartedly embraced by the voters. The saffron party has already won 31 seats and is leading on 272 others. Congress on the other hand is ahead on just 49.
Having built his entire campaign around Narendra Modi, Rahul failed to offer an alternative and instead chose to attack the Prime Minister repeatedly while choosing not to clarify what he offers as an alternative. His dealings with potential allies and a single-point approach to castigate, even mock Modi, failed to strike a chord with the voters.
Here are 5 factors that may have backfired for the grand old party:
Getting regional parties on board
Congress seemed to be heading in the right direction last year. Rahul Gandhi had managed to rebrand himself and leave the ‘pappu’ affix behind. The party was in talks with regional parties in a bid to topple BJP. All seemed to be going well for the Congress until the party refused to budge on the seat-sharing front, which resulted in a falling out with a number of parties like Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). SP and BSP decided to fight these elections together, without Congress. And they would have made a bigger dent in the BJP’s tally in Uttar Pradesh, had Congress not fielded strong candidates from most of the seats. A lot of these candidates were former SP and BSP leaders who defected to Congress.
Failure to build a narrative
The BJP leveraged the Pulwama attack and Balakot air strikes to invoke nationalism and patriotism. The ruling government also used the Modi factor, and used every opportunity to tell people that the PM has taken decisions which will benefit the nation. The Congress, on the other hand, seemed to lack a narrative. They relied heavily on anti-incumbency against the Modi government. Most of the rallies by Congress leaders focused solely on the alleged Rafale scam. The party would be better served focusing on what they would bring to the table and building a narrative around it. Sadly, that narrative remained completely illusive through the entire election campaign.
‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’
Rahul Gandhi’s biggest weapon against the Prime Minister and the BJP was this slogan – it backfired, and how! Modi turned this slogan, which alleged personal corruption charges against him, upside down and instead made it look like an insult to actual watchmen. Moreover, personal attacks against Modi have traditionally benefitted him politically. The Congress banked on this strategy despite being unsure of its outcome. This ploy hurt them as is visible from the outcome. Omar Abdullah and some other Opposition leaders have openly questioned if ‘Chowkidar Chor hai’ was the right slogan. The question then is, should the Congress have moved their focus away from the Rafale deal? And focused on something more constructive like how they would solve the farm crisis.
Priyanka Gandhi brought in too late?
Congress brought Priyanka Gandhi into the fray in 2019 saying that she has a connect with the people and would end up garnering votes for the party. She was supposed to the Congress’ X-factor in Uttar Pradesh. But the move didn’t pay off, and the Congress managed to grab only just seat out of 80 in the state – Rae Bareli. Sonia Gandhi won from Rae Bareli, which has been a traditional Congress stronghold.
Congress probably missed a trick by bringing her into the fray just 3 months before polling for Lok Sabha elections 2019 began. Priyanka is a good communicator and may have some of the charisma that her grandmother Indira Gandhi did, but she could not make a mark in the 33 public rallies that she addressed.
The Gandhi family
Since India gained Independence, the Congress party has always been run by a Nehru or a Gandhi. Probably it is time for the party to change their approach. After the 2014 polls reduced them to their worst ever tally, the Congress refused to learn its lessons. Denial remained their best defence and they put it to use in abundance. Instead of rebranding and repackaging Rahul Gandhi as the only alternative to Narendra Modi, the Congress party needs to focus on merit and offer voters lucrative policies, young dynamic faces and leadership that is based on one’s talent and not the surname.