Antony's report on Congress worst poll debacle


Silence is golden and AK Antony and knows it well. And it is this shield of silence that India\'s former Defence Minister has deployed to defend Congress\'s indefensible prince, Rahul Gandhi.

Shields Rahul, blames everything else

Silence is golden and AK Antony and knows it well. And it is this shield of silence that India's former Defence Minister has deployed to defend Congress's indefensible prince, Rahul Gandhi.
AK Antony (Left)                          Rahul Gandhi (right)
According to a top party official, who spoke on condition of strict anonymity, Antony's report on Congress's worst-ever poll debacle targets everything - infighting, demoralised workers, lack of effective pre-poll alliances, corruption and communal

But political observers in the know point out that the report - which Antony is putting together for "Sonia Gandhi's eyes only" - is remarkably silent on Rahul's abysmal failure to inspire the party rank and file.

And it shows that the inward looking Congress continues to ignore its warts, choosing to gloss over chief campaigner RaGa's failure to invigorate the Congress workers.

Political observers say, Rahul's failure was symbolised and amplified by his reported plea to voters outside Amethi's polling booth - "Dekh lena bhaiya."

After 10 years in power, the Congress is facing a situation when it is not only out of power, but also suffering the ignominy of not winning more than 44 Lok Sabha seats. It's never happened in the history of the Grand Old Party. It's a shocking drubbing at the hands of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that has shaken up the Congress - if not Rahul Gandhi - towards introspection.

So, on Congress chief Sonia Gandhi's instruction, an informal group headed by Antony started working from June 21 to find out what went wrong and ways to revive the party.

Besides Antony, the group comprised Mukul Wasnik , R.C. Khuntia and Avinash Pande.

Radical changes needed
According to sources, radical changes in the party to meet long-term goals and infusion of people with grassroots connections at various levels are likely to be suggested by Antony to reactivate the Congress across the country.

The informal group has completed a review of the Lok Sabha poll debacle and is expected to submit a report to Sonia this month, sources added.

The informal group followed the format of one-on-one meetings with senior leaders of all the states and Union Territories to ensure it received unbiased feedback on the reasons that led to the electoral loss.

According to sources, the leaders who gave their views before the informal group cited divided state units, workers demoralised over indifferent ministers, lack of effective communication during the poll campaign as some of the reasons why the Congress lost the Lok Sabha polls so badly.

The leaders also listed the hype created by an aggressive opposition over the corruption charges on the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and the high prices of essential food items for longer durations, coupled with a weak counter strategy, as some of the other reasons for the Congress's rout.

The leaders further pointed out that losing key allies like the Trinamool Congress and the Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam during UPA II and a failure to patch up with the regional players further dented the Congress prospects in big states like West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.

Further, letting Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party go to the BJP due to indecision limited the Congress's prospects in Bihar, despite having a pre-poll pact with Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad, said the sources. In 2009, it was the then united Andhra Pradesh that helped the Congress to get back to power at the Centre. But in 2014, bifurcation of the state badly impacted the party's poll prospects.

The Congress was bundled out in both Telangana and Seemandhra (now Andhra Pradesh) regions. Besides, polarisation among the electorate due to the communal campaign of the BJP also contributed to the poor seat conversion rate of the Congress despite the party getting 10.6 crore votes nationally, said the leaders.

In Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra the Congress could win just two seats each and which gave a decisive edge to the BJP. Though the Congress was able to secure around 19 per cent votes across the country, the party failed to open its account in several states, ringing alarm bells among the top leadership. The sources said that inputs generated by the Antony group report will be utilised by the top brass to effect the much-awaited changes in the party that Sonia talked about when the all-powerful Congress Working Committee (CWC) reviewed the poll debacle just days after the results were out on May 16.

Though the report is strictly "for Sonia's eyes only", she may choose to share some of the contents with the CWC members, the sources added.

But a section of political observers expressed scepticism as to whether the Congress will be able to bounce back again as it did. For that, the Congress needs to look beyond the Gandhis and implement effective changes to give the party new dimensions.

Antony panel's reported silence on Rahul doesn't really indicate that changes are really in the
offing, observers added.

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