January 17, 2015

DELHI POLLS 2014 - Part II


Aware that it could be relegated to the third position for a second time in a row, the Congress has decided to shake up things by appointing Ajay Maken as the head of its electoral 'campaign' for the Delhi state polls, scheduled for February 2015. While it is pretty clear that the contest is going to be a direct fight between the BJP and the AAP, the INC's move to bring in the former Union minister is seen as an desperate attempt to get an image makeover ahead of the elections. After being decimated in the last state polls where it failed to go past the two digit mark in its former strong hold and following a sting of electoral defeats in 2014 including a disastrous General Elections, the grand old party is at its lowest point in its 120 year long chequered history. However, what bothered political observers and analysts the most was its sheer lack of conviction in doing any sort of introspection into the many issues that are plaguing the INC at present and taking certain 'tough' decisions to arrest its continued decline rather than offering mere lip service.

For a change though, the party surprised everyone by putting the former Sports Minister at the helm of affairs in the poll bound national capital; while this many not have any significant bearing on the result of the Delhi elections, it is certainly a step in the right direction. The fifty year old leader who shot to fame after winning the elections to the post of president of the Delhi University (DU) in 1983, won three consecutive terms in the state legislative assembly from 1993 to 2003 and also held various portfolios in the Sheila Dixit cabinet. In 2004, he contested the Union Polls and represented the prestigious New Delhi parliamentary constituency for two straight terms. Following the Congress' defeat in the 2013 state polls which it fought under the leadership of the then incumbent CM, there was a void in the party's state unit which was left licking its wounds having being reduced to just eight seats. What made the matters worse was the total wipe out in the parliamentary polls wherein some of its most popular faces - Kapil Sibal and Ajay Maken himself lost out to the saffron party that was riding high on the Modi wave. Aware of the fact that the INC is fast losing its remaining voter base in Delhi to the BJP and the AAP, this decision seems to make some sense. And here are the reasons. Maken, a loyal Congressman has been in politics for nearly three decades and brings in loads of experience of working both at the state and at the Centre. Secondly, he is amongst the handful of Congressmen to have a 'clean' public image. Thirdly, by projecting him as their leader, the INC has distanced itself from former Delhi CM Sheila Dixit who is seen as being ineffective in controlling rampant corruption prevalent during her 15 year term. It also helps the party tackle anti-incumbency. And most importantly, Maken is said to be close to the party Vice President Rahul Gandhi which is a one-requisite for occupying any high profile post in the party.

As I have already mentioned earlier, the impact that Maken may have on the results could be negligible. I mean, for the state that the Congress finds itself in, winning even 10 to 12 seats could be considered a 'phenomenal performance'. At the same time, in my opinion, this is the first time that the party seems to have taken a right step post the 2014 Lok Sabha debacle. The move to project Ajay as its face in the capital may not have any immediate results. Yet, it is an important step keeping the party's political future in mind. The Congress has lost the faith of the masses and the cadre morale is low following the series of electoral reverses in the past few months. As such, people like Maken who have literally emerged from the grass roots could help in rebuilding the grand old party. It will be in the interest of the INC to persist with the former minister irrespective of the tally that the party wins.

However, the big questions still remain unanswered. In spite of leading an extremely inactive and spineless campaign that saw the Congress register its worst ever results in the nation wide polls, Rahul Gandhi continues to be the No 2 within the party. Isn't it time to 'reprimand' the crown prince and his coterie for the mistakes that they committed? Similarly, is the first family ready to give a free hand to state leaders and not interfere in their functioning at the fear of losing their grip within the ranks? And most importantly, is the INC ready to reinvent its outdated and pro-minority ideology to remain relevant in the political landscape? And then, these are just a few questions that are glaring in the face of India's oldest political outfit. The decisions that it makes today will decide if the party could ever reclaim its numero uno position in Indian politics.

For all posts in this series on Delhi Elections 2015 , click here (Link)