Congress's Election Loss Assessment: Address Factionalism, Rethink Alliances

There was reportedly an overall view within the Congress that there has to be greater organisational connect in poll-bound states including reaching out to party workers.

New Delhi: In its first assessment of the recent assembly elections drubbing, the Congress party on Monday discussed the need to have a strong organisational connect in poll-bound states, flagged issues of factionalism in the Kerala unit and discussed the impact of pre-poll alliances in Assam and West Bengal. The discussion took place at a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) – the highest decision-making body of the party – on Monday.

A familiar post-counting script also played out on Monday as party chief Sonia Gandhi announced the setting up of a “small group to look at every aspect that caused such reverses” for the party in the election. The composition of the group, which will “report back very quickly”, is expected to be announced by Wednesday. Days after the election results, the party on Monday also deferred the long overdue process for electing a new party president till the COVID-19 situation improves.

At the heart of the contemplation is Congress’s poor show – yet again – in the recently concluded assembly elections whose results came out last week. While it failed to wrest power in Assam and Kerala, where it was the key challenger in direct contests, Congress also drew a humiliating blank in West Bengal where it had aligned with the Left parties. The only silver lining was in Tamil Nadu where its partner Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) steered the alliance to a win.

“The election result review was part of the CWC meeting. All the states in-charge gave presentations on what they thought led to the party’s poor show in their respective states. The reasons were different in each state but there was an overall view that there has to be greater organisational connect in poll-bound states including reaching out to party workers,” a senior leader of the party who attended the virtual CWC meeting on Monday said, requesting anonymity.

Party general secretaries including Jitendra Singh for Assam and Tariq Anwar for Kerala as well as incharges Jitin Prasada for West Bengal and Dinesh Gundu Rao for Tamil Nadu and Puducherry made presentations and briefed the attendees on the outcome of elections. According to people aware of the developments, some senior leaders including Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma also expressed their views on the results, particularly on alliances.

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According to leaders who attended the virtual meeting on Monday, senior leaders discussed how an alliance with the Badruddin Ajmal-led All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) could have hurt the party’s prospects in Upper Assam. As for West Bengal, there were voices of concern on how there should be a central-level supervision on pre-poll alliances, but largely there was a view that such alliances cannot be stitched without the state units being on board.

“For both Assam and West Bengal, there was a discussion in CWC about how there should have been a rethink on alliances along with keeping the state units in loop. Those who gave presentations flagged that the votes got polarised in both the states particularly in West Bengal where the party had stakes in the last few phases but by that time the contest had already become TMC  versus BJP,” another party leader, who was closely involved in the election campaign and attended Monday’s meeting, said requesting anonymity.

The chief minister Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) returned to power last week in West Bengal after facing a key challenge from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP scripted history by becoming the first ever non-Congress government to return to power in Assam while the LDF bucked the trend of incumbents being voted out in Kerala.

Former party chief and Lok Sabha MP Rahul Gandhi however did not attend the CWC meeting on Monday as he is still recovering from COVID-19. The elections had personal stakes for Gandhi not just because it was the first in Kerala since he started representing Wayanad parliamentary constituency two years ago but also because he campaigned extensively in the state. Congress, however, failed to recreate its performance of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections where it swept the state along with its alliance.

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“The Kerala appraisal was the most succinct. Senior leaders made it clear that factionalism within the state unit cost the party its electoral fortune. The presentation also talked about how leaders had false confidence that because the state votes out the incumbent every five year, it was our turn to win. Unfortunately, we slacked and lost,” a third senior leader who attended the meeting on Monday added. The leader added that there was also a discussion on how the Left Democratic Front’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and policies to push for a welfare state, worked in their favour.

Now all eyes are on the ‘fact finding committee’ that was announced by Sonia Gandhi particularly in the backdrop of the internal elections being postponed by nearly two to three months more. The fact-finding committee, Sonia Gandhi said, will “yield uncomfortable lessons” but that party had to accept the facts that led to the “serious setbacks”.

Anuja is an independent journalist based in New Delhi who reports on the intersection of policy and politics. She can be reached at @just_anuja.