Congress must get its act together in Rajasthan

What ails the Congress in Rajasthan? This is turning into a million dollar question. The Lok Sabha poll outcome in Rajasthan shocked the party and poll pundits alike, with many left asking why was a party that performed stupendously in the assembly elections a mere six months ago decimated in the general election, failing to win even a single of the state’s 25 seats?

There are many factors that contributed to the Congress’s poor show in the state in the general poll. First is the arrogance of state ministers. This has been a matter of grouse among party workers as well. None of Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s ministers were approachable; no one answered calls or text messages. Sheer arrogance is the cause. Ministers cut off from party workers and voters alike. Only Gehlot was seen touring the state and attempting to meet voters and workers. Things only seem to be getting worse after the poll debacle. Only Gehlot appears to be making statements, while others, including his deputy Sachin Pilot, are mum. And MLAs are now openly backing either Gehlot or Pilot, making clear that factionalism is rife in the party.

Second is the bad distribution of tickets. The party was not able to find suitable candidates to contest the Lok Sabha polls as most senior Congress leaders in Rajasthan opted for the greener pastures of the state assembly instead of trying for a parliamentary seat. As a result, the party was forced to offer tickets to many candidates who were not popular. In fact, five of the Congress’s candidates for the Lok Sabha poll had contested and lost in the state assembly election last year.

Ahead of the assembly polls, the Congress had sought feedback from various sources, an idea implemented by AICC general secretary Avinash Pande. Despite the clear success of such a move, it was complete abandoned during the Lok Sabha polls. Perhaps riding high on the success in the state polls, the Congress thought itself invincible. We now know otherwise.

The party also made some bad leadership choices vis a vis its campaign team by putting in charge persons who are not very well-known or popular in Rajasthan.

What next for Congress in Rajasthan?

Following the poll debacle many are wondering if Gehlot will be removed as chief minister. But such a move will only be a further disaster for the party. The Congress has a thin majority in the state assembly, and only Gehlot is capable of running the government successfully in such difficult circumstances. There is also no denying that Gehlot is a popular leader in Rajasthan and his style of functioning is also common man-friendly. Besides, Gehlot also has the ‘there is no alternative’ factor going for him. If the party high-command thinks of removing him, who will replace him? No name comes to mind except Pilot. But Pilot needs time to understand the intricacies of running a state government, especially one with a slender majority.

Rather than focusing on the leadership question, the Congress should quickly regroup as panchayat and local bodies’ polls are on the anvil. Unless it gets its act together, the party could be staring at another drubbing.

Anil Sharma is a senior journalist and political analyst.