Dutt’s the Way to Go! Despite Delhi Defeat, All's Not Lost for Congress if it Learns Lessons from One of its Own
Debutant Abhishek Dutt lost the polls from Kasturba Nagar but had the highest vote share among the only three Congress candidates who managed to save their deposits, thanks to his innovative campaign strategy.
File image of Congress leader Abhishek Dutt.
The Delhi polls are over. The results are out. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has the public mandate and is all set to form the government for the third time in a row. For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), it is time for introspection. For the Congress, mere introspection isn’t enough; it needs reinvention.
The Congress lost on all the 70 assembly seats. For a party which has steered the country for the better part of 72 years of independence, this rout is both the end and the beginning of a circle. But this article is not about this colossal defeat; it is about that glimmer of hope which could shape the reinvention and resurgence of India’s grand old party based on one of its candidates’ campaign structure and his connect.
Abhishek Dutt was the Congress nominee from the Kasturba Nagar assembly seat and, yes, he did not win. However, Dutt had all the ingredients of success in his campaign and his approach – mass connect, a place for public opinions, a history of good work and an intent to serve better. The only reason he was not successful seems to be the public opinion that the Congress was not in a position to win the elections. But though he ended up losing, Dutt had the highest vote share, 21.42%, among the only three Congress candidates who managed to save their deposits, finishing ahead of seasoned politicians. Former cabinet minister Arvinder Singh Lovely, two-time MLA Devender Yadav, and Dutt, all had the commonality of a strong ground connect. But what is more significant about Dutt mandating the highest poll share among the three was his focused campaign, even though he was a debutant and relatively inexperienced. While he has served as a municipal councillor for Andrews Ganj twice, we all know assembly elections are a very different ball game altogether.
One of the youngest candidates in the fray, Abhishek Dutt’s electioneering was handled by the company DesignBoxed, which has successfully run Congress campaigns in states like Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, and was almost about to pull it off in Haryana. All the while, they were reinventing the electoral discourse space with issue-based mass-connect initiatives such as Jan Ghoshna Patra in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. There are certain characteristics to an election, most distinctly defined by wins and losses, but the nature of a candidate’s campaign also brings forth his or her connect, decisiveness, instinct and, of course, the intent. Abhishek Dutt’s entire campaign, starting with his manifesto-framing and dissemination, Abhishek ka Plan, was a young politician’s aim at strengthening the grassroots association – something which the entire Congress organisation needs to put into practice, pronto. Not only did he go from area to area in his assembly segment to collect inputs of voters on key issues, he devised and released a customised vision paper for each of those areas along with unique digital dissemination initiatives.
Apart from keeping the momentum with his door-to-door visits, instead of addressing big rallies, Dutt made sure his development initiatives as a councillor of eight years were succinctly showcased through Kasturba Nagar ka Abhishek, asking for reposition of faith in his abilities, but only through his past record. He was also careful to question the incumbent MLA, Madan Lal, on his past manifesto promises, ensuring the representation of the ground issues faced by the electorate, but careful enough to not overdo it. Focus is a big game changer, even in elections.
Now, there is a lot to take away from such kind of campaigns, especially for the Congress. One, there is no substitute for ground connect. No matter how extensive elections become on social media, the ground associations will always remain the impetus. Secondly, if a newcomer like Abhishek Dutt can do it, anyone can. If a first-time candidate can poll in the maximum vote share in comparison to seasoned ones, it goes on to show the mettle of canvassing and, most importantly, the power of intent.
Dutt’s campaign holds promise for the Congress party to invest in such young faces as its future, take a lesson or two from his initiatives and encouragingly allow him the space to flourish. For the party to make its way into Delhi’s heart, once again, it needs to take away the right lessons from this defeat.
(The author is a political strategist and director of DesignBoxed. Views are personal)
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