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Confusion or Collusion? Why Congress’s 'Tactical Retreat' in Delhi Polls Comes at Heavy Price

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi with Rahul Gandhi leave Parliament after proceedings. (PTI)

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi with Rahul Gandhi leave Parliament after proceedings. (PTI)

History has shown that the moment the Congress vote share in a state dips to below 20%, the chances of its revival become almost nil.

The primary dictionary meaning of the word ‘confusion’ is “uncertainty about what is happening, intended, or required”. In political lexicon, this seems to neatly sum up the Congress strategy for the 2020 Delhi assembly elections.

However, a senior leader from the party who was privy to its poll tactics told CNN-News18: “I don’t think we were confused. It’s very clear to us that the biggest enemy for us is the BJP. And to get rid of the BJP, we are ready to sacrifice ourselves at the altar.”

The irony is that the Congress slogan for the polls was: “Phir se Congress waali Dilli laayengein (We will bring back the Delhi of the Congress era).” But while late chief minister Sheila Dikshit dominated the posters of the party, her legacy today stands completely wiped out. She was and remains the most popular CM of Delhi, yet her party which was in power for 15 years stares at a vote share which has sunk to even less than 5%.

But there are few tears being shed in the Congress today. Because this is what was decided at a certain level, that piece by piece it would try to ensure the unravelling of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the state level so that a narrative goes out that the saffron party is losing its grip and electoral magic. But this comes at a cost. It leaves the Congress cadre very confused. Should they even fight? Or should the larger aim of getting rid of the BJP be at the cost of the Congress’s identity. History has shown that the moment the Congress vote share in a state dips below 20%, the chances of its revival become almost nil. Very often, the BJP or a third party gains. Look at Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, the Northeast, and now Delhi. States in which the Congress was once in power and very strong seem to show no signs of welcoming it back.

But, for now, the Congress doesn’t seem too perturbed. In the BJP’s defeat it sees an opportunity, and the opportunity is to sell the idea that Narendra Modi is losing his Midas touch. In fact, the party’s leader in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, spilt the beans when he reacted to the emerging results saying, “AAP’s win is a win for development “. This is strange, considering that the Congress was pitching itself as a party for development.”

The seeds of these circumstances were first sown when Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said on the Aam Aadmi Party’s win in 2015: “There is something that we need to learn from AAP.” Unfortunately, the Congress hasn’t learnt that shooting from someone else’s shoulders may weaken your main rival for some time, but in the long run it decimates you.

This tactical retreat by the Congress could be a trend for some time. The next big elections are in Bihar later this year and Bengal in 2021. In Bihar, the Congress has an alliance with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), but sources say, unlike last time, it won’t push for lucrative or a larger share of seats. The idea is again to ensure that anti-BJP votes aren’t divided. The strategy could be the same in Bengal. That’s the thinking, at least for now. The Left is a spent force. Mamata Banerjee is engaged in a bitter battle with the BJP which is actually breathing down her neck. Like in Delhi, the Bengal polls too promise to be vitriolic and nail- biting. A loss for the BJP in Bengal or Bihar, after Delhi, would be the icing on the cake for the Congress. Like a senior BJP leader said: “Kejriwal must thank the Congress in his speech. They ganged up and helped AAP defeat us. They will do the same in Bengal.”

But politics is thankless. Kejriwal can’t acknowledge the Congress contribution to his win. In fact, AAP is now looking at a larger national role. After Delhi, it will set its sights on Punjab, Goa and even possibly Bihar. Poll strategist Prashant Kishor is an important player now in Bihar and Bengal and also in trying to set up a non-Congress, non-BJP alternative at the Centre.

At the previous AICC session, Congress interim chief Sonia Gandhi said, “The Congress is an idea, a vichardhara (ideology), and it never dies.” But, today, as the Congress appears complicit in AAP’s win, the very root of the grand old party seems to be slowly dying. Because, in politics, attacks have to be faced head-on and not fought from the shoulders of others.