Lessons for the victor and the vanquished

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 22 Oct 2017 11:32:24


The Nanded, Gurdaspur victories have at the most opened the door for a change in the Congress attitude. For long the premier party of the country was beating around the bush rather than following its own template. The massive defeat in 2014 and subsequent setbacks all over the country has relegated the party to even fourth and fifth positions. In many elections, it remained a non-starter. Such failures have had a cascading effect on the party structure. The general mood of despondency in all cadres of the party is too heavy to be cleared by little flashes of brilliance like Nanded. The Hitavada Assistant Editor Rahul Dixit comments on the pollscape.


SUCCESS, specially when it pops up as a huge surprise for the victor, has the potential of assuming dangers of a double-edged sword. It generally leads the victor to a comfort zone but the wise (victor and vanquished too!) never take it on the face value. The recent results in Nanded-Waghela Municipal Corporation and before that the Gurdaspur by-poll in Punjab have brought some important lessons for both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party.


Congress’ sweeping victory in both the elections -- though of different magnitude -- has injected fresh life in the party that is still coming to terms with the debacle of 2014. Former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan has managed to stop BJP from conquering his fort. Chavan’s stronghold on his home constituency was never in question, for, he was the only leader in the State to come out unscathed from the Modi wave in last Lok Sabha elections. Yet, the resounding success -- 73 out of 81 seats -- was beyond the party’s expectations.

Prior to that the Congress party managed a big coup of sorts by wresting Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat from the BJP. The margin of victory of Sunil Jakhar was significant as the seat had been a BJP fortress for last many terms. The twin wins, apart from good gains in the recent Gram Panchayat elections in Maharashtra, have fuelled talks of a Congress revival. And yet, the Congress should do well by not basking in the glory of these two small flashes. It would be presumptuous to term a small gain as a revival.


The Nanded, Gurdaspur victories have at the most opened the door for a change in the Congress attitude. For long the premier party of the country was beating around the bush rather than following its own template. In fact, in the last few years Congress seemed to be a victim of its own past glory. The massive defeat in 2014 and subsequent setbacks all over the country has relegated the party to even fourth and fifth positions. In many elections, it remained a non-starter. Such failures have had a cascading effect on the party structure. The general mood of despondency in all cadres of the party is too heavy to be cleared by little flashes of brilliance like Nanded.

Congress is fighting a battle with itself, rather than the Opposition. Lack of defined roles to leadership at each level has sent confusing signals to the party workers. Discord and bitterness among leaders cannot form a strong cadre of foot soldiers. Reaching out to voters through a confident and cohesive leadership is a must for electoral success. Congress is still in search of its right men for right places.
Given this scenario, what Ashok Chavan did was to go back to the basics of electoral politics. Instead of falling prey to the lofty ideas of top rung in New Delhi, Chavan followed the tried and tested method of tapping the general mood. Nanded has now given the party an opportunity to revisit its election strategy and emerge as a creditable alternative. Easier said than done!

The party is up against a shrewd strategist in Amit Shah, who has the ability to learn his lessons pretty quickly. Last year’s loss in Bihar and subsequent victories in Assam and Uttar Pradesh are pointers to Shah’s genius in adapting to changing dynamics of voters’ mood. On the other hand, Congress is still in the retro mode where basking in glory for too long remains a ritual. The snub it received in Goa Assembly elections should be an eye-opener. Despite emerging the single-largest party, Congress was outwitted by Union Minister Nitin Gadkari’s swift and smart moves to form a coalition Government. While Congress think-tank was busy in the stupor of victory, BJP brains had wrested power from right under their nose.

Gauging the shift in electoral mood and marking willing partners beforehand has so far played well for the BJP. The defeat in Nanded MC elections cannot be termed as a failure in this strategy. For, BJP was never a force in the constituency where Congress has a big sway for over two decades. In fact, the election has brought a silver lining for the party which ended with six corporators, its best ever show.

However, the Gurdaspur result should serve the BJP a good lesson. Already, a section in the Central leadership has expressed displeasure over the loss. Respecting sentiments of local workers remains a significant component of election strategy. By opting for Mumbai-based Swarn Salaria as it candidate the party had sent wrong signals among the local cadre. Such aberrations -- defeat and even surprise victory -- are part of a long political journey for parties. It is upto the wise to learn the right lessons.