Stunned in four states, Congress fears 2014
Congress leaders across India are virtually in mourning after the humiliating defeat in four states, with many admitting the rout has rattled the party ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
Congress leaders at various levels in state after state blamed a variety of factors for the electoral drubbing in Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
Most state leaders who spoke to IANS said they were worried over the coming Lok Sabha battle. A few conceded that the BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi was indeed a major threat.
"You cannot deny the Modi factor," said a Congress leader in Rajasthan, where his party was crushed by the Bharatiya Janata Party. "He is a good orator. People enjoyed listening to his speeches."
Another Rajasthan leader, who did not want to be identified by name, added that he was now convinced that people were angry with the Congress in all states.
"The Congress will find it very tough to come out of this crisis by the next Lok Sabha election," he said, adding the party would win only one or two parliamentary seats in the state.
In elections held in November-December, the BJP retained Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh despite being in power for 10 years, ousted the Congress in Rajasthan and came close to victory in Delhi.
In Delhi, the one-year-old Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) created history by bagging 28 of the 70 seats in its maiden electoral battle. Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit was herself defeated by AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal.
In Punjab, a prominent Congress leader did not hide his disgust. "Mere rhetoric on non-issues will no longer work," he told IANS. "Rahul Gandhi will have to take drastic measures now."
Punjab Congress president and Gurdaspur MP Pratap Singh Bajwa said the results were "a wake up call".
Congress leaders in Haryana are worried that the AAP -- which has pockets of influence in areas bordering Delhi -- could expand its base in the state.
A senior Congress leader in Maharashtra blamed four 'M's for the debacle: "Modi, Media, Minorities and Manmohan."
He said party activists appeared disenchanted in the Congress-ruled state. Although he felt that the result would not impact on the Lok Sabha polls, he warned that the Congress "will have to work doubly hard".
In Odisha, where the Congress has been out of power since 2000, senior party leader Niranjan Patnaik warned of similar debacles elsewhere unless "mistakes" were rectified.
Another leader complained that there was no internal democracy in the country's oldest political party.
Almost all of those who spoke to IANS, however, insisted that Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son and vice president Rahul Gandhi could not be blamed for the electoral mess.
"The results are definitely a matter of grave concern," said Jammu and Kashmir minister and Congress leader Sham Lal Sharma. "But to blame the defeat on Rahul Gandhi is highly unfair."
Salman Soz, a Congress leader and son of the party's state president Saif-ud-Din, told IANS that the state results were "deeply distressing" and "we must learn some hard lessons".
On Sunday, after the Congress was soundly defeated, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi spoke on similar lines.
A Tamil Nadu Congress leader said "Modi and the media" contributed to the electoral drubbing. But he insisted there was no Modi wave.
A few felt that rising food prices and corruption -- for which the Congress-led central government was to blame -- were the reasons people had become disenchanted with the party.
"We were not expecting this kind of defeat in the four states," rued a Goa Congress leader. But he told IANS: "But people are mature. They vote for one party at local level and another at the national level."
"Disconnect with people appears to be a major reason for the defeat," Jharkhand Congress spokesman Shailesh Sinha told IANS. "Leaders seem to be depending on the party's name and leader to garner votes."
In Andhra Pradesh, whose division has also split the Congress, those from outside the Telangana region openly spoke out against their own national leaders.
"The results are a reflection on the UPA government," said L. Rajagopal, MP from Vijayawada. Warned former minister J.C. Diwakar Reddy: "The party has already died in the state. It cannot be revived."
Some Congress leaders expressed the hope that the party will overcome -- and not allow Sunday's verdict to cast a shadow on the Lok Sabha polls.
Said West Bengal Congress general secretary Om Prakash Mishra: "The Congress showing is disastrous but it won't have any significant bearing on the Lok Sabha polls. There is no reason for despondency."
(Mohammed Shafeeq, Sirshendu Panth, Fakir Balaji, Nityanand Shukla, Sujit Chakravarty, Mayabhushan Nagvenkar, Sanu George, Anil Sharma, V. Jagannathan, Sheikh Qayoom, Jatindra Dash, Quaid Najmi and Jaideep Sarin contributed to this story.) - IANS