While some senior Congressmen are basking in the borrowed glory of Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) victory in the Delhi Assembly polls, leaders in the Karnataka unit, which has been headless since December 9, feel a lot has to be learnt from the party's dismal outcome in the capital.
The immediate priority is getting a new president for the state party unit, and resolving the uncertainty over whether the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) and opposition leader posts in the Assembly will be held by one person or two. Another priority is to sort out issues between the people who will be appointed to these positions, and the post of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president.
Siddaramaiah, who had resigned from both the CLP and opposition leader posts after Congress’s drubbing in the Karnataka Assembly bye-polls in December, is likely to be back in both posts. And former minister DK Shivakumar is the front-runner for the KPCC president's post. Both have to be brought on the same page, as their mutual dislike is said to be one of the reasons for the high command's delay in making a decision.
According to senior Congress leader BL Shankar, the party at any point of time has 30% of votes in every part of Karnataka. “The social engineering has to be reworked and a feeling that the Congress party is there for the people has to be addressed,'' he added.
Giving the example of AAP, Shankar said the party addressed issues which affected the day-to-day lives of people. Healthcare and education were taken up on a priority and the party avoided taking a stand on national issues. “The Congress here should also concentrate on such issues as the present government will be preoccupied with other matters. Such a strategy will help the Congress,'' he maintained.
Sharing his views, Congress MLC Prakash K Rathod said Delhi city's infrastructure improved during Sheila Dixit's tenure as Chief Minister from December 1998 to 2013. The Rapid Transport System and keeping the city clean were Dixit's contributions, but the BJP which succeeded her chose to take the credit and levelled corruption charges on the Congress government, he added.
With Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) polls due in August, party sources said the agenda should be on infrastructure. Results of six urban local bodies announced on February 11, where the Congress has secured the highest number of seats and is set to form the council in five bodies, has come as a fillip to the party.
Party sources said that while a course correction on social engineering and a relook into the agenda is possible, the difficult task was bringing the leaders together. “There is no coordination. Self interest has become a priority with a vacuum in leadership at all levels. A new president has not been appointed for three months, and the KPCC has not reconstituted for nine months, resulting in low morale of the workers and the people's perception of an inactive Congress,'' sources added.
The distress among the rank and file was summed up by KPCC president Dinesh Gundurao's wife Tabassum (Tabu) Rao on her Facebook post. “The Delhi election results are heartening because the people have voted against hate, and in favour of development. But the performance of Congress is equally disappointing. It is high time the party confronted the brute realities and took corrective steps. The Congress should step out of its ivory tower and identify itself with people and party workers at the grassroots level. The disconnect between the party and the people needs to be bridged without delay,'' she said.
Party circles feel the high command should go in for collective leadership rather than giving the reins of responsibility to a single person. “There is no D Devaraj Urs or Veerendra Patil or a Ramakrishna Hegde today who had a pan Karnataka image. Each leader is confined to their caste within the social spectrum. Hence, the president should be many among the equals and not first among the equals,'' a senior leader said.
Sources said the Congress at present does not have a strong narrative and is living in the past, fighting ego battles. “The Congress seems to have lost the killer instinct, which is why some senior leaders are taking umbrage under AAP's victory for the party’s failures. With panchayat and BBMP polls coming up later in the year, the party has to gear up to take on the BJP, which is its direct foe”, they added.
Naheed Ataulla is a journalist who has covered Karnataka politics for over two decades, and is a former Political Editor of The Times of India. Views expressed are the author's own.