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Saturday, May 17, 2014

Congress 44 seats out of 543. What next for Sonia?

As poll surveys and exits polls dominated television, and everyone seemed to be pretty convinced that Narendra Modi would be the next prime minister, I wondered if there would be any surprises yesterday, the day votes were counted. Exits polls on most previous occasions, overestimated the winner. So the fear was if NDA would end up just around 272, allowing smaller regional parties to have a field day. Anticipating that, BJP started even looking for more allies a couple of days before counting.

But I was proved wrong and there were plenty of surprises yesterday. The biggest of them all was the the sweep of the Modi storm. Though Modi would have dreamt of this, and worked strenuously for the result, I am sure he himself was taken by surprise. So too millions of voters, who voted for BJP but just kept their fingers crossed. My random guess is that many people who don't basically agree with BJP ideology (including Muslims) would have have voted for BJP. Why they voted for the BJP could be the subject of a debate.

The other big surprise was the depth to which Congress plummeted yesterday, which didn't get highlighted so much, thanks to the blinding effect of the BJP gust.

Congress managed to win just 44 seats in a House of 543. Simply can't believe this.

Their worst performance was in 1999, when Vajpayee-led NDA restricted them to a mere 114. In fact, that itself was worse than the 1977 tally of 153, when a hurriedly cobbled together combination of Janata Alliance dealt a body blow to Indira Gandhi-led Congress -- a punishment for the severe excesses during the Emergency: a particularly black chapter in India's independent history. Then, both Indira and her son Sanjay lost the election. At least the family members have won this time. Some consolation for Congress.

Yesterday, as one saw Sonia and Rahul come out to meet the media, and valiantly put up a smile and graciously accept the result in all humility, it was difficult to suppress a surge of sympathy for the plight they find themselves in. To be fair to Congress, their government did launch a number of social initiatives aimed at helping the disadvantaged, besides a slew of economic policies to benefit the youth and career-minded burgeoning young middle class. But the barrage of negative tidings for the top leaders of the party was so strong, Congress had time only to keep themselves afloat rather than counter the BJP. No one understood or took notice of the few good things the government did.

The Sonia family will have to seriously introspect why such a fate befell their party. Congress is just riding on the family tag. That will have to definitely change. Congress doesn't have a leader. Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka are always in the background. They need a strong leader: both Sonia and Manmohan were weak. Rahul just made sporadic appearances. Priyanka came in too late to make any impact.

Rahul was simply no match for Narendra Modi.

Also, the Congress experiment of two heads -- one for the party and the other for the government -- has failed. It was made worse with the two leaders who could make no impact.

Congress needs to project as their leader, someone who has strong grassroots presence and is a leader in his or her own right. Neither Sonia, nor Rahul, nor Priyanka can take that position. The family's first task will be to identify that person, and groom him.

The family also needs to consider if loosening their grip on the party, would help in any way. It would be a tough call to take.

But things are so bad for the Congress, any decision to revive the party would be better than no decision at all.

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