Smarting under the humiliating defeat in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the Congress central leadership Friday reviewed the reasons for the drubbing with state leaders. While the meeting was said to be cordial, sources said those at the helm of affairs in both the states came in for harsh criticism.
While the Madhya Pradesh campaign was led by PCC president Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh, the election efforts in Chhattisgarh were led by the Congress’s incumbent chief minister, Bhupesh Baghel.
Sources said state party leaders flagged complacency, the lack of coordination and unity, the lack of resources, the failure to counter the BJP campaign and the inability to take the Congress promises to the people as the reasons for the defeat.
In Madhya Pradesh, Nath is under pressure to step down as party chief. Sources said he too is not keen to continue.
The meetings, held separately, were chaired by Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and attended by senior leader Rahul Gandhi.
Meanwhile, blame game has begun in the Chhattisgarh Congress. Under the leadership of Baghel as state chief, the party had recorded its highest ever tally of 68 seats in 2018, which went up to 71 seats after bypolls. But the party came down to 35 seats in the recent elections – its lowest tally since the state’s formation in 2003.
A total of 11 leaders from Chhattisgarh, including Baghel, T S Singh Deo, former ministers Umesh Patel, Mohan Markam, PCC chief Deepak Baij, Satyanarayan Sharma, Mohamad Akbar, Mohan Markam and Dhanendra Sahu attended the meeting
After the meeting, Chhattisgarh Congress election in-charge Kumari Selja told mediapersons that their women candidates had performed well and asserted the party will do better in the Lok Sabha elections. “We gave tickets to 18 women, out of which 11 won. The media, agencies and everyone said we were winning in Chhattisgarh, and to some extent they were right as our vote percentage did not change much. There are plenty of reasons which are being reviewed. We have not lost the trust of the people. We will win more seats in the Lok Sabha elections.”
Back in Raipur, Brihaspat Singh, who was denied a ticket by the party, blamed Selja for the defeat. Singh said, “Twenty-two tickets were denied, which created a negative impact. There was no damage control. The party’s work was zero. Our state’s AICC in-charge was biased.”
Outgoing minister Jai Singh Agrawal too blamed the top leadership in Chhattisgarh, without taking names. “The way we fought the 2018 polls when we were in Opposition, we could not fight this election, even though we were in power. Last time Baghelji was our PCC chief and Singh Deoji was the Leader of the Opposition… This time the election was centralized… Ministers did not get the power they should have got… There was kheenchatani (tug of war) in the party.”
He added that the Congress did badly in urban seats because of the focus of “our leader (Baghel)” on farmers. “We felt we will win all rural seats, so we don’t need votes in cities.”
About the Delhi meeting, Singh Deo told The Indian Express, “It was held for an in-depth study of the election results in each polling booth, what needed to be done, and with that information we need to prepare for the Lok Sabha elections.”
Congress general secretary (Organisation) K C Venugopal said state Congress chiefs had been instructed to submit a booth-wise report on the party’s performance.
Selja said they were dejected but not demoralised, and would together contest the upcoming Lok Sabha elections and win.
AICC general secretary in-charge of Madhya Pradesh Randeep Surjewala said: “We openly discussed the reasons for the party’s defeat and leaders analysed the shortcomings of the party… The Congress president heard us patiently. All the leaders authorised him to take a decision on how to strengthen the organisation. We urged him to hold a meeting of the Congress Legislature Party in Madhya Pradesh and appoint an observer for its next meeting to enable it to elect the new Leader of the Opposition.”
Senior Madhya Pradesh Congress leaders earlier blamed EVMs for the party’s loss. Asked whether this issue was also raised, Surjewala said: “All issues were raised at the meeting, but it is not appropriate to discuss them in public.”