Leaving poll debacle behind, Rahul begins stocktaking
STEPPING STONE: Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi after a review meeting on U.P. elections in New Delhi on Thursday. Photo: PTI

A virtually non-existent party organisation, damaging statements made by senior leaders, unresponsive Union Ministers and leaders, including those at the district-level, and the late distribution of party ticket adversely affected the Congress' chances in the recent Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.

This assessment was given by about 50 of the 153 losing candidates to general secretary Rahul Gandhi on Thursday.

At a no-holds-barred meeting, the first of a two-day stocktaking exercise at the party's “war room” on Gurdwara Rakabganj Road, Congress candidates who lost but secured a minimum of at least 20,000 votes, directed their wrath at senior leaders and Union Ministers from the State who, they said, not only made damaging statements but were also indifferent to the needs of the candidates and presented a picture of a divided house.

Indeed, those who attended the meeting highlighted the fact that controversial statements made by senior Ministers Salman Khurshid, Beni Prasad Verma and Sriprakash Jaiswal played a role in the party's poor performance. The statements dealt with issues such as quotas for minorities and the threat of President's rule in case the Congress lost the polls. While the first created the impression that the party only wished to please one section of the electorate, the second drove voters to the Samajwadi Party, leaving the Congress out in the cold, the candidates said.

The objective of the current exercise was not merely to fix responsibility but also to understand what went wrong, so that the party could work on a strategy not just for the Lok Sabha elections, just two years away in 2014, but for the upcoming local bodies polls, party sources said adding that while Mr. Gandhi accepted most of the complaints, he saw nothing wrong in ticket distribution.

Those who attended the meeting were asked to answer a questionnaire that had 13 queries on the reasons for the party's poor showing and offer suggestions for a strategy for the local bodies' elections as well as the Lok Sabha polls. The answers were frank, the sources said.

Interestingly, Digvijaya Singh, general secretary in-charge of the Uttar Pradesh elections, who made his share of controversial statements, is out of town.

Mr. Gandhi may have led from the front, running an aggressive campaign, but in the absence of a strong organisation or a clear strategy, the party succeeded in adding just six sets to its 2007 tally of 22.

The candidates reportedly said that while Mr. Gandhi's high-voltage speeches contributed to the defeat of Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party, the party was not able to convert the advantage into votes because it lacked an organisation.

Mr. Gandhi had accepted responsibility for the defeat, saying: “I know I campaigned and led from the front, it is my responsibility... Organisationally, we are not where we should be in Uttar Pradesh... The fundamentals of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh were weak. Unless we work on those fundamentals, we will remain weak.”

On Friday, he will have another session, this time with the winning candidates, to get their analysis of the results.

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