The cup of sorrow for India’s ruling Congress Party is overflowing. The massive electoral defeat for the party in Uttar Pradesh state elections last Month is barely sinking in when the stunning defeat in the Delhi municipal elections on Tuesday gives a nasty body blow.
Why is the result significant? After all, it is local body elections. It’s a valid point, especially as the Delhi voter a cultivated habit of differentiating between local and national issues. Congress spokesmen have scrambled to harp on this.
But it is only valid up to a certain point. Delhi is India’s capital and it is a high-profile national event when the metropolis of 15 million people goes to the polls. It is a microcosm of middle class India. Again, the Delhi vote is not an isolated event. Congress suffered a string of defeats in urban India in the past year or so – Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkatta. Is the urban middle class turning against Congress?
In the last parliamentary election in 2009, Congress weaned away the urban middle class voters who have been traditionally the pocket borough of its main rival Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] and many attributed that as one reason for the BJP’s defeat. The implications could be serious for the 2014 parliamentary election.
As a Delhi citizen, how do I see Tuesday’s result? First, it is indeed a stinging defeat for Congress, no matter what apologists say, but, equally, BJP cashed in on the popular disenchantment with the Congress rather than present itself as an inspiring alternative. (To be fair, BJP is not exactly bragging). Second, this is not a vote against Delhi state chief minister Sheila Dixit who remains a charismatic figure but it is a vote against her party.
Third, Congress is in deep trouble. Simply put, it is unable to change the political narrative in the country and reminds me of the fox on midnight prowl frozen in the motorist’s headlight on the highway. The people feel cheated because of the scams, price rise, inflation and so on. Ironically, Congress may have outwitted the anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare, but he may have the last laugh.
There is a huge task ahead for the party. It badly needs a shake-up and fresh ideas. But there may be continuing reluctance to admit that the ground beneath the feet is shifting – lest it got attributed as failure of the party leadership.