In Maharashtra and Haryana, where the predictions were equally dire, at least half-a-dozen seniors were longing to lead the campaign in place of chief ministers Prithviraj Chavan and Bhupinder Singh Hooda.
In Delhi, fighting spirit seems at a premium and most Congress leaders appear resigned to a drubbing.
Former chief minister Sheila Dikshit has ruled out a comeback in a series of interviews and said she wouldn’t even contest the Assembly elections, expected early next year.
Although some people close to her feel she might jump into the ring if made the commander-in-chief, others insist that she is indeed unwilling to return to active politics.
Most of her erstwhile confidants have shifted loyalties and believe that her return would make no difference.
“It was an inglorious defeat and she chose to accept the governor’s post to relax in picturesque Kerala instead of fighting back in Delhi,” a politician who was once close to her said.
“When the young Arvinder Singh Lovely was asked to rebuild the party, the central leadership would have thought of a long-term plan. They can’t turn the clock back and bring Dikshit back.”
Asked who would lead the party then, he said: “The candidates will fend for themselves. They are talking of collective leadership, but there are at least 15-20 former MLAs who have far bigger profiles than Harun Yusuf or Lovely.”
He added: “If they win, it will be because of their own clout. A.K. Walia, Raj Kumar Chauhan, Subhash Chopra, Naseeb Singh and a few others can bounce back on their own steam.”
It appears that the candidates would indeed become more important than the party. All the Congress MPs from Delhi lost in the summer election and the state unit has no one with the charisma to win votes across the whole of the capital.
Dikshit’s son Sandeep has almost withdrawn from politics after losing East Delhi and expressed his inability to even carry on as the regular spokesperson.
The other former MPs — Kapil Sibal, Mahabal Mishra, Ajay Maken, Sajjan Kumar, Jaiprakash Agarwal and Krishna Tirath — never had any support base beyond their constituencies.
Maken was initially seen as Sheila’s possible replacement and Rahul Gandhi gave him a higher profile by making him a general secretary and the party’s communications chief. But he hasn’t shown much interest in Delhi politics.
Sources say that Maken is reluctant to lead the party into the next Assembly elections. Walia went into a shell after his defeat in last December’s Assembly polls. Former state Congress chief Jaiprakash Agarwal is no exception.
All these seniors would let the elections pass under Lovely’s leadership and stake their own claim only when the party recovers some ground.
So far, the Congress hasn’t shown any signs of recovery: while its vote share last December was 24.55 per cent, it plunged to 15.22 per cent in the general election.
“If we do well, we shall reach 15 (seats in a House of 70); if not, we’ll slip to two or four,” a former MLA said. “Who would want to lead the party in these wretched times?”
Asked about Dikshit’s possible role in the elections, a senior party functionary, however, said: “She will be our star campaigner. If she agrees, we’ll give her a ticket to contest. She has been a popular chief minister for 15 years; Delhi still doesn’t have a better leader.”
-The Telegraph, Calcutta