The results of Maharashtra and Haryana Assembly elections also point to the increasing irrelevance of “high command” in the Congress. The three members of the first family of the Congress—Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi-- were more or less absent not just from the election campaign but also from strategy sessions on electioneering in the two States. While Rahul Gandhi attended four rallies in Maharashtra and two in Haryana, his mother and sister did not attend any public programmes in both the States.
This is in sharp contrast with the number of rallies attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah in both the States. Both Modi and Shah addressed about 30 rallies in both the States. Shah addressed half a dozen meetings only on the last day of campaign in Maharashtra apart from a number of strategy sessions he presided as the chief strategist of the saffron party. Apart from Modi and Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, BJP working president JP Nadda, Cabinet Ministers Nitin Gadkari and Smriti Irani too addressed a number of rallies in both the States. Shah also gave a number of media interviews to set the tone for the campaign.
Despite facing organisational and political hurdles such as factional feud among top leaders and lack of clarity on issues such as abrogation of Article 370, the Congress and its allies performed beyond expectations in both the States. There is an opinion even within the party that had the high command gave proper and timely directions for the campaign, the party could have improved its position in both the States. The lack of interest from the high command to join the campaign was interpreted as defeatism within the Congress camp. The otherwise busy war room of the Congress at Gurudwara Rakhab Ganj Road here did not contribute much to the party’s strategies in both the States.
The Congress’s campaign lacked leadership and theme while the BJP leadership pegged its campaign on nationalism, especially on abrogation of Article 370. A number of Congress leaders, including Haryana campaign committee convener Ajay Singh Yadav had told BusinessLine that more than Article 370 and other emotive issues, a campaign based on unemployment and rural distress is going to help the Congress.
In Haryana, party’s face and high command’s favourite Bhupinder Singh Hooda had taken a line in tune with that of the BJP on Article 370. The other leaders, including former PCC president Ashok Tanwar, who resigned protesting the high command’s “favouritism” was also of the opinion that a campaign based on livelihood issues will help the Congress to come back to power in Haryana.