New Delhi, Feb 10: The results in Delhi were worse than the Congress could have imagined. The party failed to open its account in the national capital, where it ruled for 15 years till December 2013, raising questions about the party's electoral tactics, vote-catching ability of the party leadership and its dwindling electoral base.
As the trends became evident, despondent party workers again made demands to bring Congress chief Sonia Gandhi's daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to the forefront to check the party's sliding fortunes. The rout in Delhi was evidently another failure of the party's young leader Rahul Gandhi, who has not been able to change fortunes of the Congress much since he became the vice-president about two years back.
All party candidates lost in the Delhi elections - in some cases, not even getting into five figures of the votes they received.
"I have not seen such condition of Congress (in Delhi). Congress is nowhere. This is something new," a party functionary, who has been with the party for over five decades, told IANS.
The problems and challenges appear to be mounting for the Congress by the day. Its adversaries are far more nimble footed and social media-savvy. The 129-year-old party has struck to its traditional methods of campaigning with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi addressing only a handful of rallies in each state going to polls.
In Delhi, AAP's youthful leadership brought a freshness to its campaign and presented a people-centric approach to governance. The Bharatiya Janata Party was able to galvanise the youth in the Lok Sabha polls under Narendra Modi. But the Congress does not appear to have a plan to catch the imagination of the aspirational class or the youth who comprise a large section of the country's population.
Rahul Gandhi has been trying to democratise Congress for the last seven years and the approach has not led to any many major gains for the Congress in the last few years. His talk of opening up the party structures has largely remained an idea to be implemented.
Congress campaign for Delhi appeared jaded. During his campaign in Delhi assembly polls, mainly in areas where Congress has been traditionally strong, Rahul Gandhi largely targeted the BJP even as AAP was the party on the rise in Delhi and posed the most direct threat to the traditional vote base of the Congress, including the minorities and weaker sections.
All top guns of the Congress lost the polls. Party's chief for campaign Ajay Maken finished third in Sadar Bazar and could get only about 16,500 votes. Maken resigned as party general secretary owning responsibility for the debacle. Party leaders had hoped to win 12-15 seats.
Congress ruled Delhi for 15 years in succession since 1998 and its vote share all these years did not fall below 40 percent. It came down to 24.55 percent in the last polls following rise of AAP and has now fallen to below 10 percent. Congress won 43 seats in 2008 Delhi elections, eight in 2013 polls and has now been reduced to zero.
In states such as Bihar and Tamil Nadu, where Congress vote share was less than 10 percent in the last assembly polls, the party has found it difficult to forge a revival.
While the AAP appears to have squeezed out the Congress from Delhi, it appears poised to do so in Punjab which will go to the polls in 2017. AAP already has four MPs from Punjab.
AAP, which has national ambitions, aims to become a viable opposition to the BJP in all the states ruled by it and push the Congress to the third place.
Congress party spokesperson Rajeev Gowda said that people voted to defeat the BJP in Delhi and there was positive vote for AAP.
"There was also anti-incumbency against us. It is the lowest point and a turnaround will start," Gowda told IANS.
He said that party will evolve a firm road map for revival.
Political analyst and senior journalist S. Nihal Singh said that Congress was supposed to do badly in Delhi but even minority voters deserted it in favour of AAP as there was no hope of the party winning.
He said Congress had a difficult road ahead and Rahul Gandhi had proved a "non-starter".
"In my view, Congress faces a dilemma. Without Nehru-Gandhi family, the Congress will split. With Rahul as its leader, they will drown," he said.