It's thumbs down again for Congress in Uttar Pradesh
The disastrous show for the Congress that saw its double-digit impressive showing in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls dwindle to just two seats (Amethi and Rae Bareli) in the May 2014 general elections, continues as the party drew a blank in the recent bypolls for the 11 assembly seats.
While it did not contest Mainpuri as a quid pro quo gesture for Samajwadi Party's similar act of not fielding candidates against Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Gandhi scion Rahul, the party maintained its third slot in all but two seats - Charkhari and Hamirpur where its candidates garnered better votes that the last polls of 2012.
Party leaders admit they did not "expect a windfall" in the bypolls, but they say in private and in public that they are dismayed at the wipeout.
What seems to be worrying the party rank and file is not the fact that the contest in all seats was between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) candidates, but that the vote share of the grand old party has been going down with every passing poll.
This time, however, it has shocked the party more as votes cast in its favour have dipped beyond imagination. The most stark case being Saharanpur - a party stronghold where it fared dismally this time round.
In the 2012 state assembly elections, the Congress candidate won an impressive 72,544 votes while its 2014 Lok Sabha candidate Imran Masood, infamous for his caustic remark "will cut him to pieces" against BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, put up not-that-bad-a-show and garnered one lakh votes. This time, however, the party candidate managed just 28,553 votes, a huge fall from its past showings.
In Thakurdwara, which not long ago fell under the parliamentary constituency of Moradabad, represented by former cricker and Congress leader Mohd. Azharuddin, the party managed to get only 17,377 votes against 46,519 votes in 2012.
In Noida, the party lost considerable vote share over its 2012 tally. In Nighasan, its candidate lost over 10,000 votes from the previous 2012 assembly polls, 14,000 plus votes each in Sirathu, Balha and Rohania assembly constituencies.
The big fall, however, came in Lucknow (East) where the Congress always managed to win support from the predominant minority community. This time, its candidate Ramesh Srivastava polled a mere 9,757 votes against 35,227 in 2012 when too he was the candidate.
Nirmal Khatri, president of the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee (UPCC), admits that though they anticipated the BJP to do poorly, they had not braced for such a fall in Congress prospects.
"The outcome is indeed saddening, we have become victims of the tactics of the state government and the people of Uttar Pradesh have been sandwiched between a communal BJP and casteist forces like the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party," he added.
Senior Congress leader Seraj Mehndi, however, takes comfort in the fact that the BJP was "cut to size" by the ruling Samajwadi Party.
BJP state spokesman Vijay Bahadur says the electoral prospects of the Congress will continue to nosedive until it plays the B-team of the Samajwadi Party, not pit candidates against the first family of the Yadavs, or fight its own battle.
"Congress hobnobs with Samajwadi Party in Delhi, survives on its support for more than 10 years and ultimately pays a price for this in the Lok Sabha polls. The same will happen to it when the 2017 state polls take place," he said.
The Congress decimation is also worth noting as it did not give a walkover to like-minded parties and in fact tried hard to regain lost ground. It had national star campaigners and gave its best. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, however, chose not to campaign in the polls citing "local nature of the bypolls".
With yet another battle lost, party insiders admit the leadership will have to devise ways to reinvent itself or settle in political wilderness for many years.