The Congress party continues to be a prisoner of its past and is yet to set an agenda for the ongoing state elections. The elections are more critical for the Congress than it is for its party president Rahul Gandhi. However, these elections have the potential of being a turning point for him.

No new vote-getter or campaigner has either emerged in the Congress or been showcased by it. Both state unit chiefs—Kamal Nath in Madhya Pradesh and Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan —are possible new leaders. No daring shift or focus is evident when that is what one expects with a change of party leadership.

Temple visits are perhaps the only new thing in the Congress, but that too is without justification or an explanation by the party’s president. It appears as if he is responding to others and does not add up to what was expected.

There are no allegations against Gandhi from any quarter or on any count. He has displayed sparks, although they are off and on—like his address at the Hindustan Times conclave last month.

As far as the election campaigns are concerned, the fight has now zeroed in to polling booths from the assembly level. Both candidate selection and manifesto of the Congress party continue to be reactive. It seems like it waits for the other party to announce a candidate and then select its own candidate “to match" rather than a “fit one".

The Congress party’s views on issues like reservations for upper castes, subsidies, loan waiver to farmers, education, employment, promising government jobs and restraints on media are neither consistent nor proactive. A focus on young or women or better candidates is not evident. Both candidates and manifesto were announced quite late, despite planning to do so ahead of time.

In the ongoing polls, it is visible that never before have poll campaigns been as murky, caste and religion centric. Manifestoes continue to have sops to attract voters, but do not try to motivate voters. There is no evidence of field surveys helping parties with better outreach strategy and focus in campaign.

The campaign in ongoing polls seems like a missed opportunity. No one has talked of polls becoming more and more expensive, recent changes including electoral bonds and their anonymity.

Despite distinct initiatives on citizen rights during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s tenure, the Congress is not talking about it when that has become a real concern. It has not outlined any development model.

For the Congress, these elections are no departure from the past. State unit leaders continue to visit Delhi, candidate selections happen there, and the party remains mostly Delhi-centric. No new systems are evident in electioneering including the use of social media. No new sparks or new initiatives in finding new outlets or a messaging strategy.

There is neither a rallying point nor a mobilizing strategy which stands out so far from the new leadership. There is no experimentation of ideas for 2019, except going along with Telugu Desam Party chief Chandrababu Naidu.

N. Bhaskara Rao is the author of Sustaining Good Governance, Development and Democracy and Citizen Activism in India.

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