Elections 2009: What the Congress did Right

  1. It used the troika very effectively to send out its message: MMS as the honest face who can do the economic good, Sonia with her larger than life presence with her 2004 renunciation, and Rahul with his youth connect. The party based its campaign on its pro-poor work (NREGA and farm loan waiver), its economic credentials of the top person, and the aspirations via its youth face. (The BJP could have countered all three aggressively – but in the midst of those 10 Varun Gandhi days much of the positive messaging got lost.)  In short, the Congress promised both Continuity and Change – and that worked for them.
  1. The decision to go it alone was without a strong pre-poll alliance with the parties in the Third and Fourth Fronts, in hindsight, a master-stroke. This emanated not as much from the focus on 2009, but from a long view. It paid them dividends immediately and that is what came as big surprise.
  1. Rahul Gandhi’s work in UP is paying dividends. He has become a face that people in the state are now looking up to. Mayawati is the past which has disappointed, while Rahul is seen as the future which can deliver a better tomorrow. On these aspirations, UP can only improve for the Congress.
  1. Also, and we do not know the full impact of this, the efforts by Rahul Gandhi to bring in inner-party democracy and revitalise the youth wing, perhaps yielded some dividends – via perception and fresh candidates.

So, what worked for the Congress was that in urban India, Rahul Gandhi and the “secular” message (as compared to the Hindutva branding of the BJP) helped, while in the rural areas, the NREGA and farm loan waivers definitely created the right image for the party.

In a sense, the Congress built a rainbow coalition comprising Muslims (and other minorities), the Poor, the Youth (with Rahul as the mascot), and the growing base of Disenchanted Hindus (who don’t like the BJP’s linkages – however loose and distant – with religious elements).

Perhaps, the Congress was willing to think out-of-the-box and long-term this election. It gambled – and their bets paid off (much faster than they expected). In some ways, it was prepared to lose in 2009 to build a stronger foundation for the party. After five years out of power, the BJP was much more desperate to win in 2009 and may have been over-cautious.