Chandigarh: Punjab Congress president Amarinder Singh turned 70 Sunday, but the euphoria of celebration was missing. Having just led his party to a second consecutive loss in the assembly elections in just five years, his failure was, no doubt, uppermost on everyone's minds.
While the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal basks in the glory of its historic victory, having become the only party in over four decades to get a second consecutive term in Punjab, Congress leaders in the state have started murmuring that the state was handed over on a platter to the Akalis by the Congress leadership.
Several reasons, from lack of planning, absence of senior leaders at crucial times, wrong choice of candidates, including too many kith and kin of important leaders managing Congress tickets and ending up on the losing side to lack of focus to take on the Akali Dal-BJP government and cashing in on the anti-incumbency vote, delayed announcement of candidates for the Jan 30 assembly poll, a late start to campaigning and leadership infighting, are being cited now for the rout of the Congress.
The party, which as per Amarinder Singh's claims, was looking at at least 70 seats in the 117-member assembly, ended up with 46 seats. The small consolation, if any, was that the Congress improved its tally from 44 seats in the 2007 assembly poll to 46 this time.
In the Akali Dal-BJP camp, the Akalis improved their tally from 49 in 2007 to 56 this time even though the BJP went down from 19 last time to 12 seats now.
"Prior to the polls, there was an atmosphere of euphoria among party cadres due to unprecedented anti-incumbency against the SAD-BJP government. Misgovernance, complete family rule, highly politicised police and civil administration coupled with rampant corruption, highhandedness and hijack of transport, cable network, sand quarrying and bulk liquor were burning issues against the government," Congress leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira, who himself lost the election to his Bholath seat, said in a statement.
"Had the Congress leadership exploited the above stated issues and taken the fight down to the ground, I am dead sure results would have been different. Merely issuing statements and inaction on the ground caused great loss to the party," he said , seeking an immediate meeting to pinpoint the reason for the Congress' defeat and hold leaders accountable.
"Inaccessibility, the callous and lackadaisical approach of those at the top, being surrounded by non-political people, rendered the working machinery of the party frustrated and demoralised," he said.
Khaira's barbs are aimed at Amarinder and the coterie surrounding him.
A senior bureaucrat, analyzing the situation, said here: "The problem with the Congress leadership was they did not work hard enough to win, thinking that getting back to power was their right since no government has been repeated in the state. That is where they lost."
Amarinder is now also being accused of not having any 'connect' with the people or even party leaders at the ground level. The coterie around him, some of whom are very fond of partying, made him inaccessible to leaders and common people even during the campaigning.
His absence from the state at frequent intervals was a matter of concern for Congress leaders but no one spoke about it openly.
Seeing all this, Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal took up the challenge of doing all the things that the complacent Congress leadership was not doing.
From micro-management of each of the 117 assembly constituencies to pushing development projects in the last 18 months of the government to ensuring that everything was properly highlighted - Sukhbir personally monitored everything.
The results on March 6 were there for all to see - and left the Congress stunned at the doorstep of power.