New Delhi: A day after elections were announced, the Congress saw massive political setbacks in mindspace as well as following.
Not only did two senior party leaders announce they were quitting to join the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) but almost effortlessly, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) positioned itself as a frontrunner for the affections of the minorities, who have traditionally regarded the Congress as their mainstay.
D Purandeswari, a respected Seemandhra leader and sitting MP from Visakhapatnam, announced on Thursday she was joining the BJP. She made no secret of the fact that the decision was a painful one, but also made it clear that by allowing the division of Andhra Pradesh, her party had left her no option.
She was one of the most articulate and competent ministers in the Manmohan Singh government and held out till the last but confessed it would be hard to win her seat on a Congress nomination.
Purandeswari has blue-blooded political lineage: she is N T Rama Rao’s daughter and could be the advance party heralding the eventual NDA entry of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) headed by her brother-in-law Chandrababu Naidu.
In Chandigarh, former minister and city Congress chief Venod Sharma prepared to leave his party and join Kuldip Bishnoi's Haryana Janshakti Congress. The party has an alliance with the BJP and in an interesting political intervention, BJP leader Sushma Swaraj objected to Sharma’s entry into a party with which she has no connection, barring that it is an NDA ally.
In West Bengal, several Congress leaders indicated their lack of enthusiasm to fight a Lok Sabha election on a Congress nomination and cricketer Mohammad Azharuddin even appealed to Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee not to field a candidate against him.
The group that gained the most by its manoeuvres on Thursday was AAP. On Wednesday, acting on a rumour that party leader Arvind Kejriwal had been arrested in Gujarat (when, in fact, he had only been questioned by Gujarat police about whether he had permission to hold election meetings.
Kejriwal was let go after 30 minutes when he clarified that he was not on an election tour and was in Gujarat to "verify" Modi's claims of providing water, power, education and health care), AAP supporters clashed with BJP workers in Lucknow, Gujarat and Delhi.
AAP leader Ashutosh, who will contest the Chandni Chowk Lok Sabha seat against the Congress's Kapil Sibal, even scaled the wall of the BJP headquarters in Delhi.
In a recent interview with Business Standard, AAP supporter Sanjay Singh, who is the party’s Uttar Pradesh incharge, had revealed the AAP strategy to reassure the minorities and displace the Congress and Samajwadi Party.
He favoured reservation for Pasmanda (lower caste) Muslims at a par with Dalit Hindus and said riots in Uttar Pradesh had left Muslims in fear and uncertainty.
The BJP is not unhappy about the clash with the AAP, for it validates the party's theory that AAP and the Congress have a secret understanding borne out by Congress support to AAP in Delhi.
But the ultimate sufferer in the day's political developments was the Congress, which only lost and gained nothing.