New Delhi: Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra led the party's campaign in the assembly elections in five states but failed to work their magic at the hustings with political observers saying the "huge setback" has left their "brand value diminished".
Congress general secretary in-charge Uttar Pradesh Priyanka Gandhi addressed 209 rallies and roadshows, the maximum by any top leader during the UP election campaign, followed closely by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath who spoke at 203 poll events.
Though Priyanka Gandhi was focussed on Uttar Pradesh, she also campaigned for the polls in Uttarakhand, Goa, Manipur and Punjab. Rahul Gandhi also held several rallies in Punjab, Goa, Manipur, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.
While acknowledging that Priyanka Gandhi did hard work in UP and raised important issues of women, political analysts said it failed to click with the electorate.
Her campaign events drew large crowds, but she failed to win their votes.
With yet another drubbing in the polls, it is also expected that knives will soon be out in the Congress with some observers claiming that the Gandhi siblings are fast-losing credibility even within the party.
The BJP was headed for a second straight win in politically crucial Uttar Pradesh and dominated the trends chart in Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur, while the Aam Aadmi Party readied for a landslide win in Punjab. The Congress was headed for a big defeat in all the five states.
Rasheed Kidwai, the author of '24, Akbar Road' and 'Sonia: A Biography', termed the Congress defeat "a huge setback" and opined that nothing seems to be working for the Gandhi family siblings.
"They had made a huge gamble in Punjab projecting a Dalit chief minister but it has boomeranged very badly on them. Similarly, Priyanka Gandhi's foray into Uttar Pradesh has come to a naught. So it raises a question mark. They are losing credibility in the Congress 'parivaar'," Kidwai told PTI.
He said that electoral success and defeat may be cyclic, but as of now nothing seems to be working for the Congress.
It is not just about the Group of 23 leaders, who wrote to party chief Sonia Gandhi seeking an organisational overhaul, but the Congress workers at large are "losing faith in them", he claimed.
"I think the loyalists will try to rally around the Gandhi family but it is time for them to smell coffee and try to democratise the leadership. While they can continue to lead the party, but they can have a proper election for CWC... It is no longer a matter between them and the G23. The average Congress person is losing patience and respect (for them)," said Kidwai, a chronicler of the Congress party's political journey.
Echoing similar views, Sanjay K Pandey, a Jawaharlal Nehru University professor and a political commentator, said the worst situation is that of the Congress and the results had "diminished the brand value" of the Gandhi siblings.
"It would embolden the G-23 and other opponents within the party," Pandey told PTI.
Manindra Nath Thakur, an associate professor in Jawaharlal Nehru University's Centre for Political Studies, said the results had made matters worse for the Congress which was "already in trouble" and its senior leaders were awaiting to comment on this.
"In UP, she (Priyanka Gandhi) did the hard work, no doubt about it. She has been able to do solid ground work and raised important issues such as women's issues. There is nothing called magic in politics, everything is a possibility, it is like the process of crystallisation. There is a moment when things crystalise. They (the Gandhi family) are not able to achieve that moment," Thakur told PTI.
"They (the Gandhi family) have to realise that politics is not an individual game but a collective game. Orchestrating forces within the party is missing," he said.
Thakur said that with every defeat in polls the dissident voices within the party will grow louder.
The party structure is such that the people who are raising their voice are being marginalised, he claimed.
Thakur asserted that the Congress must develop regional satraps and said the party should have encouraged leaders like Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jitin Prasada and Sachin Pilot and projected them as a new leadership but failed to do so.
"If they think only these two people can mobilise people, I don't think that they can do that. Two people cannot connect with every force on the ground. Congress of earlier days had satraps, they were active and they were loyal to the leadership. Even in BJP you see satraps," Thakur said, citing the example of Yogi Adityanath and Vasudhara Raje.
As votes were counted for elections to five states held over February and March, India's ruling party could end the day with a four-one score. The BJP was also leading in Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa, according to trends on the Election Commission website.