It is testament to how desperate things are for the Congress that when it appeared briefly as runner-up in the Delhi election, it was nearly giddy. Leaders who have served as ministers in Delhi when the Congress was in power spoke of a revival, based on early leads. One of them, Kiren Walia, said "This is a very big jump for the Congress." Ajay Maken, who led the party's strategy, said traditional supporters are returning to the Congress, but acknowledged that the result was "personally disappointing" and said he will resign as the Congress chief in Delhi.
- Early leads showed Congress in second spot briefly. It finished last
- Ajay Maken who led party's strategy says he will resign as Congress chief
- Congress lost popular leader Arvinder Lovely to BJP ahead of polls
The respite was brief. Within half an hour, the Congress, which governed the capital for nearly 15 years, was shoved aside to No 3, but its leaders clutched to the improvement upon 2015, when it won no seats at all in the assembly election. The BJP was well-placed for a huge win. Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party appeared cruelly spurned by the city that just two years ago dealt them a historic victory in the assembly election.
"I accept that there is a wave of the BJP," said Ms Walia. "People are giving votes to the BJP just because of Modi," she said, crediting the Prime Minister. Leaders of other political parties concurred, with Yogendra Yadav stating that in a strange twist for a local election, the people "have rejected the CM (Chief Minister) and elected the PM."
The run-up to voting saw the Congress lose popular leaders like another former minister Arvinder Singh Lovely to the BJP. Today, he said the BJP is the natural choice of the city. Debating rivals Congress and AAP, he said, "is like talking about who is more useless", reflecting, as one commentator said, the zeal of a new convert.
It is true that several Congressmen voiced their unhappiness with the candidates selected by Mr Maken, who heads the party in Delhi, and that today's relegation to the sidelines continues a trend that the party has been unable to reverse in one state after another.
It is also true that given its long and firm hold on all three corporations of Delhi, the BJP has offered little reform to the long-running problems of garbage piling up and the regular outbreaks of dengue and chikungunya.
Political opponents of the BJP said that is why they believe that the result today is part of the Modi Wave which commanded showy landslides in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Those not from Mr Kejriwal's party said the result should also be seen as a vote against him, partly because he devoted much of the last year to campaigning in Punjab and Goa, states that did not eventually choose him.
The Congress' former star, Sheila Dikshit, who served three terms as Delhi Chief Minister, summarized the problems of the party, stating that an aggressive campaign was needed, but not delivered. When asked when she, among other senior leaders, did not address public meetings, she said, "I wasn't invited." In a half-hearted attempt at scouting a silver lining, she said, "Each time we lose an election, we learn something. We will learn from this also."
There was some cheerleading for the Congress from an unexpected quarter. Dr Harsh Vardhan of the BJP agreed that the Congress, which failed to win a single seat in the last state election, has demonstrated "a revival." This is important, the doctor said, because "a strong opposition is needed". He also complimented the party for what he described as "more dignified politics" than the ruling AAP.