Even before the battle for Lok Sabha 2004 is joined, the Congress headquarters at 24, Akbar Road wears a palpable air of defeat. Many Congressmen reckon that never in its 119-year history has the party campaign been so lacklustre. It is as if it's merely going through the motions; there's no discernible strategy, no cogent agenda, no credible voice. There is no message and hence the lack of inspired messengers does not come as a surprise.
Not the most ardent of Congress sympathisers believes the party can pull it off this time. And when Congressmen talk of forming a government and pushing their tally to a dizzying 200 seats from its present low of 112, they do so mechanically and with such absence of conviction that listeners walk away doubly convinced that the party is heading for disaster.
Says sociologist Dipankar Gupta of JNU: "Politics is a comparative game. It's a monopoly market where you choose between available products. The Congress is dull and lacks lustre, so the BJP shines." Historian Mushirul Hasan agrees the Congress doesn't come across as a winner. "There's a perceived inability to capture power.... It is not seen as a winning party."
Despite professional assistance, the Congress has been unable to launch a credible counter-offensive. Its ad campaign got off the ground very late—not just because it needed to conserve its scarce resources, but because it took the media committee forever to decide on agencies to handle the account. The ads began appearing last week but lacked the punch of India Shining. Films and cable TV spots were planned, then shelved as the EC ban on political ads on the idiot box kicked in. The ruling party thus got the full benefit of TV exposure (before the ban) and the Congress (by waiting so long to launch its campaign) didn't.
Corporate India hasn't been particularly kind to the party. Treasurer...