"He is the closest to (Congress leader) Rahul Gandhi, said one."
By Gaurav Sharma

New Delhi, May 18 - Congress leaders are in despair over the party's rout in the Lok Sabha election in Delhi and warned that a recovery won't be easy. The election outcome - the BJP won all seven seats with the AAP coming second - appeared to indicate that Delhi was slowly becoming a BJP-vs-AAP battleground.

Congress candidates in the Lok Sabha polls finished a poor third in all seven seats, with four of them forfeiting their security deposit.

The AAP has filled the void created by the Congress decline. I don't see the Congress bouncing back at least for a long time, a senior Congress functionary told IANS, not wishing to be identified.

Another senior leader said the Congress had performed so badly in the assembly election by winning just eight of the 70 seats that we were not expecting any miracles.

But this Lok Sabha election has proved to be worse than the assembly election, he added.

Delhi witnessed a three-way contest for the seven Lok Sabha seats for the first time. The capital has traditionally seen contests between the Congress and the BJP including its predecessor Jana Sangh.

Friday's election results showed that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had won each of the seven Lok Sabha seats by more than 100,000 votes over the AAP. Squeezed out, the Congress rout was complete in Delhi -- like in many parts of the country.

A total of 133 of the 150 candidates in Delhi forfeited their security deposit after failing to poll at least one sixth of the valid votes. This includes four from the Congress, an Election Commission official said. Two of the defeated Congress candidates -- Kapil Sibal and Krishna Tirath -- were ministers in the Manmohan Singh government.

Sibal got a paltry 175,619 votes in Chandni Chowk where BJP Delhi unit leader Harsh Vardhan polled 436,468 votes and AAP's Ashutosh bagged 300,515 votes.

Krishna Tirath in North West Delhi ended up with 157,468 votes, far below debutant Udit Raj of the BJP (629,860) and AAP's Rakhi Birla (523,058).

Congress candidate Ajay Maken, a party spokesman and a former sports minister, polled 182,893 votes in New Delhi constituency where Meenakshi Lekhi of the BJP got 453,350 votes and AAP's Ashish Khetan 290,642.

Congress candidates Mahabal Mishra got 193,266 votes in West Delhi, Ramesh Kumar 125,213 votes in South Delhi, Sandeep Dikshit (son of former chief minister Sheila Dikshit) 584,979 votes in East Delhi and Jai Prakash Agarwal secured 214,792 votes in North East Delhi constituency.

One of the Congress leaders who spoke said Muslim votes appeared to have shifted en masse from the Congress to the AAP unlike in the assembly election. This is the only reason for our debacle, the leader told IANS, again pleading anonymity as he was not authorised to discuss election issues with the media.

Not everyone agrees. Some party leaders feel that anger against the failings of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government got reflected in the Lok Sabha ballot.

Can the Congress reverse its sagging fortunes?

One party functionary said the leadership in Delhi needed to be changed. The Delhi unit is now led by Arvinder Singh Lovely.

Despite Ajay Maken's defeat, a section of the party feels that he is more dynamic and suited for the occasion.

He is the closest to (Congress leader) Rahul Gandhi, said one.

(Gaurav Sharma can be contacted at [email protected] <mailto:[email protected]>)


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