Rahul’s decision to skip the farewell dinner hosted in honour of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh left the Congress leaders embarrassed.

Moreover, the Congress vice-president’s absence at the dinner gave rise to speculations that he was reluctant to face the barrage of questions on his party’s performance as most exit polls have clearly indicated that the NDA will form government at the Centre.

Amid sharp criticism from the opposition parties, the Congress went in the defensive with its senior leaders stating that the Gandhi scion had met the Prime Minister before flying out of town.

Several exit polls aired on May 12, soon after the elections wind up, have predicted a landslide victory for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), projecting its tally between 249 and 290. On the other hand, the Congress-led UPA has tipped to get between 101 and 148 seats.

In such a scenario, the Congress leadership seems to be straining every nerve to ensure the 100-seat mark when the poll verdict is announced on Friday.

Adding to disappointment, an exit poll carried by the NDTV-Hansa gave ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) 103 seats with the Congress projected to get only 79, which is its all-time low.

The Congress party registered its poorest tally in the 1999 general elections, when it managed to secure only 114 seats.  This was the time when Congress president Sonia Gandhi came in rescue of her party by pulling up her sleeves for the daunting task of reviving the party’s fortunes which had fallen tremendously following the exit of former prime minister PV Narasimha Rao and party chief Sitaram Kesri.

Since her entry into the party, Sonia continued giving a tough fight to her rivals in 2004 and then again in 2009. But the 2014 Lok Sabha election seems to be hurtling back to square one for the Congress.

Although senior party leaders including Digvijay Singh and Kamal Nath have dismissed the pre-poll verdicts, claiming the Congress will continue its charm of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

Critics of the Congress say that the ruling party is back to square one and the ten years of hard work put in by Sonia Gandhi has gone in vain.

The most fatal thing in politics is inability to attract the attention of voters. And this seems true with the Gandhi scion. The recent media coverage has been very catastrophic for Rahul as he has been shown as someone who is not aware of the ground realities.  While BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi's every word and action have been heard, evaluated and keenly debated; not many were seen willing to listen to the Congress leader.

The recent coverage by several TV channels of Modi’s rally in Congress stronghold Amethi Lok Sabha constituency is one such example to speak about Rahul’s tragedy. With Modi’s Amethi rally, the news channels were simultaneously beaming live pictures of

Rahul's rally from some other venue. The juxtaposed footages have perhaps summed up the fate of the 2014 elections. While Modi was seen heard by all, Rahul was on a mute mode. In such a scenario, the biggest challenge for both Congress and Rahul is to make sure that the party led by stalwarts in the past does not lose its ground.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is also facing criticism for the likely defeat in Lok Sabha polls from both the Opposition and his party members.

According to sources, Sonia Gandhi has asked Congressmen to defend the Prime Minister after the BJP’s repeated diatribes at him, saying the ruling party will now find a scapegoat in the Prime Minister in its attempt to save the Gandhi family from criticism.

If sources are to be believed, there is a feeling within the Congress leadership that ineffective and unfriendly policies of Manmohan Singh-led UPA government might be one of the reasons for the party’s debacle in the general elections as put forward by exit poll surveys.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister and senior Congress leader Kamal Nath on his part defended Rahul, saying he is not responsible for the likely poor show in the elections as he was never a part of the UPA government.

Nath also blamed Manmohan Singh-led government for not conveying to the people about its programmes and all the good work that it was doing.

"Election results are a reflection on what people's perception of the government functioning was....To dismiss them (good work) and say we did nothing in 10 years is wrong. Rahul Gandhi was never part of the government," Nath said in defence of Rahul, who led the Congress campaign.

Desertion in Congress

Quitting one party and moving to another faction is a common affair in Indian politics. A string of Congress leaders, including local and national face, seem to have got swept in ‘Modi wave’.

Satpal Maharaj, Jasa Barad, D Purandeswari, Jagdambika Pal, Bavku Undhad, Rajendrasinh Chavda, Suresh Kotadia, Vitthal Radadia and his son Jayesh Radadia, Narhari Amin, Major Vijay Singh Mankotia’s brother Ajay Singh are some of the names that have left Congress to join other political outfits, especially the BJP.

The party is likely to see another embarrassment soon as Delhi Congress leader and three-time minister AK Walia has reportedly met Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Rajnath Singh.

According to a BJP source, Walia had a meeting with Rajnath on May 11, a day before the final round of Lok Sabha elections. Walia, however, has denied the reports, insisting that this was untrue.

Not only leaders but many major alliance partners, including Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Trinamool Congress and DMK, have also abandoned the Congress.

Critics and the political stalwarts might now be keeping their fingers crossed and waiting for the verdict of the people on May 16.

Sonakshi Kishore/JPN

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