The Congress has officially debunked the exit poll results, predicting its rout. But Rahul Gandhi and his aides are joining heads over the past two days to draft punch words and a message to keep party cadres in good humour and tell them they have lost only a battle and not a war.
Insiders say reality has dawned on Rahul Gandhi's team, as their own internal survey conducted by some 1,500 volunteers across the country have restricted the party at less than 100, between 85 and 92. Their survey is giving the BJP 225-230.
A flurry of activity at Rahul Gandhi's Tuglaq Road war room is focused on drafting a speech for him with punch words that will be delivered on Friday evening to keep up the tempo generated in the elections and to rebuild the Congress. Among others who are involved in drafting the message is Dr G Mohan Gopal, director, Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Contemporary Studies, who is believed to be stepping into the shoes of Ahmed Patel for Rahul Gandhi. The message would ask party workers not to lose heart and prepare to go alone in the next elections, since the party's organisation floundered in many states because of the compulsions of alliance politics.
A party source said Rahul decided to accept defeat after the "war room" functioning from his residence collated data from across the country to estimate the Congress winning only less than 100 seats against 206 it had won in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.
The party is trying to find top political hands to help Rahul as the leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha by virtue of the Congress being the largest opposition party. Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who held the position in the 13th Lok Sabha, has decided to limit herself to be the chairman of the Congress Parliamentary Party something like LK Advani holding the position in the BJP from 2009 to 2014. It is believed that two senior ministers Kamal Nath and Ghulam Nabi Azad — depends on their victory — will help Rahul in parliamentary work.
Keeping in mind that the Hindu-Muslim divide has become apparent in voting preferences across India as per surveys, Rahul Gandhi's message would be aimed at projecting the Congress as the custodian of the ideology of secularism and inclusiveness and the only fighting force to take on the ideology of extreme right and religious fundamentalism. According to surveys, the BJP has got 47% votes in Hindi speaking areas, while in the rest of India, it is still just 24%. The Congress has got 18% votes in Hindi speaking areas and 28% in rest of India.
Meanwhile, Sonia Gandhi has asked party leaders not to target outgoing PM Manmohan Singh for the debacle, not even in off-record briefings to media. The party president has reportedly said there should be collective responsibility for defeat and Singh should be defended.
During the campaign, some party leaders had spoken about "lack of decisive leadership" and failure to project the government's achievements, which were seen as jibes at Singh. Sources say it was at Sonia Gandhi's instance that the Congress made a statement thanking the prime minister on Tuesday. "Dr Singh's experienced and seasoned stewardship, his personal integrity and ability to lead the country through difficult times are noteworthy and India is proud to have earned so many laurels and respect during the 10 years," Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said.
On Wednesday Sonia Gandhi hosted a farewell for Sigh and his ministerial colleagues and gifted a memento signed by all CWC members.