By Kalyani Shankar
Years ago, a visionary Congress leader predicted that the ordinary party worker would save the party for their survival when they find their leaders ineffective. It looks as if that moment has come now. The party is gasping for breath, and it needs oxygen from solid leadership, but that is what is lacking. So the worker has to substitute with small doses.
However, the idea that a party that is barely breathing can be suddenly readied to take on the ruling BJP at the next general election is almost short of a miracle. There are too many ifs and buts, but it is possible with strong leadership. What is important is also to save Congress from itself. Congressmen often say that Congress can be defeated only by congressmen.
Suffering from factionalism and erosion, the Grand Old Party is now on a ventilator. It is unable to function without the Gandhi family or with them. The vacuum at the top has encouraged the regional satraps to question the national leadership. The party has not been able to raise its head since the 2014 defeat. The party has not only lost two Lok Sabha and many state Assembly elections one after another since 2014 but also failed to hold on to power in the states where it formed the government. The southern states stood with her when the India Gandhi-led Congress was decisively defeated in the 1977 Lok Sabha polls. Now even the south has deserted the party now. Currently, the party is in power only in three states — Chhattisgarh, Punjab, and Rajasthan. It is a coalition partner in the governments of Jharkhand and Maharashtra.
The brutal truth is that the party is absurdly out of touch with the new political landscape. Worse, instead of looking forward, it is looking backward. It is trying to be everyone’s party while actually, it is no one’s party. Leadership crisis is also now manifest in a battle of generational change.
Well, that brings us to the question of whether the Grand Old Party will survive with so much drama happening in the Congress-ruled states. In all three, the Gandhi siblings have encouraged rebels against the incumbent chief ministers with their own favourites.
Punjab is a classic example. This was one state where the party could have won easily. Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh has been shown the door unceremoniously, leading to instability in the state.
The doomsayers predict that the party will disappear from the political scene sooner than later. However, Congress may not die so soon. If there is a congressman in every village, even the last of them, the party will live with diminished status.
That does not mean that the party is not facing an implosion. Ironically the threat to the Congress party is now from the Congress rebels and not from the ruling BJP. What has added to the problems of the Congress is defections and desertions by some influential leaders like Jyoraditya Scindia, Jitin Prasada, and Sushmita Dev – all of them from the Team Rahul. Rahul’s judgment of men and matters has completely gone wrong. His experiments to restructure the party also have gone awry. The Gandhi siblings bet on the wrong horses; the result is there is more confusion and chaos at the party.
Given these circumstances, a revival of the Congress is not going to be smooth. But there can still be room for Congress as a national party. This would be when it can find its ideological moorings, draw inspiration from its past, move in step with the millennials, and find an acceptable narrative. For all these, good leadership is needed. Sonia Gandhi could bring the party to power twice in 2004 and 2009 but she has almost retired. The Gandhi siblings have not shown their vote-catching capacity. They want to emulate their grandmother Indira Gandhi without her leadership qualities.
The Gandhi’s know the problem but do not have a strategy to counter BJP. They have been told they only have to sit tight, and power will automatically come to them as there is no other alternative. The change has to come from within. The family has to consult others before making any decisions. After all, there are top policy-making bodies like the Congress Working Committee which could meet more often. Senior leaders are either dumped or fading away. Starting February next year, assembly elections will be held in 16 states over two years. Of the 16 states, BJP has a direct stake in nine and alliance governments in three. The Congress has three and TRS one. The assembly elections would set the pitch for the 2024 Lok Sabha battle. Congress is the only other horse in the race for national power, never mind how distant. (IPA Service)