From 2012, the Indian National Congress has lost both influence and reach in the nation. Goa, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh all rejected the party in the lead up to the Lok Sabha election in 2014. After losing the general election spectacularly, the party has continued its stream by losing Maharashtra, Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir, and Jharkhand – all while regional allies like AIADMK, DMK and Janta Dal abandoning Congress allegiances in favor of independence or a BJP alliance.
The largest factor behind the decline of the INC has been their shift from a party based on ideology to one of dynasty. The soft socialism of the Nehruvian party was gradually replaced by the dynastic rule of the Gandhi family. This transition came to a head in 1986, when the party was split as to succession – between Pranab Mukherjee, longtime party leader, and Rajiv Gandhi, a political novice with no clear political leanings or ambitions but the Gandhi name. When Gandhi ascended to the premiership, the INC’s ideological basis ended, and the party became synonymous with the Gandhi family – no matter what their politics or aptitudes.
Of course, in Indian politics dynastic parties are neither rare nor necessarily failures. Both dynasties based on blood – such as the Samajwadi Party – and those on patronage – like the Bahujan Samaj Party – have enjoyed significant local and national success. Yet such successful parties have always enjoyed prominent, ambitious, and charismatic leaders for the party to coalesce around.
The INC, however, does not. In fact, the Congress has spent the past decade or so in a severe leadership crisis. When Sonia Gandhi stepped away from the premiership after the 2004 election, she proved herself incapable of leading a government – something no dynastic leader can afford to do. While the party’s hopes laid in the ascension of Rahul Gandhi, his leadership hasled the party from tragedy to catastrophe. Rahul Gandhi’s inability to connect with the people, his lack of policies and principles, and his utter lack of charisma have doomed the INC to loss after loss.
Aside from the lack of leadership and ideological vision, the Congress party has also been racked with corruption charges and scandals to an absurd degree. From the Commonwealth games scandal of 2011, the telecom scandal, the Swiss black money leaks, the Vadra-DLF scandal, various ‘cash for votes’ schemes uncovered by Wikileaks, and the innumerable stashes of black money revealed before, during, and after demonetization – the Congress party has spent the better part of a decade battling an onslaught of corruption allegations.
This process hasn’t exempted the leaders of the party. Allegations have reached all the way to the top – with direct allegations repeatedly leveled at the Gandhi family – from the Bofors scandal implicating Rajiv Gandhi to the allegedly illegitimate landholdings of Robert Vadra, and the Swiss bank leaks implicating every member of the family in hording black money.
This problem of corruption has been exacerbated by the dynastic structure of the Congress party. While other political parties can shed accusations of corruption by dismissing or disavowing those in charge, a dynastic party lives and dies alongside its leaders. When the leaders are seen as corrupt, the party cannot simply remove them – for better or worse, the leaders are the party. Thus, the Congress has been forced to wear the rapidly tarnishing reputation of the Gandhi family as it’s Racked with scandals, bound to weak and corrupt leaders, and devoid of any vision or policy ideas, the INC has been brought to its lowest point yet. The party has not been able to offer any reason to choose them over any of their opponents – which has led to their rapid retreat from the national stage.
This has led to an unprecedented opportunity for the Bharatiya Janta Party. The waning influence of Congress has given openings for the BJP among opposition strongholds. The party has been successful in unseating the Congress party from their regional and central hegemonies – giving them a chance totake aim at corrupt local parties. This has resulted in massive inroads for the party in Bihar, Odisha, and Tamil Nadu – regions that have not enjoyed popular support for the BJP in a long time.
But while the waning influence of the INC has been a boon for the BJP in the short term, its effect over a longer period is more uncertain. The BJP has been defined by its opposition to the Congress party – both ideologically and politically.
Without the INC define itself against, and with no third-front or regional party strong enough to challenge it, the BJP’s ideological future is uncertain.
By Akash Kashyap