What Lies Ahead For Congress?
There is no doubt that demoralisation has set in already in the party. While Rahul Gandhi has been talking about long- term politics, some Congress leaders are already looking for greener pastures and the way they are joining other parties shows that they are not willing to play a long-term politics
Will the Congress survive after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls if it loses the elections? There are pessimists who believe that the party, presided over by Sonia Gandhi, has now run its course and will sink into oblivion. As senior BJP leader LK Advani has pointed out in his blog that people generally believed that for the Congress Party, the worst phase was the post-Emergency elections of 1977. The BJP patriarch went on to say that it would not be surprising if the next Lok Sabha elections yielded a result, which for the Congress might prove the worst in its history since 1952.
There is no doubt that demoralisation has set in already in the party. While Rahul Gandhi has been talking about long- term politics, some Congress leaders are already looking for greener pastures and the way they are joining other parties shows that they are not willing to play a long-term politics.
Strangely enough, the Congress too is internally reconciled to sitting in the opposition, according to insiders. They know that getting elected for a third term is almost impossible. In fact even in 2009, the Congress itself was surprised at the improved number of seats crossing over 200. The optimists in the Congress say that losing the polls will not be such a bad thing and it could even be a blessing in disguise as the young Rahul Gandhi would be able to overhaul it completely. They point out that the Congress has been written off earlier also but after each setback, it had bounced back. Indira Gandhi lost power in 1977 after the Emergency but she came back in 1980 with a bang. In 1991, the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi enabled the Congress to form a minority government led by PV Narasimha Rao. In 1998, when several senior Congress leaders crossed over to the BJP and other parties, Sonia Gandhi took over the party and the erosion was arrested after that. In 1999, she contested for the first time and became the first woman Leader Of Opposition. Incidentally, the general prediction before 2004 was that the BJP would come back to power based on its “India Shining” ad blitz and the Congress was heading for its fourth defeat and eventual dissolution. Yet it won that election and formed the UPA 1 government with the support of the left parties and then won again for a second consecutive time in 2009. So the optimists contend that it is not that easy to predict the disappearance of the party altogether and question whether it is possible for a 127-year-old grand old party to go into oblivion.
The debate about the future of the Congress is because of the present mood in the country. By and large, the impression is that voters, disgusted with non-governance and policy paralysis, want to vote out the Congress. But the main opposition BJP too is not in a position to form the government all that easily. In view of a fractured polity, the verdict is not likely to be decisive in favour of a single party. The prediction is that the BJP might emerge as a single largest party. In the 2009 polls, the Congress got 27 per cent and the BJP 19 per cent votes. The difference was just about 8 per cent votes and the Narendra Modi-led BJP is going all out to bridge this gap.
While both the Congress-led UPA and the BJP-led NDA have shrunk, the arithmetic is not on anybody’s side. The UPA lost two valuable allies – the DMK and the TMC during the UPA 2 and the left parties at the fag end of the UPA 1. The NDA lost its most important ally the JD (U) when Modi was nominated the BJP prime ministerial candidate last year. It now has only minor allies apart from the long-time friends Shiv Sena and Akali Dal.
Presuming that the pollsters who predict that the BJP may reach the 200 mark are right, the NDA has to find another 72 votes from new or old allies. With Modi’s hardline Hindutva image it may be difficult to find new allies who may back off fearing the wrath of their Muslim voters. But the post poll scenario is a different ball game as most parties are keeping their cards close to their chest and also most of them believe in opportunistic politics. One should not be surprised if the BJP crosses 200—Modi may be able to form the government.
The Congress too has not been able to get new allies except the RJD and even in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal the party is going it alone. Moreover, with Sonia Gandhi’s declining health and Rahul Gandhi’s disconnect with the electorate, the prospects for the Congress during this election is said to be bleak.
Secondly, the emergence of more regional satraps is posing a threat to both the national parties. In the coming elections, it is predicted that regional leaders like Jayalalithaa (AIADMK), Mamata (Trinamool Congress), Naveen Patnaik (Odisha) and Mayawati (BSP) may get about 20 to 30 seats each. In the event of the Congress and the BJP together not crossing the halfway mark, it will be these regional leaders who might form a front and bid for power.
With Sonia Gandhi yielding her place to Rahul Gandhi, the party is now concentrating on how to reach a respectable three-digit figure. The Congress might give the 2014 elections its best shot, but it also has a Plan B ready. That is to support the third front consisting of regional satraps from outside. This government may not last for more than a year or two because of the inherent contradictions and the clashing egos of the regional leaders but the Congress wants to block Modi at all costs.
Let us look at the reasons why there are apprehensions that the Congress might lose. The first is the anti- incumbency. The UPA is seeking a third term without achieving much in its second term. Therefore, it is a very big if for the Congress to win the polls. To perform a hat trick is almost impossible unless a miracle happens.
The second is corruption, which has become a major poll issue. The Aam Aadmi Party and the earlier anti- corruption movement led by Anna Hazare have created awareness among the voters for a corruption- free government. The UPA 2 is facing series of scams, which happened in the UPA 1 but tumbling out during the UPA 2. The party has no answers except patting itself on the back on the passing of the Lokpal Bill. The Congress is also aggressive that it has not been allowed to bring six anti-corruption bills, which were brought at the fag of the 15 Lok Sabha.
The third and more important thing is the economy, which is not dong well. The people are fed up of rising prices and spiraling inflation. The foreign direct investment has also decreased. The growth rate has come down to 4.5 per cent. The welfare schemes like MNAREGA and food security may be good measures but they are not implemented properly and they will also add to the Centre’s financial woes. Farmer’s suicides are yet another concern. Things don’t appear to be getting better in the near future. Bad economics had brought down governments earlier. Neither the Congress nor the economist Prime Minister has answers to address the woes of the people.
The fourth is emergence of new players like the BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and the Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal. They both are articulate and can market themselves and their parties very effectively while the Congress has bad marketing strategy. Rahul Gandhi has proved to be no match to either Modi or Kejriwal in propagating the achievements of UPA 2. These leaders are aggressive while the Congress is defensive.
The fifth is the question of leadership. Who will become the prime minister in case Congress wins? In 2004, the electorate voted for Sonia Gandhi but she appointed Manmohan Singh her proxy. In 2009, Singh was projected and got the support of the middle classes. The party has not projected any leader although it is clear that no one other than Rahul Gandhi would get the jackpot. However, Rahul Gandhi has not shown any interest in becoming the prime ministerial candidate or even a minister this past ten years. This leadership vacuum is going to be one of the problems.
The sixth is the arithmetic. It was the alliance arithmetic, which brought UPA to power in 2004 and 2009 and the lack of it is going to hit the party hard. The UPA has shrunk and there are hardly four or five allies. The UPA 2 lost two major allies – the DMK and the Trinamool Congress—and they are both not interested in coming back.
The Congress party is trying to get its act together in six big states, which brought the party to power in 2004 and 2009. Unfortunately, it seems far- fetched because of the disarray in the party. The Congress is banking on three things. The first is that it is seen as the underdog in these polls; the second is that it hopes that the Muslims might vote for the Congress as they did in 2009 and the third is the internal problems in the BJP where the senior BJP leaders are upset with Modi on the ticket distribution.
In Uttar Pradesh, from where the Congress bagged 22 of the 80 seats in 2009, the party is worst hit as the Muzzafarnagar riots seem to have polarised the electorate. The minority votes might swing towards the Congress but it can also result in a counter- swing towards the BJP. The BSP is also looking for the Muslim votes. Bihar is in a poorer shape for Congress. The Congress—LJP- RJD combination would have worked but now that the LJP has joined the NDA, the arithmetic is not there. Andhra Pradesh from where the party got 33 seats in 2009 is in total disarray after the creation of separate Telengana. In Seemandhra, Jaganmohan Reddy holds sway and in Telangana, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) is the big brother. The TRS claims all the credit for the separate state and refused to merge or align with the Congress. Tamil Nadu is a sad story as after 1967 the Congress could never come to power in the state and has been a junior partner either with the AIADMK or with the DMK. With its 15 per cent votes, the Congress can make a difference to the alliance but is not worth much alone. West Bengal is also in the same category after the Trinamool Congress had parted ways with the party. Mamata Banerjee has weakened the Congress and the CPI-M in the state. Maharashtra has 48 seats but if the party retains its present tally that will be a big achievement. Alliance partner NCP has several complaints against it and the two parties still have differences at the grossroots level.
Emergence of Third Front
DISASTROUS FOR NATION
Emergence of the Third Front as a winner in the parliamentary elections would be disastrous for the country. The joining of hands by heterogeneous groups in the hunger of power is not new. If the Congress party or the BJP with its allies fails to form the government after the outcome of ongoing elections, all those left in the unallied groups would try to be together to stake claim. The country cannot afford such a government which has no aim and object. A directionless train having many engines of different power capacity would lead to nowhere. There is a vast difference of functioning between state governments and the Union government. The Union government has to take many crucial decisions at national level to keep the federal system intact, and at the international level, has to maintain relations with other countries, particularly with neighbours. It also has to look into matters pertaining to national security, defending the borders and watching the undue activities of some neighbouring countries in the internal affairs. Therefore, it is the need of the hour that people of India should elect a responsible government.
Today, various surveys give a clear edge to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the BJP, over the present UPA government, led by the Congress party. If the Congress gets about 100 seats out of 543 in the Lok Sabha, it will have to play the role of opposition. In the present scenario, it is necessary to have a healthy powerful opposition in the Parliament. Since the Nehru era is over and the seasoned politicians are no more left, any government without a strong opposition may crush the already ailing democracy of this country.
It is noteworthy that the people had punished, at the first available opportunity, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for imposing Emergency and suppressing democracy. The sending of innocent leaders to jail by her was not taken lightly by the people and they gave historic majority to parties united against the Congress. The same people again gave majority to the Congress under the leadership of Indira Gandhi when she was ill treated and sent to jail. Hence it is the need of the hour to have a well-balanced Parliament to avoid such happenings.
It is noteworthy that even after attaining a heavy majority in Parliament in 1977 elections Janata Party could not run the government to its full term. Other heterogeneous groups also formed the government at different occasions led by Chandrashekhar, Deve Gowda and IK Gujral, but none of these governments could survive even for a year. Against this backdrop, this is the most sensitive period that India is passing through, which needs a stable government with a healthy opposition. This is possible only when people deny existence to regional parties. The Third Front leaders have only one-point agenda to come to power and for this they are prepared to go to any extent.
The JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar appreciated Narendra Modi for the development of Gujarat and has also been minister in the government led by NDA under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But the same Nitish now calls Modi non-secular, which is not easily digestible. The Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee was a part of NDA government. Mamata and Mulayam Singh joined hands together to support a common candidate in the last election of President of India but Mulayam later turned his back on. Now Nitish, Mamata and Mulayam Singh are opposing NDA. Nitish Kumar calls Modi Hitler and Mamata said that at no cost would she support a government led by BJP. It is the same Mulayam Singh who joined hands with Kalyan Singh, ex-CM of UP, and called him an elder brother. Mulayam forgot his version that Kalyan Singh belonged to RSS. If this political trio succeeds in mustering the minority votes, they will not hesitate in forming the government with the help of BJP.
The people should not vote blindly for any leader and party, believing they will realise their dreams. This is the most crucial general elections after the post-Emergency election of 1977, as our country is facing problems at both national and international levels.
China’s efforts to engulf the areas in Arunachal Pradesh and all-around Tibet and Pakistan’s efforts to disturb peace in India by creating sporadic disturbance at the borders and also indulging in various nefarious designs to destabilise the harmony of India are a matter of grave concern. There is deterioration in the relationship between India and her neighbours like Sri Lanka and Nepal. The global economic downfall has badly affected us. The price of common commodities has seen a sharp rise. The corruption in the governmental machinery has been exposed at all levels. Maoists have become a powerful movement jeopardising unity and harmony. Against this backdrop, it would be worse for the country to give the power to the left-out groups, consisting of the Third Front partners and leftists along with other regional parties.
At this moment, the country needs a single party or a single alliance to form the government, whether it be the BJP or the Congress—UPA or NDA. It would be in the interest of the country if one of them comes to power, but the others should have sufficient strength in the Parliament to discharge a role of a viable opposition.
By Vijay Khaira
Although Rahul is claiming in his interviews that the party will cross the 200 mark, the party is reconciled to a defeat, according to insiders. They claim that Rahul Gandhi is ready to sit in the opposition and be the Leader of Opposition as his mother did in 1999 or his father in 1989. His aides claim that he hopes to earn public goodwill and make his candidature strong for the next election. In fact, Rahul Gandhi’s 24- hour war room, which is chalking out the poll strategy, has been looking at the next elections and not the present polls. The party has by and large retained sitting MPs in majority of constituencies and fielded youngsters in weak seats so that they will get some electoral experience.
While the old guards in the party are unhappy at the way they are humiliated by the Rahul’s coterie, the young Gandhi has already chosen his team. This always happens when there is a generational change in any party. This team includes Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Milind Deora, Digvijay Singh, Jairam Ramesh, Madhusudan Mistry, Mohan Gopal, Kumari Sailja, Priya Dytt, Meenakshi Natarajan, Prithvi Raj Chavan, CP Joshi, to name a few. He has safeguarded the interests of Madhusudhan Mistry, Digvijay Singh and Sailja by giving them Rajya Sabha nomination recently to ensure they don’t face defeat.
Rahul’s well-meaning experiments in reorganizing the party have been in vain so far. While he talks of a strong party structure, neither the mother nor the son had done much to build the party in the past decade. While the party tried to go it alone in the polls in some states like Bihar, it did not work. The party’s disastrous performance in Bihar (2010) and Uttar Pradesh (2012) Assembly elections do raise questions about the rhetoric of party restructuring. Gandhi attempted to bring radical changes in the party by way of attracting newcomers, corporatise its functioning and energise the Youth Congress and the NSUI but this did not yield the desired results. The latest experiment of going for US like primaries to select the candidates too is criticised as a farce because no one was willing to contest the primaries against the big wigs.
Since he believes in a single party rule, Rahul has not been concentrating on building the coalition, not realising that in a fractured polity, coalition is the only way to come to power. This time the allies themselves are not willing to join the Congress-led coalition thinking it is on the slide.
However, despite all odds the Congress is likely to survive and fight back. The challenge will be greater if it gets less than 100 seats but individual strength of the candidates might help the Congress reach a three-digit number as by and large the ticket distribution is seen as fair. In the final stages Mrs. Gandhi stepped in and persuaded some senior leaders to contest elections although they were hesitant to do so. The elections will be an acid test for the Gandhi family. Ironically, the grand old party depends on the Gandhi dynasty for unity among its ranks. The Congress was a divided house before Sonia agreed to lead it in 1998. If any one expects the Congress to split after a bad showing in 2014, they may be in for disappointment because there is no credible leader who can take on the Gandhi family.
By Kalyani Shankar