He is young at 47, iconic leader holds record for six successive poll debacles
Its members’ vocabulary is limited to Ji Madamji, JI Rahulji. Sonia Gandhi advised her dear son, ‘Rahul, please, give more time to the party.’ Bewildered, he asked, ‘Mummy what party?
This was one of the multitude of jokes about Rahul Gandhi, which went viral on the Net, but this one had an element of rather cruel reality. The 122-year-old Party at the vanguard of the Freedom Movement, which virtually ruled the country for over two decades, seems to have been pushed to the edge, and is staring down the precipice.
From ruling in 18 states of 26 back in the mid-90s, Congress is now constricted to just six, Karnataka, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Himachal Pradesh, Pudducherry and Punjab, of which only two are politically significant states, it has lost its political domination and its current leadership does not appear to have the ability or vision to even put a break to its downslide.
‘It is facing an existential crisis’, this lament of Jairam Ramesh, an elite member of the Gandhis inner circle of advisers, acknowledges the unimaginable fall of what was once considered the natural party of government. “Yes, the Congress party is facing a very serious crisis.” A loyalist making statements of doom means he has lost faith in the leadership and is apprehensive of the future of the Congress Party. He said the Congress had faced “electoral crisis” from 1996 to 2004 when it was out of power. The party had also faced “electoral crisis” in 1977 when it lost the elections held soon after the emergency.
“But today, I would say that the Congress is facing an existential crisis. It is not an electoral crisis. The party really is in deep crisis.”
One heard of Congress mukt Bharat in 2014 when Modi, sensing the outrage in the people over scams that were slipping out from Congress’s cupboards, promised to get rid of the party and hereafter the BJP started swiftly picking up state after state, the Congress, as Ramesh said, does not have any to match up with the stamina, and the courage to take risks and go against the tide.
Confusion in the Congress leadership has led to more terrible losses. Bihar slipped away despite the Congress having, according to Rahul Gandhi, prior knowledge of Nitish Kumar’s defection. If they knew, why were they helpless? Similarly, Goa went despite Congress better placed there, having won more seats, it waited. And waiting while faced with a party of the talent and energy and hunger of the BJP was a fatal error.
There is no denying the worst, ‘existence-threatening’ crisis has shaken ironically a party used to rule. The rise of the ‘phenomenon’ Narendra Modi, is attributed to be the cause for the sad plight of the Congress. This is partly true, but major contributory factors have been the arrogance of Rahul and the money-making orgy by a few senior ministers in the UPA-2, in the belief that they would never lose power, having crushed the BJP the second time.
The reality is the decline of the Congress party and the erosion of people’s trust in the Gandhis had begun much before the advent of Modi at the national level. Corruption was so rampant that in the last years of the UPA-2 term, on an average one scam used to be exposed per month. The Congress party and its leaders, mother and son, lost their charisma and the trust of the people as one after another, corruption scandals stumbled out. The Gandhis could not remain unscathed.
And the alienation deepened due to the mistaken belief of Rahul that he had high IQ and of being much superior to others. The laudable role of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, in the freedom movement has degenerated into the “hereditary” arrogance of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Rahul’s attitude which alienated the senior Congress leaders–that is why Assam was lost–his corporate management style that ruined the party was exploited by the politically astute Modi, about whom Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes that after the BJP’s record-breaking victory in UP, it was acknowledged that it was ”an unprecedented phenomenon in the annals of popular politics. He has reduced his competition to minions fighting over scraps.”
He adds, “He has defied every prediction, and written his own script of popular acclamation. No conventional wisdom of politics applies to him. Modi still manages to make other parties look like tired, corrupt, negative emblems of the past; people still repose faith in him as the energetic, clean, dynamic, hopeful repository of the future. No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, it will be churlish not to acknowledge this political fact.” Apt warning, but the likes of Rahul have no time for uncomfortable truth.
The impression has gained, endorsing Ramesh’s opinion of the Gandhis, that at present the Congress does not have a strong leader and workable structure and its ideological agenda of leftist-welfareist policies for the poor has been hijacked by the BJP which is using it cleverly to position itself as the single dominant party in Indian politics. ‘The Congress needs to rewrite its ideological agenda and open the entry gates of the party for people with rightist views within its broad spectrum of secular politics to counter the BJP surge in the country. But who can achieve all this.
Let’s accept that Rahul does not have it in him to build the party infrastructure. The moraIe of the opposition parties is low and their fighting spirit crushed by the ruthless hammer-sledging by Modi and Shah. They have defied all predictions to win election after election to the despair of not only opponents but the media as well which abhors Modi. He ‘manages to make other parties look like tired corrupt, negative emblems of the past; people still repose faith in him as the energetic, clean, dynamic, hopeful repository of the future.
Mehta has rightly linked Modi’s political dominance to his ability to deepen the social dominance by winning over substantial numbers of OBCs and Dalits in addition to upper castes. Mehta and other commentators predict a new era of extraordinary dominance by the BJP. And this should worry the Congress which is trying hard to ensure that it survives in 2019 election.
Sonia, who defied everyone’s advice and persisted with Rahul, despite he being a serial loser, realised after the debacle in UP, that the party was in severe crisis and could become irrelevant, worse disintegrate. In such a plight, the offer by the opposition leaders to lead the united opposition to take on Modi in 2019, Sonia considered it as godsend opportunity.
Fear of being crushed by the Modi’s juggernaut in the 2019 election has made the otherwise spitting fire ostensibly to burn Modi the likes of Mamta, Mayawati, Akhilesh and Lalu Yadav, all desperadoes, scrambled to Sonia Gandhi to lead a joint united front of the opposition parties and hopefully defeat their common enemy.
Does the fact that all opposition parties have agreed to Sonia’s leadership to give any hope that the Congress like in the past in 1979 and in 2004 would rise like Phoenixes from the ashes, albeit with the help of cracked crutches of the despaired opposition? Sadly no such luck.
The Congress men in Bihar have demanded that all association with Lalu Yadav must be snapped immediately. Likewise the state unit of the party in West Bengal has told the leadership in Delhi that they should have nothing to do with Mamata.
Both advises are futuristic and may benefit the party in its fight to survive and resurrect itself. Leading a motley group of despaired and defeated opposition leaders, who have pushed their differences and conflicting ambitions for saving their skin, under the carpet, will be self-defeating. Before nursing any hope that this group can wrest power from the well-entrenched Modi, one has to first be sure as to how many of the leaders in the opposition will remain united or let’s put it bluntly be around two years later.
For instance, will Lalu Yadav be around two years later? A number of cases are pending against him and his family members, and the Supreme Court has instructed that all cases against them must be decided within six to nine months. If the Yadav ménage is sentenced or remains embroiled in cases, one can easily tick RJD off from the united front of opposition party. One can also be reasonably certain that Mulayam Singh will damage his son’s SP enough to knock its teeth off so by 2019 he might be just one of those who also ran.
Mayawati has her hands full with almost every leader in her party holding consultations for setting up a separate party for Dalits and Harijans. What and where she will be is a big question mark.
If Sonia, assuming the National Herald case does not affect her adversely, she will be bonding with the ones who might soon become history. She will destroy whatever is left of one time most popular and vibrant organisation. She has to look inwards to resurrect the party.
First, she has to decide a replacement for Rahul, the son may be her love of life but as head of the Nehru and Indira Dynasty her duty is to strengthen it rather than sacrifice it for the love of her son. Secondly, she must give some spine to her party leaders who, in her presence, become tongue-tied and can’t utter more than Ji Madamji.
Otherwise, the Congress will simply whither away after the pasting it is expected to get in 2019. The exodus is already on but after 2019 it could turn into torrents.
It would be tragic. Congress had come to be regarded as ‘natural party of government’. It’s the only national level party and can fill in the gap in the opposition benches.
It will be good for the BJP. It won’t be in danger of hubris setting in. Although given the high tide in the fortune of Modi, most likely is that leaders and members of other parties, including the Congress, will gravitate to the BJP, leaving their respective party chortling.
What will happen to the Congress? One does not see much future of the Party under the present dispensation. People have given them up.
By Vijay Dutt