Penning a Requiem for the Congress Party!
The declining wheel seems to have almost turned a full circle and the Congress is in power only in three States-Punjab, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan-now. Even in these three States, the Congress Party is gripped by crises. While the Congress grapples with a serious power tussle in Punjab, it faces a similar but little subdued tug of war in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. In Goa, the Congress lost an MLA, who is the former Chief-Minister. It recently lost the Assam Congress President Sushmita Dev. Besides, senior leaders have revived the demand for clarity on the Congress leadership. On the other hand, the BJP has extended its political reach in all the remaining States either on its own or in alliance. The electoral map of India now signals the rise of the BJP as the only dominant player in the country’s politics. The infighting in Congress in these three States has once again started the debate in public domain over its imminent decline with some political observers even writing obituaries and penning requiems.
The three Chief-Ministers have been the theatres of infighting with a Congress faction challenging the Chief-Minister in each State. In Punjab, the Congress is dousing a fire that may dash its all prospects in an economic powerhouse State. Chhattisgarh is embroiled in a tussle between Chief-Minister Bhupesh Baghel and Health Minister T S Singh Deo over a promised rotation of Chief-Ministers. A headache has returned to the Congress Government in Rajasthan too with the Supreme Court seeking responses from six MLAs who had defected from the Bahujan Samaj Party to the Congress after the 2018 Rajasthan Assembly Election. If they are disqualified, it will reduce Ashok Gehlot’s majority to 100, throwing up a fresh opportunity for Sachin Pilot.
It shows that the Congress footprint has shrunk. The rudderless Congress is also being hurt by the leadership vacuum at the top even in strongholds which has weakened the fight back of the national opposition. Among the members who have quit Congress in Goa or Assam or elsewhere, have raised one critical question-who is making decision in Congress Party? Even one of the senior G-23 Congress Leader Kapil Sibbal says “We know and yet we do not know (who takes decision in the Congress?). As a matter of fact, the leadership vacuum has emboldened warring factions to ignore the directives from the indeterminate top to reconcile their differences. The Party has failed to get the dissenters fall in line or make State Satraps deliver on their promises, mainly because the high command has lost authority. Besides, the latest political turmoil in the State of Punjab reflects a deeper structural crisis in the main Opposition Congress Party, for the happening would be to the advantage of ISI and Pakistan.
Factional feuds have been intrinsic to Congress Party since its formation in the late 19th Century, and splits have not been uncommon either. But those were caused more by ideological differences. Subsequently, leaders driven by personal ambitions have moved out not just to form their own outfits but also to join or ally with ideological opponents. In recent times, the dots can be connected with a visibly deepening crisis- the Congress has been without a fulltime President since Rahul Gandhi quit after the 2019 election debacle. The leadership crisis at the helm of Congress is corroding its influence. With Rahul resigning as Party President in 2019, the mantle has fallen back on the ailing Sonia Gandhi.
Every party needs to reinvent itself to keep itself relevant in changing times. However, Congress appears to be in stasis. To be in the reckoning, the Congress must recognize that it is no longer the force it once was. More importantly, it has to put its own house in order and then come on with other regional parties to form a formidable Opposition. However, given the present circumstances, it seems impossible, and the Congress party is bound to be consigned to electoral oblivion.
From being the single dominant party to its pathetic performance today, the Congress Party has been on a steady downhill journey. The trajectory of Congress in the aftermath of 2014 has been a story of continuous decline. Besides several other reasons, the Congress Party has come in for criticism for perceptibly drifting away from its core democratic ideals of giving space to ‘dissents’. The Congress needs to learn from ancient Indian Philosophy which underlines the importance of dissent; it is for this reason that even the tallest king had to face questioning. The Congress Party as G-23 leader Kapil Sibbal rightly says, has turned into a group of “Ji Huzoors” which has given rise to autocracy in Congress. G-23 Leader Kapil Sibbal says “No group of people have a monopoly on right judgement…Democracy cannot be worked by 20 men sitting at the Centre. No monopolies should be created in the power structures of any country nor in the power structures of any party.” On the other hand, the ruling Party BJP, as is admitted by Senior G-23 Congress Leaders (Azad’s admittance) also, has kept itself away from pseudo-ism by not hiding the truth. Moreover, Bengal Congress Leadership’s alliance with Abbas Siddiqui’s Indian Secular Front is an ideological exposition of the Congress Party which can sacrifice even its core democratic and secular credentials to cater to ‘unyielding’ vote politics.
The seeds of the deterioration of the Congress Party sown during the period of Nehru germinated and grew during the Indira regime before becoming a full-blown tree in the Sonia Rahul era which is most likely to fall due to its overbearing weight. The reasons for the decline of the Congress Party during the Indira regime were not addressed by the current leadership and were kept in limbo. The working of the Congress Government and Party gave birth to problems which hastened its downslide further. The remote control of the Government created frictions which snowballed into a series of political crisis and electoral backlash in 2014 and 2019 hustings. The high command which decided Party matters earlier at national and State level was extended at local levels with no connect with Party Functionaries at ground zero.
In the Nehruvian era, Congress was an omnibus Party which co-opted the ideological shades of Right- Centre- Left and tried to build a consensus to rule India giving no space to political parties to spread their political and electoral wings. The leadership of Indira Gandhi weakened the party rank and file, and she banked on centralized and authoritative decision to rule the Country and maintain the single dominance of the Congress Party.
Today, the Congress Party has neither any political agenda nor any leadership. On the other hand, the BJP’s welfarist policies aiming at ‘Sab ka Sath, Sab ka Vikas’ (development for all) has enabled it emerge as the single dominant Party in Indian politics. The Congress needs to understand that a political party cannot survive for a longer time merely by riding on the horse of pseudo-secularism and minority appeasement dragging the majority view and welfare into a ditch. Further, a political party’s assertion is reflected in safeguarding the interests of its nation, not in surrendering to the anti-national forces and terrorists including the terrorist countries in the name of Indian ideals of peace, non-violence and brotherhood. Congress has rarely done it; and for this, the countrymen of now a mature nation cannot forgive the Party which ruled over the country for more than seven decades. There seems to be hardly any chance of the Congress Party’s revival. It, however, can continue to exist as merely a Political Party by rebuilding the Party Organization, by repopulating its cadres with foot-soldiers and flag bearers at the grassroot level and set up political goals to do a political rebound in the distant future, otherwise it is bound to embrace its early extinction.
By Dr Suresh Kumar Agrawal
(The writer is Professor & Head, Department of English, Maharaja Ganga Singh University, Bikaner.)