In yet another obvious development, India’s main opposition party, the Congress, kept faith on veteran leader Sonia Gandhi as their party chief. As quite expected, with no firm leadership available as of yet, Sonia Gandhi will continue to carry the Congress baton for another inning. But is this move at all effective for the party to emerge as a strong opposition to the ruling BJP?
In this article, we shall discuss how relevant the Congress party is in today’s political scenario of India and whether their role as the main opposition is making a difference in the world’s largest democracy.
So where does the Congress stand now? Here we explain the issue in 7 points
1. What was the Congress’s latest meeting all about?
As per reports, once again the Gandhi family received fresh endorsement from the party during a seven-hour Congress Working Committee meeting on Monday about its leadership. Though the meeting began with Sonia Gandhi asking the party to start looking for her replacement, by the time it ended, the Congress decided that Sonia Gandhi will continue as the party president. The meet decided that “no one will be permitted to undermine or weaken the party and its leadership at this juncture”.
2. Where does the party stand now?
India’s grand old party lumbers on in a stupor. After ending a complex situation to save the Congress government in Rajasthan, the opposition is in a curious bind. Monday’s meeting showed it cannot look beyond the Gandhis for leadership, but the Gandhis are also are unable to provide a strong leadership. The party’s central command can’t go beyond either Sonia Gandhi’s old guard and Team Rahul’s young members. Also, party state units are in disarray where there are no strong leaders, with rampant infighting. Convinced that they have no future in the Congress, several Congressmen are joining the BJP for personal gain. “If your leader cannot get you power, it’s natural for politicians to seek it elsewhere,” said Tom Vadakkan, an AICC insider, who joined the BJP in 2019 in a report. The party lacks a narrative to counter the Centre’s decisions/policies. It also lacks required organisational cohesion to take on the mighty Narendra Modi-led government.
Is the party in terminal decline then? Or is it possible to revive it? We have to wait and see but as of now, things look pretty bleak for the Congress.
3. The crisis of leadership
In 2003, now senior leaders like Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jitin Prasada, Milind Deora and R.P.N Singh were given tickets to contest the Lok Sabha election the following year. At the same time, Rahul Gandhi himself made his debut in electoral politics. In the next 10 years, when the Congress-led UPA led India with Pilot, Scindia, Prasada, Deora and Singh all as ministers. Rahul didn’t take any ministerial responsibility but rose to become Congress vice-president. Team Rahul was ready to take the party baton.
Rahul placed Pilot to take charge of the Rajasthan Congress with Ashok Gehlot and C.P. Joshi. In 2014, he made Ashok Tanwar, a former Youth Congress president, head of the Haryana Congress where party veteran Bhupinder Singh Hooda was chief minister. These changes proved that Rahul meant business but Team Rahul by run over by the Modi juggernaut in 2014. Sonia Gandhi and the veterans rejected Rahul’s blueprint for the party revival as they believed that altering the party organisation would only hasten its demise. Rahul then fought less on elections and concentrated more on moral high ground. The party got some electoral successes too along the way, such as partial win in Bihar in 2015, victory in Punjab in 2017, a near-victory in Gujarat that year and the three heartland states in December 2018. All of them, however, owed more to the efforts of other leaders rather than any significant contribution by Rahul.
4. The image of Rahul Gandhi
The tag of ‘Pappu’ that the BJP and trolls gave Rahul has started to stick in the public perception. Rahul’s gaffes and vanishing acts are not hidden either. Rahul was accused of being inaccessible to his own colleagues. Now Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma was denied access to Rahul when he was in the Congress. Sarma left for the BJP in 2015 and ensured that his former party was out of power in all seven states of the Northeast. Team Rahul also began to disintegrate. Haryana Congress chief Tanwar, Tripura Congress president Pradyot Debbarma and Jharkhand Congress head Ajoy Kumar left the party. Scindia left in March and we all witnessed the complex Pilot issue recently.
In 2019, Rahul lost in Amethi, and Team Rahul did not fare well either in the polls. Rather than accepting any responsibility, Rahul chose to resign from his post of party president. As a result, the return of Sonia Gandhi was evident but the party’s revival was still in the dark. With the diffusion of the top leadership, resentments continued to simmer among partymen. Rahul remained indifferent and Sonia Gandhi took her time over taking decisions. Many questioned is it time then for the Congress to look beyond the Gandhis? Rahul left it to the Congress Working Committee to decide on the next incumbent. But till today, we’re yet to see any new Congress chief.
5. Back to square one
And that is where things get back to square one. Sonia Gandhi is the only fallback option for the party. Despite their failure to keep the party united and garner votes, party leaders still believe the Gandhis can save the Congress. We wonder how and why. Rahul supporters, though, are seeking his return. They believe he is the only one in the party who can counter the BJP. But theories are rife that the Congress should look beyond the Gandhis. Some Congressmen favour of electing a new president.
6. Building organisational strength a must
It has become imperative for the Congress to get a new president as the party needs to regroup fast. Over the years, organisational restructuring in the party has been confined within random appointments by the central leadership. The party’s top organisational rigour is missing. As we see reports, AICC sessions, once an annual affair, are rarely held whereas the BJP’s executive council holds regular meetings. In the BJP, the RSS sends inputs from the grassroots but the Congress doesn’t have that strong groud-level network anymore. Many Congress leaders blame party’s increasing factionalism and the high command’s weakening grip on party issues.
7. Congress must find fresh ideology
The Congress’s biggest failure has been its inability to mount a credible, cohesive narrative to counter the BJP. The party responds only to criticise the Centre, it does not provide a constructive alternative to any issue. Rahul’s opinions are seen as the party’s views but there is no collective response behind it. For example, while Rahul took the lead as early as in February to warn the Centre of the Covid-19 pandemic, the party failed to bolster his views. Be it the nationwide lockdown to plight of migrant workers or the Indo-China standoff in Ladakh, the Congress has offered no alternative viewpoint to counter the Centre.
As per a report, veteran Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said the party needs to stay invested in its core ideals. Another veteran, Manish Tewari too thinks the party should articulate its philosophy on secularism, nationalism and economic development. Congress leader Salman Khurshid says the party needs to master the “art of storytelling” to reconnect with the people.
We will have to wait and see whether the Congress can work on its several fronts and emerge as a strong opposition. If it continues to work as it is now, the party will remain just like an airplane without a pilot.
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