Congress struggles to reinvent or on road to extinction?
Dr Satish Misra
The Indian National Congress is facing its worst crisis in its 131 years of existence during which it faced multiple challenges.
There has been speculation in the national media that Congress vice president and the heir-apparent Rahul Gandhi is going to be elected or appointed the party president soon. He is expected to reinvent the party to make it a fighting machine to counter the RSS-BJP combine.
Question that is being asked is Rahul capable or has the potential to revive the party’s political fortunes or not?
In my frank assessment and understanding, issues of dynasty is totally irrelevant in case of the Congress because the party will not remain a cohesive unit if a member of Nehru-Gandhi family was not on apex to lead. The Congress will then dismember into several parties like the Janata Dal or Janata Party.
Challenge began in May 2014 when it lost the general elections and was voted out of power after leading the government for 10 years. The party’s strength in the Lok Sabha was reduced to the lowest in its parliamentary history. It had only 44 MPs in a house of 542
A series of defeat in subsequent assembly elections in the last two years has created serious doubts in popular mind about the Congress’s political future. After the Lok Sabha polls, it lost power in Haryana, Maharashtra, Kerala, Assam and partially in Jharkhand. In 2015 held Delhi assembly election, the Congress failed to win even a single seat.
Media and the Congress’ political opponents and enemies sought to put the blame on Rahul for the party’s defeat in the Lok Sabha as well as for the assembly elections though decisions were taken by the party’s high command. From all counts, he should not have been held responsible for the defeat of the party.
“Though it must be said that the Congress had faced anti-incumbency in all these states but an impression has come to stay in people’s perception that the party stands on a precipice staring at an unknown future.”
In absence of a communication and credible information of the party’s strategy and plan to effectively meet the challenge of the ruling BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a pall of gloom descended on party cadres, leaders and the sympathisers. The Bharatiya Janata Party and its leaders are not tired of repeating its promise of a Congress-mukt Bharat.
Though in democracy, ups and downs are the part and parcel of the life of political parties, yet threat to the Congress are indeed very real. In ordinary times, political parties are rejected by the people and they struggle and win back the popular affection to be back in the reckoning but situation today in the country is extraordinarily different.
Country today stands at a historical crossroad with settled issues being reopened. Newer national heroes and villains are being invented and older ones are being discarded. Values, symbols, icons are being transformed. History is being rewritten.
The BJP-led NDA government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi makes no secret of its agenda of creating a new India which will not be burdened by the historical baggage of long years of the Congress rule. The BJP and its leader said during the general elections campaign that it would give a Congress-mukt Bharat (Congress-Free India) and it is repeated even now without any reservation.
Last general elections in 2014 forced a paradigm shift in Indian politics when the 36- year- old Bhartatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a huge majority of 282 Lok Sabha seats and other national parties like the Congress and the Left suffered heavily with some exceptions. Even those exceptions, regional parties, which could retain their electoral base, had an association with the BJP in the past.
The BJP-led NDA was voted to power on the promise of development, better days, removal of corruption from public life and a Congress-mukt Bharat (a Congress-free India).
Fulfilment of its promise of a Congress-free India was one that carried maximum conviction of the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh and the BJP because this alone could perpetuate it in power and would help in pursuing its fundamental agenda of converting secular India into a Hindu India.
The RSS has known all these years that without discrediting the Congress resulting in its destruction it will never be able to achieve its goal of Hindutava and Hindu majority rule for which it has been working hard all these years. In the first decades of the independence, it was not only difficult but impossible to achieve its goal as majority of Indians were thankful to the Congress for its role in the freedom struggle,
Even then the RSS stuck with its agenda though it could not achieve much during the NDA government of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee possibly because of the personality of Vajpayee and the BJP not having absolute majority. Now time is opportune as Modi himself is convinced of the RSS agenda and that it why Ministries of Human Resource Development and Culture are working in close consultation and a covert understanding of the RSS.
By capturing the academic space and young minds, the RSS is hoping to rewrite the history of secular India and cleanse the popular minds of the Left dominated values and interpretations of history and sociology.
The Modi government’s strategy is to discredit the Nehru-Gandhi family by dragging them in court cases and running a media campaign against the family by selectively leaking confirmed and unconfirmed information against the top Congress leadership. Once the family is engaged and embroiled in court cases, the Congress would go in disarray and would not be in a position to fight the BJP in coming assembly elections and ultimately in the 2019 general elections.
Challenges are real but the question is whether the emerging Congress leadership is aware of the long term threats that the country is facing and whether they are capable to thwart the onslaught not only on its existence but to the national values which were inherited from the freedom struggle.
“Task for Rahul Gandhi, 44, is cut out which is difficult but not impossible. He will have to lead from the front and will have to make himself accessible to party cadres and leaders. At the same time, he will have to put the vast reservoir of experience of senior leaders of the party to constructive use in fighting the RSS-BJP propaganda machine which works overtime to project him as incapable ‘Pappu’.”
With the strength and energy of the young and experience of his seniors, he will have to evolve the party’s strategy to fight the toughest battle not only for the party but for the country.
The Congress, under Rahul’s unambiguous leadership, will face its first electoral test in Uttar Pradesh next year and for that he will have to lead from the front by either projecting himself as the chief ministerial face or by camping in the state foe 20 days a month till the last phase of the assembly election.
Whether the Congress remerges as a potential force or not, only future will tell but nothing is impossible and rather he should give his best.
Only time will tell, if the Congress re-emerges as a force to reckon with or will Rahul Gandh preside over its liquidation?
(Author is a Senior Fellow with Observer Research Foundation)