The Congress Party called “Grand Old Party.” ruled the country for 55 out of 71 years since independence. But following the party’s crushing electoral debacle for a second time, there are questions about its future as the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty at its helm is unable to counter the most powerful leader India has produced in eras: Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
India’s oldest party is going through a leadership crisis. Over a month after Congress President Rahul Gandhi said he wished to quit as the party chief, over 130 Congress office bearers resigned from their individual posts to show solidarity with him. Some even threatened to protest outside the homes of other senior party office bearers in the days to come if the latter did not follow their example of quitting their respective posts and give Gandhi a “free hand” to restructure the party.
The battle within the Congress is gradually one between the party’s old guard and the young leadership. The sense among the younger leaders is that Gandhi’s hands need consolidation for him to purge several from the old guard to restructure the party. However, those in the old guard argue that Gandhi had led the party’s campaign from the front and most of the decisions were his.
Gandhi appointed Mohan Markam as head of the party’s Chhattisgarh unit replacing state Bhupesh Baghel since he is now the chief minister of the state. The Congress statement announcing the appointment said “Congress president has appointed” instead of the “AICC” that was being used in party statements effecting organisational changes since Gandhi’s decision to quit as party head.
At the first Congress Working Committee meeting after the poll results, Rahul Gandhi had announced his resignation but questioned senior leaders Kamal Nath, Ashok Gehlot and some others for not putting in their best effort to ensure the party’s success. The Congress currently has governments in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Punjab and Puducherry and runs a coalition government in Maharashtra. Many think thanks take this phase of Congress as rebooting the party while others question the existence of it in the near future.
If we look at the history of the Congress party after independence, the defeat of Indira Gandhi in 1977, the Congress party under Indira Gandhi rose like a phoenix in 1980. The party continued to rule till 1989. Though Rajiv Gandhi won in 1984 because of a sympathy wave after the death of Indira Gandhi with a massive majority, he could not sustain it in 1989. Again in 1991 Congress came back to power and formed a minority government because of the sympathy factor. Though its performance was exemplary under Narasimha Rao, it could not come back to power mainly because of lack of a popular mass leader. Again in 2004, Congress came back to power because of the efforts of Sonia Gandhi.
Congress lost elections in 1977, 1989, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2014. All the elections it lost were due to major gaffes like imposition of emergency or huge corruption scandals or for want of a charismatic leader Congress could win the first four elections till 1967 because of the participation of Congress leaders in the freedom movement and the goodwill people had for the Congress. It won the 1971 election because of the charismatic leadership of Indira Gandhi. The spectacular victory of 1984 and that of 1991 were because of sympathy votes. In 2004, the Congress did not increase its seats, in fact it came down from 158 to 145. Still, the party formed the government because BJP performed badly winning only 138 seats. Though the Congress could win 207 seats in 2009, it could not get a majority. Then there was a division in the Congress in 1969 when many leading Congress leaders who were part of the freedom movement left the party. It was at this point of time the nationalism of the Congress, which was its prerogative, started moving away from the party. Also Congress by the nationalisation of the Banks, abolition of privy purses to erstwhile rulers and its socialism pushed themselves towards the left. Emergency was the culmination of all these for which the party had to pay a heavy price. Hitherto, till 2009, the Congress maintained some responsibility both in the number of seats as well as vote percentages. However, in 2014 securing 44 seats, the party looks more like a regional party rather than a national one. Ideologically too, Congress is confused about where it stands. While in power, it followed liberalisation and open market, but now it is projecting itself as left of center.
This ideological moorings and the confusion that emanate from the same, is hurting the party. At present Indian people are at home with liberalisation of economy and privatisation.
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