The first jolt to the Congress came when Jawaharlal Nehru expired in 1964. Then everyone in Congress was asking only one question: “Who after Nehru?” Nehru was the tallest national leader of the party and India itself and his death created a vacuum in the political space which he had been holding for the last 17 years since the independence of the country. The party positioned Lal Bahadur Shastri as India’s second prime minister but not for long. He died suspiciously at Tashkent in 1966.
With the death of the two prime ministers in quick succession, the Congress party which had previously been able to win constituencies based solely on the charisma of its leaders, could no longer do so at least at the regional level. The fight within the party was increasing. The tide finally turned in the 1967 elections that was held from February 15 to 22. Of the 16 states, only eight returned Congress to power with absolute majorities in the state legislatures.
Equally bad was the rout of the Congress’s top leadership. Seven members of Indira Gandhi’s cabinet at the Centre were defeated. The presidents of the Congress party in six states also lost along with the chief ministers in four states. Congress was clearly losing its touch as the party started showing the first signs of a break. The party was divided into many factions like Indian National Congress (I), Indian National Congress (O), Bharatiya Kranti Dal, Utkal Congress and Bangla Congress. Many of these factions later became defunct as they merged with the Janata Party during the Emergency. The future of the Congress party then lay in the hands of the people who were qualified to lead it. There were many more of these sorts. The future of the Congress Party is bright when it stops targeting the PM! And focus on the ample more MLAs and MPs that it can target. In a hunting expedition, the animal would fall prey to the hunter if it behaves and follows the trails that the hunter sets to nab it down. The Congress party is behaving like ‘the animal’ in this case. The PM has been in public for more than 2/3rds of his life span and is very sound in predicting human behaviour. The Congress party contradicts him in either ‘wrong’ subjects or falls into his trap. This has happened numerous times. The future of the Congress Party lies in India’s Development. (And the future of India’s Development is also positively correlated with the Congress party’s survival). The Congress party was sleeping under the morning sun while BJP made its name synonymous with ‘Good Governance’ and ‘Development’.
But now, it’s high time to wake up and communicate! India is the fastest growing economy in the world today! And this is not merely because of the NDA’99 or the BJP’14 government. But this surely is because of economic reforms in 1991-1992. There are many constructive steps like this that they could put up in front of people in a better way.
In the same way, they could counter BJP’s Development agenda by putting up a Better Development Agenda instead of mocking the parliament sessions.
If this happens, people will start having a confidence in the Congress party even when the BJP remains in power at the Centre and in majority of the states. Despite the challenges, Indira Gandhi who was mockingly referred to as “Goongi Gudiya”, emerged as a strong and decisive leader under whose leadership India won a decisive war against Pakistan in 1971. The war resulted in Congress reclaiming its place as the most dominant player in the Indian political system so much so that its power became increasingly unchecked. In a democracy, a government with unchecked power is quite problematic.
In 2004, the Congress made a comeback again in quite an astonishing fashion by defeating the incumbent BJP in power. The Congress would spend the next decade fully in control of India’s central government. This decade, especially the second half was marred by corruption. Telecom, railways, coal, land, sports, and various other ministries saw their names tarred under charges of corruption. Popular resentment against the regime grew prevalent among the public due to the increasing corruption within the government and the party’s inability to take any affirmative action against it. The then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was largely seen as a weak leader who couldn’t take tough action against corrupt members within his party and government. As a result, the party lost pathetically in the 2014 general elections where it won just 44 seats in the Lok Sabha out of the 543 up for grabs — an all-time low. Since then, the party still hasn’t settled into a new role. It has been losing election after election across many states in India. The most notable recent loss came in Uttar Pradesh the most populated state in India where the party got just seven seats in an assembly of 403 seats.
Most political observers are of the opinion that Congress lacks a genuine mass leader of which it used to have in dozens in its glory days. The vice president of the party, Rahul Gandhi, has been somewhat of a laughing stock due to his lack of leadership skills and his inability to win elections.
To sum up, the Congress has lost its sheen and doesn’t look to be in a position to even pose a challenge to the current BJP regime. If it manages to do so, the party would be pulling a rabbit out of a hat! Worryingly, the demise of Congress means the demise of a balanced political system in India. The Congress and the BJP, the two most dominant powers, used to balance off each other in Indian politics. With this balance lost, a newly emergent “BJP System” is replacing the earlier Congress system. At no time in the history of the party, the Congress has won an election either on the issue of development or on positive issues.
Right now, Congress does not have any charismatic leader who can convincingly bring victory to the party. Also, Congress has over the years right from Indira Gandhi has demolished all institutions within the party by nominating figureheads. Thereby, leadership development was buried once and for all. To revive them is not possible with the present set of leadership. It took hundred years to develop them, but took only 30 years to demolish them.
Also Read: Demise of Congress means the death of balanced politics in India – Part II
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