Congress Party ruled the country for 55 out of 71 years since independence. However, 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.t was India’s “Grand Old Party.” The
India’s oldest party is going through leadership crises. Over a month after Congress President Rahul Gandhi said that he wished to quit as the party chief, over 130 Congress office bearers resigned from their individual posts to show harmony with him. Some 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 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 the head of the party’s Chhattisgarh unit, replacing Bhupesh Baghel since he is now the Chief Minister of the state. The Congress statement announcing the appointment said that “Congress President has appointed” instead of the “AICC” that was being used in party statements affecting 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 the 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 Karnataka. Many think this phase of Congress as rebooting the party and others question the existence of it in the near future.
If we look at the history of the Congress, after independence, the defeat of Indira Gandhi in 1977, the Congress party under Indira Gandhi rose like Phoenix, in 1980. Congress continued to rule till 1989. Though Rajiv Gandhi won in 1984 because of 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 the lack of a popular mass leader. Again in 2004, Congress came back to power because of the efforts of Sonia Gandhi.
The Congress lost elections in 1977, 1989, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2014, and 2019. All the elections it lost are due to major gaffes like the imposition of emergency or huge corruption scandals or for want of a charismatic leader. The 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. The 1971 election was won because of the charismatic leadership of Indira Gandhi. The spectacular victories of 1984 and that of 1991 are because of sympathy votes.
In 2004, Congress did not increase its seats. In fact, it reduced from 158 to 145. It still formed the government because BJP performed badly winning only 138 seats. Though the Congress could win 207 seats in 2009, could not get a majority. The Congress got divided in 1969 and many leading Congress leaders who were part of freedom movement left the party. It was at this period the nationalism of the Congress, which was its prerogative, started moving away from the party. Also the Congress, by its nationalisation of Banks, the abolition of privy purses to erstwhile rulers, and its socialism, pushed themselves towards the left. An emergency was the culmination of all these and the party had to pay a heavy price. Hitherto till 2009, Congress maintained some responsibilities both in the number of seats as well as vote percentages.
However, in 2014, securing only 44 seats, the party looked more like a regional party rather than a national one. Ideologically too the Congress is confused about where it stands. While in power followed liberalisation and open market but now projecting itself as left of centre.
This ideological moorings and the confusion that emanates from the same, is hurting the party. At present, Indian people are at home with the liberalisation of economy and privatisation. It is in the fitness of time, that Congress changes itself to suit the aspirations of the people. Congress may not completely be eliminated. However, it will slowly fade away unless its leaders take corrective steps.
The Congress may argue that it was able to capture power in 2004 but “the Congress of 2004” and “the Congress of 2019” are two different entities. The Congress of 2004 was not dubbed a corrupt party at that time. Sonia being new to politics, no negativity got attached to her. The public did not know her son-in-law’s corruption yet. Her son just entered the politics and his inefficiency was not yet public.
The Congress was in power in quite a few states but in 2019, the ball game is completely different. The Congress is in power in six states constituting 6 per cent of the country. In many big states, it has been pushed to margins or lost relevancy. Above all, the Congress has to confront Modi–Shah duo who are formidable opposition. The electoral politics also have changed remarkably putting the onus more on leadership and its strategy. The demanding scenario requiring the leadership to be proactive is too much for the party. How it faces the situation will be clear only in the upcoming state elections. However, it is reducing and it is apparent.
(The later part will continue tomorrow.)
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