Since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) assumed office in New Delhi in 2014, its juggernaut has mauled and bruised the opposition, particularly the Congress party. Secular parties, especially the Congress, has not yet found any way to combat Modi, despite the government handing issue after issue to the opposition.
Despite unemployment at all-time high and inflation and prices of essential commodities breaking through the ceiling, dissensions within the opposition and its inability to put up credible resistance have left an average Indian citizen with very few options. As a result, despite having only 37 per cent of the vote share, the BJP continues to enjoy an absolute majority.
In an electoral democracy like the one in India, political parties live from one election to another. With elections held multiple times in the federal system, no sooner does one election gets over, strategy and planning for the next one begins. During the past seven years of BJP rule in India, elections have been taken more seriously than affairs of the government, as this politically ambitious party aspires to paint the entire nation saffron.
Amidst all this, India’s largest and oldest political party, which is now the largest opposition, is missing from the political scene. Better late than never. The Congress party is now looking at the prospects of a political revival ahead of five crucial assembly polls next year and the general election in 2024.
In its much-awaited Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting held on October 16, the party finally cleared the leadership issue and put a stop to the dissenting voices.
Better late than never. The Congress party is now looking at the prospects of a political revival ahead of five crucial assembly polls next year and the general election in 2024
Congress has remained headless for more than three years now, ever since it faced an electoral defeat in the 2019 general elections. Under Rahul Gandhi, the party has lost two consecutive elections. The largest and the oldest political party was reduced to less than 50 seats in the house of 545. After the 2019 routing, Rahul quit the post of the party president and asked CWC to choose a new leader. Instead of choosing a full-fledged president, the acolytes appointed his mother Sonia Gandhi as acting or an interim president till the intra-party elections were held.
Suffocation Of Veteran Congress Leaders
Under Rahul Gandhi, veteran Congressmen, who belonged to the old guard and had worked with Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, were ignored. This group of 23 senior leaders, who acted as a pressure group, came out openly last year and asked Sonia Gandhi for an organizational rejig.
Congress insiders believe that this senior line of leadership, which includes leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Kapil Sibal, Shashi Tharoor and Raj Babbar, have been unhappy with Rahul Gandhi and his style of leadership; he is perceived to be the one making all major party decisions, despite quitting the post of the president.
So, when Sonia Gandhi called the CWC meetings last week, these leaders hoped that things would take a positive turn. But instead of calling for an internal party election, Sonia Gandhi announced, “I am a full time and hands-on party president,” putting all speculations to rest.
Under Rahul Gandhi, veteran Congressmen, who belonged to the old guard and had worked with Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, were ignored
While making this statement, Sonia struck two birds with one stone. “She proved to everyone that there is no distinction between mother Sonia and party president Sonia,” explains Rasheed Kidwai, author and senior journalist who has written three books on the Congress party.
Sonia not only took charge of the party but also saved her son Rahul from any further embarrassment. The dissenters who were unhappy with Rahul’s style were satisfied to find Sonia as their full-time permanent leader and the question of the internal election too was put to bed. “G23 members hold Sonia in the highest regard. She helped them win two elections,” Kidwai added.
The party has once again pinned its hope on the Gandhi family. Despite experiencing several political debacles, the Congressmen did what they have been doing for generations. They have again failed to look beyond a family.
Identity Crises Without Nehru-Gandhis
When veteran BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani lost two consecutive elections in 2004 and 2009, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) replaced him with Narender Modi in the 2014 elections and assured its electoral success. But this has not been the case with the Congress, which faces an existential and identity crisis without the Nehru-Gandhi family.
“Since Independence in 1947, the family has been at the helm of affairs. Jawahar Lal Nehru continued as long as he was alive, Indira carried on his legacy and despite internal crises managed to stay on. Then her sons Rajiv and Sanjay filled the gap. Sonia, even while staying out of the party formally for a long time, enjoyed the support of the Congressmen and so managed to hold the party together,” explained another senior Delhi based journalist covering the Congress.
A leaf that the Congress party has pulled out from RSS-BJP’s notebook is that instead of its secular character, Congress too has begun to project itself as a party closed to Hindus, though its Hindutva is softer than that of the BJP. Both Priyanka and Rahul have gradually started to abandon its loyalist Muslim vote bank and are engaging in mandir (temple) politics.
But Kidwai sees nothing wrong in it. Explaining the Congress party’s ideological position, he says, “Unlike BJP or the Communists, Congress has never had a clear-cut ideology. It has evolved with time. Post-independence, Congress was a secular party and believed in having a socialist kind of economy set up. But with time, they introduced privatisation and brought about economic reforms. And when the whole world is engaging in politics driven by the right wing, it becomes important for Congress to make itself relevant. It has probably come to this realization, that Muslim votes alone cannot bring them electoral success.”
But not everyone agrees with Kidwai. Political analyst Iftikhar Gilani believes that by abandoning its loyal vote bank, Congress will not get the Hindu votes. “Hindus have found its shore in the BJP, so a soft Hindutva position will be of no help to Congress, for the staunch Hindu voters will never vote for them.”
But amid all the debate and discussion within the CWC, everyone agrees that an internal party election and any new party president was irrelevant if the party failed to get electoral success. And so instead of making more headlines because of the crises within the party, the party has reached a consensus of putting its heads and heart together to stop the BJP.