“The Congress must die. If it could not stop the BJP in this election to save the idea of India, this party has no positive role in Indian history. Today it represents the single biggest obstacle to creation of an alternative.”
These were the stinging words of Swaraj India Chief Yogendra Yadav soon after exit polls in 2019 predicated another huge win for Narendra Modi and the BJP in the general election.
At that time, Yadav faced a huge pushback from congress supporters who felt his comments were exaggerated and out of line. Today, nearly two years after that election, the Congress party is still floundering, unsure of who its leader is, unsure of what it stands for, and unsure of the road ahead. The upcoming state elections are another test for the party, where it has been reduced to a side show in states where it once played a key role.
In Kerala, from where Rahul Gandhi is an MP, the Congress has faced internal dissent and defections days before the polls. Senior leader PC Chacko quit the congress this week citing “no democracy” in the party and blaming factionalism for driving him out. Party leaders from Rahul Gandhi’s Wayanad constituency also quit and also pointed to “groupism” as a big concern.
Not in the driver's seat
In Bengal, the Congress has significantly weakened over the years and is only a bit player; while in Tamil Nadu its ally, the DMK, is clearly in the driver’s seat.
That leaves Assam, the only state where the party is putting up some sort of a fight against the BJP through strategic alliances. Recent polls suggest the battle in Assam, which was considered totally one sided some time ago, has got closer.
Despite the BJP’s powerful mandate at the centre, the party has lost several state elections, proving that it does not have a stranglehold on state politics. They lost Delhi, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan, MP, Jharkhand, Punjab but the Congress just hasn’t been able to capture the national narrative despite this.
The party has ended up losing three state governments in the last three years instead, from Karnataka, to Madhya Pradesh and now Puducherry. There is no doubt that the BJP’s money and muscle power is disproportionate but there is also a lack of fight and resolve within the congress which is drifting along, totally at sea.
In the recent civic polls in Gujarat, the Congress was decimated while the Aam Aadmi party emerged as the number two to the BJP. It is perhaps another sign that the Congress is no longer seen as a viable alternative to the BJP and that regional forces will be left to take on Narendra Modi instead.
Since it is difficult for such disparate forces to come together at the national level, it remains advantage BJP at the centre. And that is why the Congress’ survival is important, given its pan India presence. But it’s showing no signs of putting up a serious fight.
Who will lead the Congress party?
The most basic question the congress has been grappling with, is still up in the air — who will lead the party? The “will he, won’t he” Rahul Gandhi drama has been unending and is now frankly the most boring political story in the country.
Senior party leaders have written to Sonia Gandhi last year, (they are called the G23) beseeching her for change but most of those who’ve spoken out against the party’s decline have been given the cold shoulder.
Top Congress leaders, including Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and Kapil Sibal have not been named in the party’s list of star campaigners for the first phase of assembly polls in West Bengal despite their willingness to campaign.
Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are aggressive, 24x7 politicians. They can’t be fought part time, or merely on Twitter.
It is true that Rahul Gandhi has been consistent in his ideological criticism of the BJP and the RSS, and it is also true that while the BJP dismisses Rahul Gandhi in public, they also react very strongly to every comment he makes, often sending out an army of central ministers to face the media to take him on. But Rahul Gandhi needs to decide if he’s here full time.
And even if he isn’t, the Congress needs to take a risk and elect a leadership beyond the Gandhis. It needs to decisively decide what it stands for. Soft Hindutva doesn’t work. Who wants the B team when the A team has such a strong game?
In the process the Congress took ambivalent stands on issues like Article 370 despite this being a legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru. If the Congress can’t sort this out sooner than later, then Yogendra Yadav was right. It must die and let a new alternative emerge.