Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi Image Credit: AP

Diehard political animals, people who observe politics like a spectator sport with all its thrills, live for moments of intrigue. Political animals try to understand what exactly is going on, could be going on, behind the scenes of a drama not yet fully apparent.

The Congress party these days is figuring out how to assuage the egos of 23 soft rebels, and then make someone the next President of the Congress party. Normally, political animals would be very curious to understand what’s going on.

But by now, the waning interest in the Congress party has reached such a low point that nobody even cares to speculate what’s going on. There aren’t many stories about what’s happening in the closed door parleys, who’s playing what games, who the palace intrigue is favouring.

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The Congress party is a story now utterly boring. The biggest crisis for the Congress is not who the president should be but that nobody even cares. Over the years people have suggested various names who could revive the party: Nitish Kumar, Sharad Pawar, Ashok Gehlot, Sachin Pilot, Amarinder Singh, Priyanka Gandhi.

Then there are those who say that Rahul Gandhi is the real boss, the heir apparent already calling the shots, so it is he who should be president so that there is complete clarity and no dual power centres.

Yet the Congress’ irrelevance in national politics is now so deep that we need to think more radically. Maybe they should make the lion of Karnataka who doesn’t fear Amit Shah, namely DK Shivakumar, the Congress president. Just getting the media and public attention would be enough for the Congress for now, so maybe they need someone with the gift of the gab, like Shashi Tharoor. At least he’ll make the headlines.

Nobody wants to be Congress president

Truth is that nobody wants to be Congress president. Even Sonia Gandhi likes to be “interim” president. Neither Rahul Gandhi nor Priyanka seem to be very keen.

No Congress chief minister wants to leave a post of power and wear a crown of thorns. There is no silver lining, no light at the end of the tunnel, no forthcoming elections which you could win and claim success.

The Congress party has been accused of single-handedly making the opposition alliance lose Bihar. It has recently performed badly in local civic polls in Jammu & Kashmir in the north and Kerala in the south. Elections in Kerala are due in May 2021 and as things stand, for the first time in 55 years, the incumbent government may return to a consecutive term in power.

This is a state from where Rahul Gandhi is MP, and his top aide KC Venugopal is also from Kerala. This is a state that gave the Congress 15 of 20 seats in the general elections last year; its allies had won another 4.

The Congress is also doing very poorly in Assam and Bengal, where elections will be held in May along with Kerala. In the same election cycle, Tamil Nadu will likely see the DMK-Congress alliance voted into power. However, after the Congress’ poor performance as a junior ally in Bihar, the DMK will make sure the Congress contests as few seats as possible in Tamil Nadu.

The Congress has a chief minister in the union territory of Puducherry, and if anti-incumbency cycles have their way, the Congress should lose Puducherry.

Under Priyanka Gandhi’s absentee leadership the Congress is doing so poorly in Uttar Pradesh that she will soon need to look for a face-saving exit. In recently held by polls in the state, the party performed miserably.

Compensate for losses

Even if anti-incumbency cycles give the Congress governments in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, it will hardly compensate for the losses the Congress could see in Punjab, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

The political situation in Punjab is in such a flux that we can’t say anything for now, except that Amarinder Singh made impossible promises to win the state in 2017 that he hasn’t been able to keep. Rajasthan anyway sees governments alternate, and Chhattisgarh is a BJP stronghold they could well win back in 2023.

The point of this admittedly speculative assessment, based on extant realities, is that there is no hope for any semblance of Congress revival. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, most of the Congress’ 55 seats came from 2 states, Punjab and Kerala. Since the anti-incumbency cycles will turn in these states, it is bound to not do that well here. As things stand, it is difficult to see why the BJP won’t sweep the Hindi heartland again, and then some. The Congress may not even win the 44 seats it did in 2014.

For these reasons, anyone who becomes Congress president will have the most unenviable job. The underlying implication is that nobody thinks there could be a turnaround. Nobody, especially within the Congress, thinks the Congress has any ability to turn around a difficult situation and win a difficult election. It’s a chicken and egg problem: they don’t try because they know they’re going to fail, so they fail even more miserably.

Shivam Vij
Image Credit: Gulf News 2020