Congress in existential crisis after poll debacle - GulfToday

Congress in existential crisis after poll debacle

BRP Bhaskar

@brpbhaskar

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Rahul Gandhi

Rahul Gandhi

Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s resignation in the wake of the debacle in the Lok Sabha elections has landed the grand old party in a deep crisis.

When he offered his resignation at the party working committee’s first meeting after the elections, colleagues saw it merely as a gesture in acknowledgment of moral responsibility and thought he could be persuaded to withdraw it.

But he stood by the decision despite appeals by his mother, Sonia Gandhi, who is chairperson of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, as also leaders of UPA constituents.

Later, however, he agreed to stay on for a month to give the party time to find a replacement for him.

As putative successor of the Indian National Congress, which spearheaded the freedom movement, the party boasts of a history of 133 years, during which it faced and overcame many crises.

The present crisis assumes an existential character as in the post-Independence period the party was overly dependent upon the Nehru-Gandhi family.

Jawaharlal Nehru was party president for nine of his 17 years as Prime Minister and his daughter, Indira Gandhi, for seven of her 11 years. Her son, Rajiv Gandhi, was Prime Minister for five years and party president for six and a half years.

After Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, the family stayed out of politics for seven years.  His wife, Italian-born Sonia, accepted the post of president in response to insistent appeals by party leaders after it lost its primacy in the 1996 elections and faced the prospect of a split.

She held the post for a record 19 years. During this period the party led two United Progressive Alliance governments with Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister.

Rahul Gandhi entered the Congress leadership as General Secretary in 2007 and was appointed Vice-President in 2013.  He succeeded his mother as president two years ago.

Since coming to power in 2014, Narendra Modi has repeatedly called for a Congress-free India, viewing that party as the stumbling block in the way of the Bharatiya Janara Party’s goal of a Hindu nation.

Following Rahul Gandhi’s decision to step down, the Congress has been getting a lot of gratuitous advice from friends and foes on how to move forward.  

UPA constituents want him to stay and lead the party and the alliance. Non-political do-gooders want the party to use the opportunity to free itself from the family which, they assume, is an albatross around its neck.  

They overlook the fact that the family, which had withdrawn from politics after two of its Prime Ministers were assassinated, returned at the party’s request. Today the party needs the family more than the family needs the party.

While Rahul Gandhi, who emerged as Modi’s main challenger at the national level, could not prevent his return to power with an enhanced majority, he cannot be written off as a failure. In areas where the BJP and the Congress are the main contenders in elections, the former was able to maintain its primacy, despite loss of power to the latter in three states a few months earlier.

Significantly, the Congress could maintain its vote share and raise its strength in the Lok Sabha from 44 to 52. The BJP made gains mostly at the expense of other parties.

However, the strategy the Congress adopted under Rahul Gandhi is open to question. His bid to underline his Kashmiri Pandit ancestry and adoption of a soft line in the face of Hindutva violence did not enhance its appeal as a defender of Constitutional values.   

He made a fatal mistake in giving the party’s old guard, which is out of tune with current political realities, a big say in election matters in the crucial northern states.  Also, he did not work hard enough for electoral adjustments with parties which could help make up for the decline in the Congress’s support among Dalits, other backward classes and minorities.

Last week he said the party’s 52 members in the new Lok Sabha are enough to make the BJP jump every day.  But the main battlefield where issues of democracy and secularism will be settled is the larger Indian society, not Parliament.

Rahul Gandhi’s weaknesses and failings notwithstanding, the Congress does not appear to have a leader with better credentials than his to hold it together, build a young and forward-looking team and lead it in the fight to save secular democracy. 

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