Congress party in process of re-inventing itself - GulfToday

Congress party in process of re-inventing itself

BRP Bhaskar


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

Rahul Gandhi walks with his supporters in Kurnool city of Andhra Pradesh.

Rahul Gandhi walks with his supporters in Kurnool city of Andhra Pradesh.

Will the 2024 Lok Sabha elections see a turnaround in the fortunes of the Indian National Congress, which has been down and out since 2014? This is a question that arises as the party is in the process of re-inventing itself.

Speaking after a meeting of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s national executive a few months ago, Home Minister Amit Shah, who is its chief election strategist, said it would win again in 2024, and the next 40 to 50 years would be BJP era. The long-term projection he made can be dismissed as wishful thinking or propaganda aimed at demoralising its rivals.

Unfortunately, the Congress, which has grave organisational weaknesses, is an easy victim of such psychological warfare.

There is a general impression that the Congress party’s 2019 electoral performance was dismal. It could not, of course, stop the BJP from bettering its position in that election. But the Congress party’s own performance was not disastrous, as media analysts tried to make out.

A party’s poll performance is normally judged by comparing it with that of its rivals and to its own previous performance.

In 2014 the BJP had seized power, winning 282 seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha with a vote share of 31.00 per cent. The Congress got 44 seats with 19.31 per cent votes. In 2019 the BJP retained power with more seats (303) and more votes (37.30 per cent).

The BJP did not make gains at the expense of the Congress.

In fact, the Congress was able to make some small gains: it secured more seats (52) and slightly more votes (19.47 per cent) than in the previous election. Yet the party leadership accepted the spin masters’ account.

The Congress performance did not really call for an act of atonement on the part of Rahul Gandhi who had taken over as party president groom his mother, Sonia, before the election. Yet he resigned. That was a fine gesture. He made a mistake in not withdrawing his resignation in response to calls from party men.

His failure to do so left the party headless for more than three years. Sonia Gandhi, who came back as acting president, was battling a disease and could not devote adequate attention to party affairs.

Rahul Gandhi made things worse for the party by functioning as an extra-constitutional authority and taking some decisions which did more harm than good.

All that is a matter of the past now. The party is in the process of change.

The Gandhis found it necessary to concede the demand for a Congress President from outside the family. Malikarjuna Kharge, who has been elected president, is a Gandhi family loyalist and was widely believed to have had the family’s support.

Shashi Tharoor, who opposed Kharge, has alleged that, contrary to the directions of the returning officer, some state party units, had acted in favour of Kharge. It is unfortunate that the party gave room for such an allegation.

A large section of Congressmen have an emotional link with the Gandhi family. It will, therefore, continue to be a force to reckon with in the party.

Both Kharge and the Gandhis must realise that the process of democratisation of the party, which has just begun, needs to go forward smoothly to make the Congress a fit instrument to meet today’s challenges. The process will be defeated if party men and the public come to view Kharge as a mere family acolyte.

The dissident group which raised the demand for democratic changes in the organisation, must see what has happened so far as the first steps in that direction. They must realistically accept that the party can benefit from the Gandhi family’s continued association with it.

As the only pan-Indian party that can take on the BJP at the national level, the Congress, still has a key role to play. It needs to take steps urgently to breathe new life into the United Progressive Alliance, which has been in a moribund state for some time. It must explore the scope for expanding the alliance to make it fully representative of all secular and democratic forces. It has just a year to complete the mission.

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