As we see the muscular rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party across the country, we are witnessing the atrophying of the Congress party.
This is neither good for India, nor democracy. But it is today’s reality.
Zero-sum outcomes are the worst option for the people. A strong Opposition, is the best means of ensuring that the Government of the day lives up to its promises.
Stuck: Congress chief Sonia Gandhi (left) and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi (right) will have a hard fight to reinvent the Grand Old Party, though it has been given new life in the past.
Unfortunately, the Congress is, to paraphrase an idiom, up a fast-flowing creek without a paddle. The depth of the Congress’s problems is evident from the party’s inability to come to grips with the problem of party leadership.
For structural reasons—primarily the fact that it is a proprietorial entity—this is the most critical problem for the party.
This was evident from the reactions to P. Chidambaram’s remark that a “non-Gandhi” could “someday” become president of the party.
Instead of a measured response, we had Gandhi loyalists like ex-Shipping Minister G.K. Vasan, declare no Congressman “from Kashmir to Kanyakumari” wanted a person “from the non-Gandhi clan” to be Congress president.
However, the issue has not died down and is not likely to do so.
On Monday, former Union Minister Subodh Kant Sahai said Rahul Gandhi was more of a social worker and was still some distance away from becoming a true politician. He added that Rahul’s policies and perspectives were not clear.
Sahai, who demanded that Sonia resume command of the party, was probably speaking as a worried and loyal Congressman because the state he comes from, Jharkhand, is going in for elections soon.
It would be a mistake to see this as a crisis of the Grand Old Party. Actually that Congress, the one that fought for independence, died in 1969 when Indira Gandhi split the party. The GOP died - and what survived became a proprietary of the Gandhi family.
This party has known many dark days. However, at each stage, it was able to turn the tables on the Opposition and re-emerge.
The first was 1967-1971 period when Indira Gandhi took a Left-ward swing and marginalised the old guard.
The second was following the party’s massive defeat in the General Elections of 1977 following the Emergency.
Here, Mrs Gandhi did not have to do much, but to sit back and watch as the Janata Party came apart and a disgusted electorate gave her a mandate to return in 1980.
The assassinations of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi in 1984 and 1991 respectively, altered the dynamics of the country’s politics and postponed what was a downward drift of the party.
But Rajiv’s assassination ensured that the party got enough seats to form a minority Government in New Delhi in 1991, under the leadership of PV Narasimha Rao.
Though the Government completed a full term, it was never quite stable. Top leaders like Sharad Pawar and Arjun Singh sought to destabilise it from within, and the infighting finally led to the defeat of the party in the 1996 General Elections - which brought about its third crisis.
After two years of experimenting with the leadership of “non-Gandhi” leaders, Sonia Gandhi finally took charge of the family party.
Under Sonia’s leadership since March 1998 it has won two consecutive victories in the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha polls, as well as many state assembly elections.
Indeed, in the wake of the 2009 victory, it looked as though it was the BJP which was headed for total eclipse.
The victory of 2004 was more of a negative vote against the BJP for the communal carnage in Gujarat and the fatuous “Shining India” slogan.
The 2009 Congress victory was an outcome of Manmohan Singh’s leadership in whose 2004-2009 term, the country had seen massive economic growth.
In some measure, though, it was the outcome of the BJP’s inability to present a credible policy platform.
However under the leadership of Modi, the roles have been reversed. It is the BJP which appears to have a coherent plan and direction, and the Congress looks leaderless and bankrupt of ideas.
As a result, the BJP has surged to form the first majority Government in India since 1989, and is now seeking to consolidate itself across the country by targeting state assembly elections in areas where it was marginal.
This short history reveals that you can either wait for your opponent to fumble, or attract the electors through a clear and credible plan of action. Modi benefited from both.
The Congress shot itself in the foot in the 2009-2014 period during which Modi systematically crafted a strategy and created an organisation to win over his party and the general elections.
The Congress’ first option is to wait for Modi to make mistakes. In that case, they may have to wait for long. Modi is not allowing the grass to grow under his feet, and is consolidating himself within the party, shaping it in his own image and ensuring that his flanks are well protected in the future.
The other option for the Congress is to come up with a plan of action to ensure that Modi’s BJP is not allowed to consolidate itself. But in a family party, it requires proprietors who can provide the requisite leadership.
The experience of the 1996-1998 period has shown that the Congress cannot function minus the Gandhis.
Wise words: Former Finance Minister Chidambaram advised Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi to 'speak more' in order to win back the support of the people
On the other hand, it requires the Gandhi in question to be bold and audacious like Indira, and to a lesser extent, Rajiv. But both Sonia and Rahul have revealed themselves to cautious and even pusillanimous.
Chidambaram’s advice that Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi “speak more” and put in action a timetable so that the party could play the role of “true opposition” is fairly sensible.
But by itself it is unlikely to achieve little.
Mail Today October 31, 2014