The ongoing Rajasthan Government crisis and recent departure of young leaders like Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia from Indian National Congress, once an invincible political powerhouse has sparked the debate on existential crisis being faced by the party on verge of extinction. The electoral map of India has almost turned saffron with Congress party’s presence being left in just 5 states and one Union territory.
This downhill journey started with the 2014 general elections that gave the nation a legendary leader Narendra Modi starting a wave of Congress free India. The primary reason for the party’s defeat in 2014 was its alleged involvement in numerous scams and inability of the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to take strict actions against corrupt members within his party and government. The party president, Sonia Gandhi’s hesitation to claim prime ministership in 2004 general elections showed party’s lack of a succession plan and forward thinking and became a major factor contributing to a strong anti-incumbency wave against the Congress in favor of the BJP PM candidate Narendra Modi.
Despite witnessing an all-time low vote share of 20% in 2014 general elections, Sonia Gandhi continued as the party president and handed over the role to her son Rahul Gandhi in 2017. This attracted strong criticism of dynastic politics from outside and even within the party. However, owing to his own lack of political intelligence and leadership skills demonstrated by flawed campaign ran by Rahul in 2019 general elections, where instead of attacking the ruling party on its policies and failures during the tenure, he kept on charging prime minister with personal corruption, Congress party faced a humiliating defeat. Rahul even lost his own seat of Amethi, up till now a safe seat held by him, and resigned from the party presidency, which was accepted by Congress Working Committee (CWC) after much drama, with Sonia Gandhi coming to his rescue becoming party president again in August 2019. This approach of CWC that only a Gandhi successor can or should lead it did not go well with many senior members. Most political observers are of the opinion that Congress lacks a strong leader and workable structure.
Besides, many thinkers believe that the party should work on its decision making capability and pro-active crisis and conflict management to resolve internal disputes amicably. In the 2017 assembly elections for Goa and Manipur, despite emerging as the single-largest party in both states, the apathy and indecisiveness of CWC favored BJP in grabbing victory from its lap. In words of former Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi about Sonia Gandhi “She takes a long time in taking decisions because she prefers to arrive at a consensus.”
Many senior congressmen believe that this is not yet a terminal decline and party can still be revived by:
In a recent debate with India Today, Shashi Tharoor, Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram said that:
“The dissidence that brought down our governments in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh and has shaken the government in Rajasthan reflects the difficulty of keeping the flock together in the face of the BJP’s unprincipled wielding of money power and the ambitions of individual leaders.. It’s not so much reinvention that is needed, but revival, based on reaffirmation of what we stand for, energizing the party organization in places where it has atrophied, clear and decisive leadership at all levels, infusion of fresh faces and creative ideas, and some institutional reforms”.
It seems that Congress now has put all her hopes with 2022 state assembly election under guidance of yet another fifth-generation dynast, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the general secretary of the All India Congress Committee in charge of Eastern Uttar Pradesh; but before that the party needs to work cohesively on three fronts: leadership, organizational and ideological. The demise of Congress in India would mean an imbalanced political system with no strong opposition to discuss and criticize government policies. Rigorous examination and self-introspection of the causes of defeat, laying down corrective measures and drawing a revival road-map is imperative to make Congress a worthy contestant for 2024 general elections.