• Tanishque Gedam

Infirm, Negligent & Crippled: Congress’s Fall from Glory

The seven hour-long Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting which culminated in a 5-point resolution is bound to be this week’s political hot potato. The CWC reaffirmed its faith in a hesitant Sonia Gandhi who called for a “transition” in the party’s leadership. With the journalistic spotlight back on Congress and the walkover-like nature of the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP)’s back to back Lok Sabha victories, it becomes essential to delve into the recent shortcomings of India’s ‘Grand-Old Party’:

Leadership Fiasco

A hesitant Sonia and a supposedly “unwilling” Rahul Gandhi have led observers to question the status of the Sonia-Rahul duopoly over the Congress-command. While the CWC reiterated its trust in the Gandhi family, a closer look might reveal a larger problem. After 23 senior Congress leaders wrote to Sonia Gandhi; underlining a multitude of problems faced by the party, former Union Minister Kapil Sibal(one of the 23 leaders) responded angrily to an allegation of ‘collusion with the BJP’ by Rahul Gandhi. Sibal later withdrew his revolting tweet, and Rahul was given a clean chit of ‘never making such an allegation’.

Whether Rahul Gandhi’s allegation was planted or not, scathing criticism by Sibal indicates a lack of trust, and frustration with the Gandhi leadership, if not the creation of in-group & out-group based on an allegiance to the mother-son duo within the congress leadership. Once known as a grand agglomeration of opinions, thoughts & ideas, the Congress leadership has recently looked down upon dissidents within its machinery with increasing scepticism. Its failure to accommodate ambitious younger leaders has cost the party dearly. After Scindia switched camps & joined the BJP; leading to the collapse of the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh, the Congress closely dodged a double whammy when Sachin Pilot reconciled, after a month-long rebellion against Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. A repeat of the Madhya Pradesh episode was on the cards with reports claiming that Pilot was either about to join the BJP or form his own party.

Ideological Ambiguity & Lack of a Working Plan

Rahul’s temple visits or Priyanka Gandhi’s thumbs-up to the Ram Mandir Bhumipujan have failed to change Congress’s perception in the minds of Hindu voters who entrust the BJP. This lackadaisical affirmation of “Hinduness” as a response to the BJP’s seemingly bulletproof bhagwa-appeal falls flat as BJP appears as a more robust alternative to voters prioritising their Hindu-identity. Rahul Gandhi’s recent video conversations with academic stalwarts on migrant woes, the economy and the pandemic have helped him gain some traction in the virtual world. However, these efforts remain aloof from the complex world of the Indian “aam aadmi”.

With state elections coming up in Bihar & West Bengal, BJP has been quick to adapt to the coronavirus induced a shift to virtual rallies and online campaigning. It continues to strengthen its electoral prospects. On the other hand, the Congress has been relatively slow, leaving itself no option, but to play catch-up with the BJP. The BJP’s expansive Information Technology(IT) Cell has come to play a greater role during the lockdown in wooing support for the party. On the contrary, Congress’s online presence is comparatively underdeveloped and has a lesser reach; its IT Cell focuses more on highlighting the previously mentioned ‘Hinduness’ of the Congress leaders & engages in witty name-calling and criticism of governmental policies. However, it fails to portray its vision as a viable alternative to the BJP. The BJP’s agenda, despite multiple transitions: from Modi’s Vikas Purush appeal to a guarantor of national security & currently as the bulwark of Hindu Identity, has always been sound. Without a clearly defined ideology and a dedicated working plan, Congress’s legitimacy remains dwindling.

A New Approach?

With more than 3.1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, a downward-spiralling economy, abrogation of article 370, the Citizenship Amendment Act, the recent migrant crisis, Chinese aggression in Ladakh, rising communal disharmony, caste-related violence, floods in Maharashtra, Assam and Bihar; the Congress has several fronts to rally against the BJP. A revamping of its political image is necessary. But this can only happen after it resolves its internal struggles of leadership. It must build upon a well-defined ideological agenda akin to Indira Gandhi’s “Garibi Hatao” or Modi’s “Acche din” so that it could serve as a realistic alternative to the BJP. It must adapt to virtual & internet campaigning, and associate with the voters on ground-level issues. The “transition” that Sonia Gandhi called for in the CWC meeting should ideally mean the inclusion of younger politicians and reliable leadership. It is time that the Congress stops being a catalyst in the realisation of BJP’s “Congress-Mukt Bharat” dream.