Party on a steady slide in bigger states

Party on a steady slide in bigger states

Rajasthan is a state where the Congress and the BJP alternate for government formation, and often it has been a close race. It’s an historic low this time, just 21 out of 200 seats, with the BJP getting a four-fifths majority. The party had not done this bad even in the post-Emergency 1977 election when the Janata Party had decimated the Congress in North India – it had secured 49 seats in the Assembly elections. Now, along with Rajasthan, the Congress has lost Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Delhi too.

 

Clearly, this was not just about the failure of state governments alone. The poll outcome also signified the eruption of built-up anger against the Union government too. Congress president Sonia Gandhi has called for “deep introspection” and vice president Rahul Gandhi promised to be more “aggressive” on empowering the aam admi in the political structures, taking a leaf out of the Aam Admi Party book. But many Congressmen dismiss this as a set of Assembly elections which are not going to have a bearing on the coming Lok Sabha elections. They argue that the Congress had lost the Hindi heartland state elections in the winter of 2003 but had gone on to win the 2004 LS polls. What they forget is that in 2003, the BJP-led NDA was in power. This time it is the UPA, and the antipathy towards it was evident in the just-concluded Assembly polls. Many are predicting a “long winter” for the Congress this time. The party is faced not with a rag-tag of Opposition parties pulling in different directions, but a much more cohesive BJP led by a seemingly untiring Modi.  

Even more worrying, the Congress has weakened organisationally since 1970s. It is hardly in the picture in large states like Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Bihar which account for over 200 Lok Sabha seats. And Andhra Pradesh, which had catapulted it to victory both in 2004 and 2009, appears to be slipping out of its hands. The attempt to retrieve the situation by announcing a separate of Telengana is not proving to be easy. In Kerala too, the Congress has been losing ground, not to speak of the states which went to polls recently. The latest Assembly results can impact other Hindi heartland states where the BJP and the Congress face off - Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab and Maharashtra. 

Whenever the party weakens, its leadership comes under attack and already voices critical of the Congress brass are getting louder. Seeing the writing on the wall, it is not inconceivable that many may start to leave the party for greener pastures and join the BJP or the regional formations, particularly in UP and Bihar, which hold the key to the 2014 battle. How to stop this erosion is going to pose a major challenge to the Congress leadership in the weeks to come.

Already there are murmurs in the party about Rahul’s failure to lead from the front and take the party to victory. It is possible that the “empire” will now strike back, in other words the old guard may reassert, demanding a greater say in decision-making once again.  

One of the reasons why Rahul Gandhi has not made the grade, though not for want of trying or sincerity of intent, is that he is straddling two worlds. He is supposed to lead the mainline Congress organisation, but he has chosen to work through an alternative structure he has tried to put in place, which is a 20-year project.

On the face of it, the Congress is getting a beating everywhere due to unbridled price rise, which has done the party the maximum damage, and a host of scams which have robbed it of credibility. So, even as it has gone in for a rights-based framework, for which it will be remembered - the right to food being the latest in a line of measures which should have brought it electoral dividends - it is not cutting ice with people. The loss of credibility of the messenger has rendered the message ineffective. But at the heart of the problem lies an arrogance of power which led to complacency, and a refusal to read the writing on the wall, even today. 

Small wonder then that a party worker for 25 years, giving vent to his anguish and anger, said on the day of the recent poll results that unless the Congress leaders became accessible to people, there would  be “no one to light even the pyre of the party”. Or what a vegetable vendor who had voted Congress all his life remarked, “we do not know what the future holds, but the Congress has to be taught a lesson, or they will become unbearable.” 

(The writer is a political commentator based in New Delhi)

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