On a losing spree, Cong finds itself at the crossroads

After yet another round of electoral defeats, the Congress finds itself at the crossroads on the path it has to pursue in the future.

The recent statements by senior leaders such as P Chidambaram, Digivijay Singh or even Hansraj Bharadwaj reflect the confusion within the demoralised party preparing for another set of tough elections.

In the midst of a series of defeats, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi appears to have focussed on his long term goal of rebuilding the party organisation.

Senior leaders argue that there have never been serious attempts to strengthen the party since the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. Rahul has picked up the gauntlet and shown determination to fulfil his father’s dream of restoring the Congress to its past glory.

However, not many of the present set of top leaders have the luxury that 44-year-old Rahul has. A majority of leaders occupying key party positions today, do not see active political role for themselves beyond the next five or 10 years.

It is their desire to remain relevant that drives them to suggest alternative routes for revival of the Congress.

AICC General Secretary Digvijay Singh was first off the block suggesting the Congress leadership to reach out to Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar and Trinamool Congress with merger offers.

A merger with the splinter groups of the party is seen as one way of strengthening the party in regions where it is weak.

A section of the leaders believes that this could be a way of countering the aggressive BJP which is spreading its roots far and wide. However, such an approach needs to be coupled with encouraging strong regional leaders and decentralisation of the decision making process in the party.

Another option before the party is to strike tactical alliances with regional players in states where it has minimal presence. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand are the battle ground states where the Congress has minimal presence.

It could strike alliances with regional outfits and work towards building the organisation simultaneously. Such alliances could take the party to power, though riding piggyback on regional outfits.

The BJP had adopted a similar approach by aligning with the JD (U) in Bihar, Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, Akali Dal in Punjab and a clutch of smaller outfits in Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.

The BJP has severed ties with the JD (U) and Shiv Sena after registering a better winning rate in the assembly elections than its once senior partners. In Maharashtra, it won almost double the seats than the Shiv Sena and formed the government earlier this month.

At present, the party appears divided on the course it wants to pursue. Leaders close to Rahul say he is single-minded in his approach to rebuild the organisation in the long term and is working to a plan.

On the other hand, the Congress tried out a grand alliance with JD (U) and RJD against Modi in the byelections in Bihar. The experiment paid good results and is being replicated in neighbouring Jharkhand.

JD regrouping

In the meanwhile, the erstwhile Janata Dal has begun efforts to re-group under the leadership of former Bihar CM Nitish Kumar.

The coming together of six parties – SP, JD (U), RJD, JD (S), INLD and the Samajwadi Janata Party could prove to be a formidable opposition to the Modi-led BJP which is on an upswing in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, two states that together send 120 members to the Lok Sabha.

The Congress is yet to respond to these developments and has chosen to adopt a wait and watch approach.

It is against this backdrop that senior Congress leaders such as Digvijay Singh and Chidambaram are urging the leadership to adopt a proactive approach in choosing the future direction of the party.

A section of party veterans strongly feel that Rahul, the future leader, should be more pragmatic in his approach and address the immediate needs of the party.

Their anxiety is not misplaced given Modi’s electoral pitch of ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’. The BJP is expected to renew the call in the poll campaign for the assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand and later in Delhi.

The situation the Congress finds itself in today is not alien to political parties. The BJP faced, more or less, a similar situation after its defeat in the Lok Sabha elections in 2009.

However, a good omen for the BJP was the absence of dynastic politics and the presence of strong regional leaders.

After initial bouts of blame game and demoralising, a confident Narendra Modi took centre-stage and brought the BJP to power again.

A major handicap for the Congress today is the absence of strong regional leaders who could step forward and steer the party in this moment of crises. But, the Congress itself has to be blamed for its sorry state.

It was Indira Gandhi’s ambition to control the levers of the government and the party organisation that led her to clip the wings of regional leaders and make them bow before the ‘high command’.

This high command structure could serve well till a strong leader such as Indira Gandhi was at the helm. The circumstances in which Rajiv Gandhi assumed the leadership role never raised questions on his acceptability as a leader.

The emergence of Rahul at the helm of Congress affairs comes at a time when the party stands discredited after being in power for a decade and a resurgent BJP determined to out do it.

Senior leaders will continue giving unsolicited advice to the leadership till it takes firm decisions on the path the Congress should take to come out of the crisis.

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