Where does Cong go from here?

The destruction of the Congress across the country in the Lok Sabha elections was as big and comprehensive as the victory of the BJP was humongous and unprecedented. It has been decimated in most parts of the country, and wherever it has survived it is because of fortuitous circumstances, as in Kerala, or because of alliances, as in Tamil Nadu. It was able to hold its own only in Punjab, and the party’s national leadership can take no credit for that. The Congress, which calls itself a national party, has drawn a blank in 18 states and union territories and was unable to even put up a fight in the three states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh which it had won just a few months ago. Party president Rahul Gandhi himself lost his seat in Amethi and the last hope of the party, Priyanka Gandhi, was unable to make any impact. 

It is difficult to imagine where the Congress goes from here, what it can do about itself and how it can be reactivated, if at all. The party has never held its leadership accountable for its failures, and even in the face of such a massive defeat, Rahul Gandhi is still the leader. In the best Congress tradition, there is talk about him accepting responsibility for the defeat, but again in the same tradition it is likely that the party will accept ‘collective responsibility’ and request him to continue to lead it. In any democratic country, no leader of a party would continue for a day after such a rout. The Congress forgets that though it thinks family entitlement to leadership natural and necessary, people do not think so, especially when the entitled person is unequal to the task before him and the party. Even after many years in politics, Rahul Gandhi has not shown that he can connect with the people, or even to the party’s workers, spontaneously and effectively. His inane responses on many occasions, the latest on the day of election results, may be contrasted with the way Narendra Modi spoke to the party on the same day. 

But the problem with the Congress is not just one of leadership. The party has no worthwhile organisation and workers in most states. It is found wanting in policies and strategies. It has failed to shape and reinvent itself as a modern and democratic political party which can relate to the people in a changing society and polity and respond to new needs and aspirations. The idea of the Congress has changed many times over the decades. It must once again be redefined and made relevant to the present and the future. Does the party still have it in it to pull itself up from these depths?

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