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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 44, October 25, 2014

Whither Congress?

Friday 24 October 2014, by Kuldip Nayar

The defeat of the Congress in Haryana and Maharashtra in State elections does not come as a surprise. This was expected. Those who have followed the political developments since the 2014 Lok Sabha elections had inferred that the party was a story of the past. It had been battered by the charges of corruption so much and for so long that it had no public image left. The other parties, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are finding favour with the people.

Take Haryana. It never returned more than 10 BJP candidates in the earlier elections. This time the party has constituted its government single handed. It shows the strides the party has made. Maharashtra has seen the Shiv Sena pulling down the Congress colossus. But the BJP has never been in the reckoning. The two together have an absolute majority today.

Whether or not this astonishing scenario is due to the spell which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has cast on the nation is not a matter of discussion any more. There is no doubting of the BJP emerging as a national party and Modi as a national leader. True, nationalism is the trump card Modi plays. Parochialism is its main content. The secular forces are meekly surrendering.

Surprisingly, both Haryana and Maharashtra, progressive otherwise, have returned very few women. The parties are essentially to blame because they fielded only a few female candidates. But the archaic thinking of voters is very much evident. After nearly seven decades since independence, the women have not been able to get their due.

I do not think that the Congress can bounce back at least for another decade. And that too would require new vigour and new leadership. Since Congress President Sonia Gandhi does not see beyond dynastic politics, there is very little hope for the party to recover. She does not appreciate, even after years of projecting, that Rahul Gandhi does not sell nor has he any content.

The disorder in the Congress is palpable. The growing frustration within the party ranks only confirms this. Some of the old Congress loyalists have found courage to raise their voice and have blamed Rahul Gandhi and his team for the debacle. But such voices are stifled in the party. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi run the party. Now that both have failed who do the people turn to? Both had reportedly once offered to resign. But the loyal Congress Working Committee had refused to accept their resignations. Both continue to constitute the party and its leadership. And both have seen to it that the non-dynasty elements do not come up.

Logically, Rahul’s political career should have been over after the two back-to-back reversals, one in the Lok Sabha elections and the second in some of the State Assembly polls. Yet in a dynastic politics, there is no room for such a debate. The Gandhi family has come to be considered central to the survival of the Congress. Rahul is important for the party, particularly when Sonia has indifferent health. Despite the resentment against Rahul’s style of functioning, the sycophants in the party are still hopeful that he would one day act like a leader.

That, in a way, sums up the strategy of Congress and Sonia’s. It is amusing to see the party leaders sheltering Rahul from criticism. The A.K. Antony report that followed the Lok Sabha’s pathetic poll results points to the organisational weaknesses rather than putting the blame squarely on Rahul Gandhi for the defeat of the party. He had to be pulled out of the election campaign in Haryana and Maha-rashtra because he was having a negative effect.

One good thing that Sonia once admitted in a letter was that the revival of the party was a challenge. Her letter to the leaders offered encouraging words, infusing fresh confidence to overcome the hostile conditions. “This path is long and requires relentless struggle. But I am confident you can overcome the hostile conditions with your determination and hard work. I am always there with you in this struggle. I shall be in regular contact with all of you,” she had said.

For the demoralised leaders, the letter served as a soothing morale booster. The leaders admitted that unlike Rahul’s attitude, Sonia’s letter was full of humility with soothing words, providing them with some much-needed comfort in these difficult times. Yet they wonder why Rahul was still relying on his advisers who failed him in the Assembly elections held in the last two years.

The plain truth is that Congressmen have nowhere to go except the dynasty which has run the party since independence. Jawaharlal Nehru was compared with a banyan tree which did not let anything beneath to grow. The Congress was dependent on him. Consequently, none in the party emerged to be its natural choice when he died. Mrs Indira Gandhi, his daughter, whom he had groomed, was not acceptable to the party in the beginning. Yet, slowly and surely, she made her way to the top.

The end of the Congress may not be good for the country because it has provided an ideological platform with pronounced secular credentials. What is still disconcerting is that the vacuum created by the vacation of the Congress is being filled by elements which are inimical to the integrity of the country. Their efforts to polarise the nation have already evoked a sense of discrimination in the country. The attack on the people from Manipur in Delhi is one recent example.

Unfortunately, the Modi phenomenas have the RSS blessing. This is interfering in the affairs of governance. The appearance of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat on the Doordarshan was unfortunate and told the story of the RSS ideology being an integral part of the government.

At present, Modi is trying to be on the side of development, not the RSS philosophy. But he will have to distant from the organisation for the sake of credibility. The Muslims are feeling insecure and they, as good Indians as the Hindus, have to be given confidence. How Modi does it is his business. But he must do that.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com