In Goa, Manipur, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh, former Congress party stalwarts such as Himanta Biswa Sarma, Scindia and Pilot are the symptoms of a fatal disease. The cause of the disease must be treated immediately and effectively.
There are many Manishankar Aiyyars in the Congress party who have unlimited faith in the indispensability article of the Gandhi family. There are many outside the Congress party who are increasingly of the opinion that the family must make way to a new type of politics. Either these outside well-wishers know nothing about the functioning of the Congress party or the Aiyyars in the party have lost all contact with the outside world. Both these things could be true at the same time. Whatever the truth, it is not helping the Congress party. From Jayanti Natarajan’s lengthy resignation letter to Sanjay Jha’s tweet sympathizing with Sachin Pilot, in the span of 5 years two things have become abundantly clear. No one listens in the Congress and no one cares for those who are concerned about the future of the party.
What is the basis for such suicidal behaviour by the party? It is an illusionary hope that there might be a repetition of history! Congress party members constantly dream about a political revival that propels them to electoral victory. For them, the eminence of the Gandhi family in the party is a pre-condition for the generation of a favourable electoral wave. Because it has happened in the past, loyal congress party members expect it to happen it again. The disease of selective memory is keeping these loyalists hopeful even when the party is at death’s door. They are unable to comprehend that the politics of the present day is completely different to the past. There are concrete reasons that falsify this hope of a miracle for the Congress. The party’s leadership must be reasonable and acknowledge the truth that is derived from facts.
Historically, the Congress managed to return to power in 1980, 1991 and in 2004. Out of these, the 1991 election victory was a result of the sacrifice of Rajiv Gandhi’s life; without that tragedy the Congress could not have formed the government. In 1980, Indira Gandhi was able to stage a popular return because the very first non-Congress government at the centre couldn’t hold on to power. On this count, can there be any comparison between the Janata Party government and Narendra Modi’s government? If not, how could the election results be expected to be the same for the Congress party when they were/are in the opposition to these governments? On the other hand, the Congress victory in 2004 was not particularly noteworthy for the number of seats won but for the unexpected defeat of the Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance. The Congress is still unable to grasp the fact that Narendra Modi built up his image and campaign by learning hard lessons from the BJP’s 2004 defeat. Team Modi was determined in 2019 and still has a resolve for 2024 to protect the BJP and save it from repeating the events of 2004. On the other hand, the Congress is showing neither resolve nor determination to save itself from the embarrassment of the decisive defeats of 2014 and 2019.
The second fact is that there is only an exodus from the party since 1999. No established leader or political outfit of significance has merged with the Congress in the last 20 years, not even those who were earlier part of the Congress party. There are no visible attempts to bring back these estranged leaders. There are no efforts to encourage successful people from all walks of life to associate with the Congress party. Rather, the Congress still arrogantly presumes that well-meaning people in society have no option but to fall in line with endorsing the party and its leadership. On the ground, ordinary and not so ordinary people are making their democratic choices and leaving the Congress in the lurch. This is not a sign of rejuvenation of the party. However, the party has no desire to rejuvenate themselves. What Congress leaders want is to somehow achieve an electoral victory for the party in order to get themselves into the power corridor. Those who depend on the Gandhi family to get into positions of power believe in their charisma. Those who manage to get into seats of power without the Gandhi family don’t care about their charisma.
The third hard fact is that there is no conclusive evidence that the charisma of the Gandhi family works in Lok Sabha elections after 1980. The Congress won the 1985 and 1991 elections due to the sympathy factor caused by the assassinations of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi respectively. Yet, the differences in the margins of victory in these two elections tell the story of the party’s decline. In between, it lost the 1989 election under the leadership of Rajiv Gandhi. The Congress lost in 1998 when Sonia Gandhi campaigned for the party for the first time. It could not do better in the 1999 elections under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi. The Congress barely won the 2004 election, even though it managed to form the government. The success of Sonia Gandhi was measured in terms of her incisiveness in cobbling together the United Progressive Alliance, ensuring support from the left front and proposing Dr. Manmohan Singh for the Prime Ministerial post. These measures helped the Congress to convincingly win the 2009 Lok Sabha election. One must attribute this victory to Sonia Gandhi’s leadership even when Dr. Manmohan Singh and the dynamics of Congress-Left relations also contributed to the return of the UPA to power. Then the Congress was annihilated in two successive Lok Sabha elections fought under the joint leadership of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. One does not need to mention the number of states that the Congress has permanently lost since 1985.
The Gandhi family’s charisma is a bogey. The sooner the Congress and the Gandhi family realize this, the better their chances of survival will be. The continuous inability to form the government in the case of a hung assembly, the defection of MLAs resulting in the destabilization of state governments and the desertion of high-profile regional leaders indicate a loss of respect in the authority of the central leadership and the fading of hope. These are not the results of the inability or the incompetence of one or the other general secretaries or state in-charges. They act in an incompetent fashion, indeed, but they also know that they cannot be more competent than their bosses. In Goa, Manipur, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh, former Congress party stalwarts such as Himanta Biswa Sarma, Scindia and Pilot are the symptoms of a fatal disease. The cause of the disease must be treated immediately and effectively. There are only two options today before the Congress and the Gandhi family: they must either perish together or keep a safe distance from each other. The choices that they make now will determine their future.
Parimal Maya Sudhakar
17th July 2020