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For the Congress, it’s not all over

Wednesday, 15 March 2017 | Kalyani Shankar | in Oped

No democracy can be vibrant without a strong Opposition. While present election results show that the grand old party is on a decline, it is not finished. It is imperative, therefore, that the Congress starts work on the next elections

The BJP is on a roll after spectacular results in the five State Assembly polls and is already looking ahead to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The results clearly indicate how well Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s poll strategy has worked not only in the Hindi heartland but also in the tiny State of Goa and the north-eastern State of Manipur. The results have shown the BJP’s shrewd political strategy, crafted by Modi and his deputy and party chief Amit Shah.

Uttar Pradesh was indeed the biggest prize as it has given political dividends for the future. Moreover, it was important how the BJP had been successful in forming the Governments in Goa and Manipur though it came second.

It was a slip between the cup and the lip for the Congress, which had emerged as the number one party in both these States, but caught napping while the BJP crack team managed the magic number with the non-Congress parties.

The BJP kitty has been growing steadily while the Congress has been losing one State after the other. The BJP-led NDA is ruling in Assam, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Nagaland, Jammu & Kashmir, Sikkim, Manipur, Goa, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, covering about 61.1 per cent of the population. And the Congress is ruling in Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Meghalaya, Bihar, Mizoram and Puducherry. This shows that the country is slowly moving towards a Congress-mukt bharat as vowed by Modi during his campaign.

So, where does that leave the grand old party? Undoubtedly, the Congress had the face-saving win in Punjab although it lost miserably in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.

This brings us to the question about the Congress’s future. The 132-year-old party is facing and existential crisis, facing challenges from the BJP and regional parties. Under the present scenario when the BJP has become a pan-national party, overtaking the Congress, which was once at a pre-eminent position, the Congress has to think of how to counter the BJP threat.

First, it must pull up its socks and set the house in order before the next year’s Assembly polls to eight States, including Gujarat and Karnataka and 2-10 Lok Sabha polls. The Congress is ruling in Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Meghalaya and in these States, the two parties are in direct fight.

Second, there is confusion about the leadership as there are two power centers. It is under speculation for the past two years that Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi will be elevated and his mother and president Sonia Gandhi will become the mentor. This confusion about the leadership issue should be settled quickly so that Rahul Gandhi leads the party from the front although he has been the main decision-maker on all issues.

Third, is building up of the organisation, which is almost non-existent. The party needs to build up the structure. The Gandhis have not paid much attention to this aspect while other parties like the BJP have a well-knit organisation. Moreover, workers have been demoralised by the continuous defeats and decline of the party.

Fourth, the Congress needs to organise a conclave like it did in Pachmarhi or Shimla earlier so that the party leaders could thrash out the issues and also come up with future direction. 

For instance, it was during the Shimla conclave that Sonia Gandhi took the decision to go for coalition, which paid dividend in the 2004 polls when the UPA came to power. The party workers and leaders should feel wanted and participate in the strategy sessions, particularly those experienced senior leaders who feel dumped as of now.

In the recent elections, most of them had sat at home feeling unwanted. They are disenchanted with the leadership and feel that the Gandhis are in the clutches of a few outsiders who would not let them see the reality.  The grand old party should not only look back but also look ahead to see how to counter the saffron surge.

Fifth, the recent Punjab poll results have proved that the Congress needs to develop strong leaders at the State level. It was because of Captain Amarinder Singh that the Congress won a handsome victory in Punjab. What is lacking in the party is the second line of leadership both at the national as well as the State level. 

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was a strong leader, but he did not curb the influence of leaders like BC Roy, C  Rajagopalachari, and K Kamaraj, Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, GB Pant and others. It was Indira Gandhi who demolished State leaders by nominating lightweights. It is not as if the Congress lacks talent.

While the present results show that the Congress is in the decline but not finished it is imperative that it should start work for the next Assembly polls in 2018 and Lok Sabha polls in 2019. No democracy can be vibrant without a strong opposition. Even now, it is not too late as the party must mobilise the Opposition to take on the BJP.

(The writer is a senior political commentator and syndicated columnist)