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03 March, 2015

Final call for Congress party

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who led the Bharatiya Janata Party to a sensational victory in last year’s parliamentary elections, frequently talks of a Congress-free India. Since the Congress, which the BJP has pushed down to the second place, still has the widest national reach, its disappearance may weaken the democratic character of the polity.

The standard bearer of the freedom movement, the Congress was in power at the Centre and in the states, at the dawn of Independence. It has been going downhill for several decades now. Unless it reinvents itself and regains lost ground, it may soon be a party of the past.

Of the 10 largest states, which together account for nearly three-fourths of the population, only one, Karnataka, is under Congress rule now. The BJP wields power in four – on its own in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat and in alliance with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra.

Regional or state parties are in power in the remaining five states – Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, Janata Dal (United) in Bihar, Trinamool Congress in West Bengal , Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu and the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh.

The Congress has not been in power in Tamil Nadu since 1967, in West Bengal since 1977, in Uttar Pradesh since 1989, in Bihar since 1990 and in Gujarat since 1995. In all of them, except Gujarat, it has slid to the third or fourth position, with no sign of recovery.

After 1990, the Congress has formed the government in Madhya Pradesh only once and in Rajasthan twice.

The BJP and the Congress are the main contenders for power in these states. With Modi breathing new life into his party, the Congress’s prospects appear bleak.

In the Delhi assembly elections, the fledgling Aam Admi Party showed that the BJP is beatable. But, then, it also showed that the Congress is more vulnerable to attack than the BJP.

Political pundits attribute the Congress’s plight to its dependence on the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Dynastic succession was broken when former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s Italian-born wife Sonia refused the party’s nomination as his successor on his assassination. She stepped in several years later under pressure from leaders to rescue the party from the mess in which Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao and Congress President Sitaram Kesri had landed it. The party needed the family more than the family needed it.

Aided by the sympathy wave generated by Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, the Congress mopped up 47.6% votes and came to power in 1991. Narasimha Rao’s scandal-ridden regime pulled its vote share down to 28.8% in 1996. In the next elections in 1998, it fell further to 25.8%. With 25.6% votes, the BJP secured more seats than the Congress, and the National Democratic Alliance, which it led, came to power.

After the NDA’s five-year stint, Sonia Gandhi led the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance to power, and nominated Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister in deference to the sentiments whipped up by the BJP against a person of foreign origin assuming the top post. She held the party together but failed to revitalise it and shore up its base. Most of her advisers were leaders with no popular support.

Her son, Rahul Gandhi, who entered the Lok Sabha in 2004 and was made party general secretary in 2007 and vice-president in 2013, was initially a reluctant heir. He has been widely derided as a lacklustre leader but party men who have known him well affirm he has leadership qualities and sound understanding of issues. Last week he went on two weeks’ leave, leading to speculation that he is sore at having to share the blame for the party’s reverses even though effective control over still vests in his mother.

The Congress’s vote share, which hovered between 25% and 29% in the five Lok Sabha elections held between 1996 and 2009, fell to 19.3% last year and the party’s strength in the house dropped to 44. It is clearly on the edge of the precipice. When its votes in the Delhi assembly elections fell from 40.3% to 24.6% in 2013 it was reduced to the third position in the house and when it fell further to 9.8% it was wiped out altogether.

Since Sonia Gandhi has had health problems lately, the Congress will do well to settle the succession issue early. Whatever Rahul Gandhi’s weaknesses, at present there is no one in the Congress who has a wider national appeal than him. There are Congressmen who consider his sister Priyanka Vadra more charismatic than him but her entry is bound to raise questions about her husband’s reported land deals which the party, already seen as corrupt, will find highly embarrassing. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, March 3, 2015.

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