The biggest blow from Nitish’s departure was to Rahul Gandhi, who had always been a supporter of his
The biggest jolt from Nitish Kumar pulling out of the Mahagathbandhan in Bihar was delivered to an exhausted Congress party, taking away yet another state from its already meagre kitty.
The last decade has seen a dip in the Congress’ fortunes and the party now faces the danger of being reduced to a fringe political player in terms of numbers if it does not chart a path to revival soon. The slide in Congress’ political strength is evident from the fact that while it was in power in 15 states in 2007 (as on 1 January), today it is in power in just six states, four of which go to polls soon. And worryingly, its electoral prowess in these states does not seem very encouraging.
Today, the Congress is but a pale shadow of itself. It is in power in Punjab, Puducherry, Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Karnataka, of which the last four are going to polls either at the end of this year or next year and being the incumbent with a weak national leadership, the party looks vulnerable in most.
Currently, in North India, Congress is in power only in Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. In the Hindi heartland, it is neither in power in Uttar Pradesh and its short lived stint as junior partner in Bihar has ended. In central or west India, it is not in power in any state. In east India, it is not in power in West Bengal and is staring at the BJP becoming the principal opposition party in Odisha. In the northeast, it is steadily losing state after state to BJP’s clever political manoeuvering.
In the south, Congress is in power only in Karnataka – and faces a tough contest next year. It has lost its base in Andhra Pradesh, managed to make no gains in Telangana, is not capitalising on the churn in Tamil Nadu and has lost Kerala to the Left.
There are some broad factors that can be identified as reasons for its downfall. Lack of a strong national leadership and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi’s inability to inspire or guide the party should worry it greatly. At the state level, the Congress has shrunk. It has strong, empowered leaderships in very few states and its organisation is a mess. Moreover, its inability to keep its strong state leaders – from Himanta Biswa Sarma in Assam to Shankersinh Vaghela in Gujarat among others – within its fold is a serious problem.
In terms of pure electoral tactics, the Congress does not have a formula for social engineering. It has not been able to find a formula to either regain its lost bases or make inroads into new ones. Even more worrying for it is the absence of any narrative unique to it that it can effectively use to counter a ruthlessly ambitious BJP.
Highly placed sources in the party say the party now believes that using alliances to come to power is ineffective and suicidal politically . They say there is absolutely no alternative to working hard on re-building the party and its organisation one state at a time.
There is also the absence of a powerful, politically astute and popular national leader in the party, a vacuum that hasn’t been filled by Rahul Gandhi yet. With Nitish Kumar switching sides, it is Rahul who has suffered the biggest setback. He always backed Nitish and was an admirer of his governance and clean image.
“Rahul-ji always treated Nitish-ji with the highest regard. He relied heavily on him as a strong fulcrum of a national united opposition. However, with Nitish-ji pulling out, it does raise questions about Rahu-ji’s political acumen and his ability to judge things correctly,” a leader in the party, who did not wish to be identified, said.
With inputs from Rajgopal Singh