The Grand Old Party of India, Congress, has an illustrious history, legacy and a strong line of leaders who wrote India’s path towards the modern democratic world. It defined and dominated Indian political sphere for close to 70 years.
Even its foreign-born supremo Sonia Gandhi managed to make a mark in a predominantly conservative country and steered India’s economy and politics for 10 long years.
So, what went wrong for a party so powerful?
Voters’ fatigue, string of corruption scandals and an inability to adapt to an increasingly aware and empowered voter base led to its downfall at a national level.
Congress, in a way, resembled tech giants of yesteryear like Nokia and IBM. Both these companies were so engrossed with their legacies and past products that they failed to reinvent and adapt themselves. The Congress party is still trying to recapture its past glory with the same old tried and dated formula when the world has moved forward. The glue which used to keep the party together is now tearing it apart.
A Congress vs Congress situation
Previously, Nehru-Gandhis were the brand around which the charisma of the party hovered. Their support base transcended caste and religious boundaries. They enjoyed an incomparable support with the masses from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.
But the earlier generation of Nehru-Gandhis, till Rajiv Gandhi, were proactive, astute and natural politicians. Sonia Gandhi brought grace to the role, but mostly stayed away from the limelight. The brand value of Gandhis started dropping during UPA 1 and 2, with reports of Rahul Gandhi calling the shots, despite not being in the Cabinet.
A string of infamous public incidents and systematic destruction of credibility by the BJP led to Rahul Gandhi being lampooned and dismissed as a serious politician. The new generation of Gandhis came with a baggage of legacy so big that it brought them down.
Congress’ performance at national level is abysmal. It was decimated in both national elections where Rahul Gandhi was the face of the party. Its performance in state elections wasn’t at all satisfactory.
BJP has repeatedly attacked Congress as a ‘parivaarwaad party‘, striking and dismantling the Gandhi brand to ruins. Congress’ reputation of pulling down its allies became apparent when it fought in the Uttar Pradesh and Bihar elections. Political pundits and psephologists were surprised at the number of seats allotted to Congress.
Results were apparent as the party played the role of spoiler. The Congress pulled down the tally of strong regional players. These incidents led to BJP sloganeering such as “pehle Rahul Gandhi ne Akhilesh ki cycle puncture ki, fir Tejashwi ki lalten bujha di“.
It’s really apparent now that the new generation of Gandhis aren’t as quick-witted and politically astute as their previous generations. It has nearly failed in taking all the factions of the party together. The party suffers from lack of leadership and speaks in different voices.
Rahul Gandhi, unlike his grandmother Indira Gandhi, lacks courage or motivation to break away from the party which he considers as guarded by old guards. The fight between new turks and old guards has lead to a Congress vs Congress situation.
Congress needs to experiment with a non-Gandhi supremo
Congress, which once espoused strong, thoughtful and spirited leadership that was open to criticism, has now reduced itself to a family-run and dependent party. The party has become a battleground of egos and loyalty, instead of ideas and reforms. The party which dominated Indian politics is now scrambling to save its safest seats, even though it has lost some already.
Congress is no longer considered as a party that can challenge the election winning machinery of BJP. It’s completely unsuited to counter the aggressive brand of politics that Modi-Shah has mastered.
The Gandhi family could have used the letter by 20 Congressmen as an opportunity to reflect on its leadership and style of functioning. It has to perform the role of being the nucleus of the opposition with a spirited, full-time and articulated leadership.
It’s important for Congress to understand that the Gandhi family’s appeal isn’t what it used to be. If it continues like this, then the day isn’t far when the Congress will implode from the battle between out of touch old guards and impatient young turks.
Congress has done better in Maharashtra and Haryana, even without the Gandhis. The Congress now needs to experiment with a non-Gandhi supremo who could go against the Modi-Shah duo. There is no dearth of leaders in the party. Gandhi family could act as the titular head, while a more suited leader could lead Congress’ path to resurrection.
Sakshi Rani Upadhyay is a student of Dyal Singh College, Delhi.