Rahul Gandhi has tweeted his resignation as the Congress president and also changed his Twitter bio. So, the decision is official if one goes by the modern communication rules.
The question now playing on everyone’s mind is – who will be the next Congress president? More importantly, what will the successor get – a throne or a mere paduka (sandals) till Rahul Gandhi returns from his self-imposed vanwaas (exile).
This is not the first time the Congress party is facing the clichéd ‘who after’ question. It first faced this situation in 1964 after the death of then-PM Jawaharlal Nehru.
But 2019 is different.
From hope to despair
No party or person lasts forever. At some point, the Congress party will move into the dusty pages of history.
This is the party that people trusted the most immediately after the Partition and India’s Independence. But it would be wrong to assume that over-a-century-old Congress can turn young by a mere change in leadership.
In the Lok Sabha elections, the total defeat of the Congress, led by Rahul Gandhi, was more pronounced than the resounding victory of the BJP. In fact, Narendra Modi’s return to power appeared to be a foregone conclusion.
Between the assembly elections in 2018 and the 2019 Lok Sabha results, the Congress saw a complete turnaround in its political fortunes.
In 2018, an upbeat Congress under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi defeated the BJP in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh and formed a coalition government in Karnataka, beating the BJP in its own game. In December 2017, the Congress campaign in Gujarat gave jitters to the BJP, forcing its veterans to rush to the state to snatch victory from the jaws of an imminent defeat.
Even as the Congress hoped for a comeback in the 2019 elections, Rahul Gandhi suffered a series of setbacks – rejection by regional parties, loss of strategic coalitions, inability to gauge the national mood.
The Congress party needs to re-invent and rejuvenate itself at all levels, from its style of functioning and its public image to its core ideology.
Losing the technology race
We are at the crossroads of a technological revolution, which now dominates every aspect of our life, including our political choices. Voters’ opinion is increasingly being formed and consolidated by how well a political party performs on digital platforms.
The forerunners of the BJP, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) and its affiliates like the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) and the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), had once carried out a bitter campaign against technology.
But today, the BJP is at the top of the social media game. It has adapted to the new technology and has armed itself with all the necessary know-how to run a successful political campaign in the digital space.
The Congress, which claims to have ushered the technological revolution in the country, has remained woefully behind in using it to convey its ideas to the people.
Fixing the credibility crisis
The BJP had a definite roadmap for India’s development and it conveyed the same to the people effectively. This is where the Congress failed.
The Congress, with a relatively younger leader at its helm, failed to establish a ‘connect’ with the voters, especially the youth and first-time voters.
Can a leadership change fix the problems in the party? The Congress definitely needs a new leader. The days of inheriting political leadership seem to be over.
But this new Congress leadership will have to do many things, all at once. To begin with, no matter the size of the party in Parliament, it should not remain politically insignificant. Instead of opposing everything that the ruling party does, the Congress can go for constructive criticism and issue-based support. The party also needs to hit the road with issues that push people to agitate, and offer realistic solutions.
One important factor that distinguishes the BJP from the Congress is the credibility of the leadership. However much one may disagree with Narendra Modi’s ideological moorings, he does come across as a person who is dedicated, sincere, and is willing to work hard. Above all, he comes across as someone who is willing to sacrifice his personal life, his likes and dislikes, and his comforts for the sake of the party, his government and national interest.
If the Congress hopes to challenge the BJP in the near future, it has to put up a leader who can win people’s trust and convince them about the party’s ability to win elections and deliver on its welfare promises.
The author is former editor of ‘Organiser’. Views are personal.