Has the time come to write the epitaph of the Congress party? Political analysts and the media seem to be in a great hurry to pull the plug off the ventilator. They are even ready with the obituaries. But the Congress party has survived these long Rest In Peace, or RIP, notes in the past.
Almost every day since 23 May, the ICU (intensive care unit) watchers in the media have been observing one or the other organ failure. They have already concluded that the Congress has suffered a multiple organ failure. Now they are just waiting, like vultures hovering in the skies, for the patient to take the last breath.
After the Lok Sabha election results, it was clear that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would attempt to destabilise and topple the state governments of Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Now, even West Bengal has been added to the list. The question was, and is, merely about how and when the party would act. The smash-and-grab department in the BJP has been working overtime to achieve its goal.
Karnataka act, a year in the making
With the resignation of 10 Congress and three Janata Dal (Secular) legislators from the Karnataka assembly, the number game has changed. The new configuration can make the government led by Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy of the JD(S) unstable. The so-called “rebels” or “defectors” could join the BJP, or form a separate group — in either scenario, alarm bells will ring for Karnataka’s ruling coalition.
Last year, the attempt by the Chanakyas in the BJP was to prevent this Congress-JD(S) alliance from forming the government. B.S. Yeddyurappa, three-time BJP chief minister, had even been sworn in as the CM even though the party did not have the majority. But as the Supreme Court refused to give Yeddyurappa more days to “establish” the majority, the BJP’s effort to gain a foothold in the South failed.
The Congress acted fast. Though it had more than double the number of seats than what the JD(S) had won, the party, at the intervention of its chief Rahul Gandhi, decided to support H.D. Kumaraswamy for the chief minister’s post.
Since then, the BJP had been looking for an opportunity to make a dent in the unstable alliance. The usual game of horse trading, blackmail, threats of “inquiry” from or raids by the Enforcement Directorate and the Income Tax departments can bring about the “required” ideological change among the legislators. The BJP strategists believe that the non-Congress governments can be destabilised by deploying these methods and the Congress party can be weakened. The objective: a “Congress-Mukt Bharat”.
With this “rebellion” in Karnataka, the play’s first act is over. The second act will take place next week when the assembly formally begins the session. The “rebel” MLAs have been reportedly flown to Mumbai and are staying in a five-star hotel arranged by the BJP.
States next in queue
The situation in West Bengal, which will go to polls in 2021, is different. Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress has a grand working majority and the BJP is not in the reckoning, as of now. However, MLAs have begun to leave the TMC and join the BJP. Similar to Karnataka, the defectors in West Bengal too are not attracted to the BJP because of its ideology. Various inquiries against them have generated a kind of fear psychosis. They have also seen the Hindutva wind blowing in the state.
The 2019 Lok Sabha results showed that the BJP has acquired, in the so-called Modi wave, a vote share of 40 per cent. The TMC has about 43 per cent. The BJP (actively helped by the CPM) increased its share by about 25 per cent in the last five years. But the violence and the political instability in the state has made the Mamata regime so vulnerable that her government can be toppled. In Bengal, however, it is not only the Congress that is being targeted, but the “Bengali asmita” too.
It was obvious to anyone that the Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan governments are on the Amit Shah-Modi radar. So, appeals to reinvestigate Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath’s role in 1984 anti-Sikh riots began to be made weeks after the Lok Sabha results. While the SIT has finalised its report on whether the cases should be reopened, Kamal Nath could also face trouble over the CBI’s possible move to probe him against complaints in relation to the recovery of unaccounted wealth. The defection game in the Madhya Pradesh has not acquired momentum. But the Congress is fully aware of the coming invasion. Sooner rather than later, the MP politics will start unravelling.
The same is true of Rajasthan. Just as there is alleged power conflict between Sachin Pilot and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, there is considerable bickering in the BJP too. Those who supported former chief minister Vasundhara Raje are not friendly with the new local satraps of the BJP. Therefore, there is a gridlock. Also, the number game is not too favourable for the BJP in this state.
Chance for BJP or Congress?
Even if we presume that all the three states will turn to the BJP on the eve of assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Delhi, where too the BJP has a huge lead, it will not necessarily be the end of the Congress. India’s map will surely turn into saffron, the colour of Hindutva. More people in the Congress, either ambitious or insecure, will join the BJP.
And the “tipping point” in the politics will come only after that. We have seen the monopoly of the Congress splintered in 1967, after twenty years of sustained stable majorities. As many as eight states voted the Congress out. In 1977, the Janata Party established its total control at the Centre and in states, but was brought to its knees soon after, in 1980. Similarly, the stunning victory of Rajiv Gandhi in 1984, with 414 seats in the Lok Sabha, was reduced to just 197 five years later.
Though history does not necessarily repeat itself, it does show the roller-coaster rides people’s lives can take. With or without the Nehru-Gandhi family at the helm of Congress affairs, the Congress’ ride will continue. It is unlikely that the farmers’ distress, unemployment, and urban chaos will just disappear in the clouds of Hindu-Muslim divide. Indeed, there will be new forces, new faces and new configurations that will surface, perhaps with rapidly engulfing economic crisis.
It is not easy but the Congress will have to rethink its political, social, cultural and organisational positioning. The current crisis is an opportunity.
The author is a former editor and Congress member of Rajya Sabha. Views are personal.