Saturday, March 18, 2023
HomeOpinionCongress is dying. Here’s what could replace it

Congress is dying. Here’s what could replace it

It needs just one person from 1.3 billion people.

Text Size:

The Congress party is in terminal decline. All it needs is a little push and it’ll collapse like a pack of cards. Its dormant vote share that doesn’t convert into seats can easily be stolen by another party. That’s what the BJP did in Tripura and Odisha. That’s what the Aam Aadmi Party did in Delhi. That’s what the BJP is trying to do in Telangana. That’s what the BJP just did to the Left in West Bengal.

The Congress is dying, surely but slowly. The process might take decades and new forces might slowly replace it. This slow process might keep the BJP in power for a very long time, just like the Congress enjoyed single-party rule until 1989.

The only interruption to the Congress’ single party rule until 1989 was the post-Emergency election. People were so angered by the Emergency, particularly by nasbandi, the enforced sterilisation of men.

Many Modi critics hoped he would perform so poorly that voters would similarly boot him out even though the opposition has been as weak and fragmented as it was against Indira Gandhi. But Narendra Modi is too wise for that. He also knows what happened in 1977, the election that first gave mainstream legitimacy to Hindutva forces and propelled the Jana Sangh (predecessor of the BJP) to limelight. A repeat of a 1977-like situation is, thus, highly unlikely.

A revival of the Congress party is also improbable because it is unlikely that Rahul Gandhi will become a politician smarter than Modi and mesmerise the masses. It is equally unlikely that he will abdicate the throne of Congress party president for someone more competent. Even if he does, and the Congress gets another Sitaram Kesari, it would start withering away like it did under Sitaram Kesari. It might win a state or three in the next five years but come 2024 and it would again be destroyed by Narendra Modi.

Also read: The TINA factor & flailing opposition means Modi will win again, writes Arun Jaitley

The only thing that can defeat Modi

Modi has made the national election mercilessly presidential. Neither caste nor sub-nationalism, neither anti-incumbency nor high index of opposition unity can bring him down.

That does not mean Narendra Modi is invincible. Under his watch, the BJP has lost many state assembly elections. Bihar and Delhi in 2015, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in 2018 were some examples. While all these elections had different dynamics, there is one commonality. All of these elections had a chief ministerial candidate (or likely hopeful) people were able to trust.

Bihar in 2015 wasn’t just the caste arithmetic of RJD and JD(U). It was also the persona of Nitish Kumar. “Kendra mein Modi, Bihar mein Nitish (Modi at the Centre, Nitish for Bihar),” is how many voters saw it and that’s what brought down the BJP vote-share enough to lose the election.

It was the same in the Delhi state assembly election of 2015, in which the personality campaign of Arvind Kejriwal won 67 of 70 seats, making the BJP lose some seats on which Modi had himself campaigned.

In Chhattisgarh, a change of leadership helped the Congress, as the OBC face of Bhupesh Baghel was trusted by people. In Rajasthan, people were voting out Vasundhara Raje Scindia and voting in Ashok Gehlot, even as they were clear they’d prefer Modi to Rahul Gandhi for the Lok Sabha election. Note how people talk in terms of CM/PM faces. It’s the top thing Indian voters seem to care about, for good reasons too. Popularity ratings of top politicians are now more important survey points than banal seat forecasts.

In Madhya Pradesh, one will have to give credit to Kamal Nath, a leader with a pan-state presence, who was made the party’s state unit chief just months before the election. If Rahul Gandhi had allowed presidential campaigns around these faces in Rajasthan and MP, the Congress could have won larger victories.

Also read: What do Modi haters say when confronted with the TINA factor?

Replacing the Congress

An ailing Congress can be replaced by a pan-India face who can mesmerise the people of India. We have to think about this exactly as we think about the Presidential campaign in the United States. What could defeat Modi is not a party, not an alliance, not a freebie promise, not anti-incumbency. It is only and only another human being who becomes a mass leader and captures the public imagination. If you start hearing people say “that person should be prime minister,” you will have the answer to a question we heard a lot this election: “Aur hai kaun? (Who’s the alternative?)”

The toughest part is the discovery of this right human being from 1.3 billion of us, who has the potential to be seen as a better alternative to the prime minister’s chair than Narendra Modi.

The face must then focus exclusively on the national political campaign, seeking to win the narrative wars with the Modi machine every single day, because we live in the era of permanent campaigning.

The person can take no holidays, afford no distractions, and can’t forget national politics for a single day to win state elections. Voters see state and national politics differently, and they have demonstrated this over and over again. One of Rahul Gandhi’s several mistakes these last five years was to think that the road to Delhi lies through the states. He immersed himself into the Gujarat 2017 and Karnataka 2017 assembly elections, just when he needed to focus on exploiting rising unemployment and a palpable economic slowdown to build a positive national narrative.

Also read: The Presidential Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Desh ka neta kaisa ho

How could such a person possibly defeat the BJP with all its cadres, state governments, RSS, money, pliant media and muscle? All of that falls into place once the masses start discovering a face they can pin their hopes on.

It’s happened many times in history when a single human face has captured the imagination of all of India, and we’re not talking of Amitabh Bachchan or Sachin Tendulkar. People who have done it in politics have included Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Jayaprakash Narayan, Rajiv Gandhi, V.P. Singh, Arvind Kejriwal (between 2011 and 2014) and Narendra Modi.

The most incredible of these was V.P. Singh, who was himself a member of the Rajiv Gandhi cabinet, perhaps the most powerful government in independent India since Rajiv Gandhi had won 404 of 514 seats. But V.P. Singh rebelled, making noise over the Bofors scandal, and was thrown out. He went around India campaigning on the Bofors issue, created a new party called the Janata Dal, stitched regional alliances, and voila! He defeated Rajiv Gandhi and became prime minister, albeit of a rag-tag coalition government that didn’t last long. His election slogan was “Raja nahi fakeer hai / desi ki tardier hai (He’s a fakir not a king / he’s the country’s destiny)”.

When Arvind Kejriwal became a national face with the Lokpal movement, he made the mistake of thinking the path to the Centre goes through the states as well. He shouldn’t have contested the Delhi assembly elections and instead directly aimed at the Lok Sabha. He reduced his own stature by becoming a bijli-pani leader of civic issues in Delhi. He then thought he’ll win Punjab, then Goa, then Haryana… but as V.P. Singh showed, Indians have a national imagination that doesn’t require mastering state politics.

Also read: How Indian voters saw Congress – a laid-back party with no leadership & agenda

Or just look at the rise of the BJP itself. It went from two seats in 1984 to 85 seats in 1989 (and used these 85 MPs to support the V.P. Singh government and keep the Congress out of power). This transformative rise within the space of five years happened because the party had a face (L.K. Advani) with a campaign (Ram Janmabhoomi). It didn’t have a government in any state at the time. The capture of state capitals followed the rise in central politics.

In 2014, it was not a given that people in Bihar or Karnataka would accept a Gujarati they had barely heard of as the country’s PM. That is the gap the Modi campaign of 2014 filled—and he never stopped campaigning once he won.

Which person could be sold to the masses as a better alternative to Narendra Modi for the task of making 1.3 billion Indians prosperous and secure? That is the answer opposition forces should seek to find. It’s definitely not Rahul Gandhi. It could be anyone, and not necessarily someone who’s already in politics.

Views are personal.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Support Our Journalism

India needs fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism, packed with on-ground reporting. ThePrint – with exceptional reporters, columnists and editors – is doing just that.

Sustaining this needs support from wonderful readers like you.

Whether you live in India or overseas, you can take a paid subscription by clicking here.

Support Our Journalism


  1. Modi and the Biased Media in the West

    During the last April/May General Elections in India, when it became abundantly clear that the incompetent Rahul Gandhi/Sonia Gandhi’s Congress Party is about to loose the elections in a large way, the media in the West launched a vicious attack on India, Modi, and the overall direction of the General Elections. In their judgement that if Modi wins and that too purely due to the incompetence of the opposition, he will lead Indian democracy in peril. They were suggesting that Muslim (about 13 to 15%) will have no voice left in governance. They pointed out that Modi is “Divider in Chief”. That is what The Time Magazine said about him. Other publications like the Economist, the Guardian, etc. highlighted anti Hindu views. They deliberately misinterpreted that being a Hindu is a sin and supporting Hindu causes (Hindutva) as anti democratic. They forgot that India is 85% Hindu and anything said to challenge their heritage is not going to be welcomed by the masses. Anybody who read those write ups took it as a potent challenge to their existence and decided to definitely vote for Modi. The masses needed protection and Modi was guaranteeing their right to survive, hence this Western propaganda using Muslim as a base, misfired.

    It is interesting to observe that almost all writers who wrote negatively about India, Hindu and Modi were journalists of Muslim origin from England, so much so that the opinion writer of the Time magazine is a dubious man and an illegitimate child of a Sikh lady and a Muslim politician from Pakistan. Although the father had nothing to do with his upbringing (he grew up in India among Sikh cousins) but settled in England as an anti Indian writer. What made him so extreme is anybody’s guess, but Pakistani father’s friends have had some influence on his views. I dare say that liberal Lutyenites who are leaders of the media in India have influenced him a lot including other writers. They fail to recognize that Modi won fair & square and with quite a few Muslim votes. The latter voted for him because they wish to be on the winning side and gain as much influence as possible. Muslim women voted for Modi, they wish triple talaq to be vanished along with other social ailments in their society.

    The Western Media have deliberately highlighted the negatives of the sea change which is occurring in India now. They were highlighting what the left leaning NGOs, second rate celebrities (mostly of Muslim origin) and JNU educated left or communist oriented intellectuals wish. They all want a secular middle of the road, mostly non progressive and highly corrupt government. Somehow their wish has not come true. India in 2014 elected a right centrist government and in 2019 again the same right centrist government. They forget that it is for the people of India to decide what government they want.

    Straight off, if in the future Modi is cold to negative sayers including those reporters in the West, then he is right. They should not be welcomed with open arms, instead should be cold shouldered. They have heaped a deliberate insult on him and on all Indians who are mostly Hindus. We do have to return the favor.


  2. The writer is forgetting the fact that three large South Indian states are now controlled by Christian forces,Andhra,Tamil Nadu and Kerala.Opposition to Hindi is actually opposition to Hindu.Unless evangelical forces are treated as more dangerous than jihadis,the danger to the country’s integrity is real.

  3. Congress thought does not belong to a family or a person it is a thought process from J&K to Kanyakumari , Gujrat to Arunachal Pradesh so to call it ,it is dying is a simple ‘लोचा ‘ in the mindset of some shortsighted people . BJP once used to be a hardcore party with their own policy & vision drawn on RSS lines has now overhauled them in a big way on lines of congress vision and policy for capturing power . So congress though losing power apprantly to render service to the people has won intrinsically it by making
    BJP to tranform original mindset to a mindset functional on congress visionary lines….This is a big victory of congress party thought process under leadership of Rahulji Gandhi who has made BJP to review their own modus operandi in 2nd inning of gaining power under Modiji’s leadership eg extended care of farmers under pressure , Poor’s & woman welfare priority ,SC/ ST and youth employment…Thus BJP can proudly say that gradually they are transforming their hardcore mindset to congress secular ( सबका साथ सबका विकास ) mindset but in saffron colour. Log of hardcore vision of original Jan sangh has adopted to congress vision in their tailored style .. like keeping old wine in new bottle…let Gandhian Bharat prevails all over the world ,Modiji has demoralized his party MP openly who were attempting to admire killer of Gandhiji speaks tangible transforming their vision & policy in words gradually heart too will be transformed…So congress is a winner and gainer on software terms on National plateform and not dying as perceived and defamed by on Lookers….

  4. One more thing the congress can do is change its spoke persons who come out on the electronic media and articulate their views just like their leader does. Unimaginative, pcychopancy, adamant, discerning, are some of the adjectives that can be credited to them

  5. Author is missing one point completely. He is forgetting the fact that people do not want dynastic rule. Amply proved by the defeat of Scindia, Deve Gowda etc. True, stalin has succeeded but he has been a grass root level worker and after how many years?. Congress should shake itself off this obsession over Gandhis,and its corrupt top brass , the coterie around this family , the CWC must be dismantled and reconstituted. This will naturally bring up a suitable face to fight the election with. Not in the near future. It took BJP around 20 odd years. It might take congress at least 10 more years.The narrative of Congress ‘ ousting Modi’ must change.

  6. Captain Amarinder should become President of Congress for next 5 years. He can possibly turn around Congress. And also keep the flock together. Today Congress needs the Gandhis only to keep the flock together otherwise it would disintegrate overnight. Post Narasimha Rao, Sonia was brought into the party to save it from disintegration and extinction. So it is good Priyanka has got two kids. There is future for Congress. 🙂 🙂

  7. Path to power goes through killings of mass based leaders one after another till opposition becomes leaderless like Gandhi, Shastri, Indira, Rajiv. Congress is leaderless after assassination of indira Gandhi.

  8. Shivam ji,
    why not take a plunge yourself ? After all you have abandoned the neutrality of journalism long ago in favour of the partisan activism. Go ahead and redeem India from ‘chor’ Modi !

  9. Article contains fresh thinking. But the point is not convincing. Modi went to Centre showcasing Gujarat model, his performance in a state. However, he did not succeed on the strength of his leadership qualities alone. RSS helped him. His ideology with the majoritarian overtone, helped him. Once succeeded, subsequent success follows. As the saying goes “Nothing succeeds like success”.

  10. good article.but sir as per my view Along with good leader congress required RSS like cadre at grassroot who can articulate policy and ideas of party with masses effectively.once it started,gradually acceptance of leadership will increase.currently congress bigest problem is lack of cadre who speak &defend Ideas of congress with masses on Ground.Thanks

    • It is people like Shivam Vij who think they are too smart & pass on useless advise to others. Congress fell in 2014 because of corruption, massive corruption and the CWG especially was shameful considering it made a mockery of India’s image abroad. The other thing was the power the foreign NGOs wielded under their rule. Despite openly claiming that US-funded NGOs which had been indulging in mass proselytization in Tamil Nadu had used the converts for a strategic purpose in trying to scuttle the Russian-supported Kudankulam nuclear station, the Congress did not act. They just have to accept that they were corrupt, instead of denying corruption ever took place. People would have voted in much larger numbers for them than they did if they had done that.

  11. “Even if he does, and the Congress gets another Sitaram Kesari, it would start withering away like it did under Sitaram Kesari”

    Yeah, coz’ Shivam Vij said it, right?

    Replacement of persons who fail repeatedly is the norm – in worldly affairs and in nature.

    Slyly the writer is batting for Rahul Gandhi to continue.

  12. Nobody can replace Modiji . He is an avatar of Lord Vishnu himself .
    Even if does something wrong , it will be for the good of the Nation .

  13. Broadly agree that there needs to be a face people trust to bring up the issues they care about. Disagree with analysis of Kejriwal should have focused on Lok Sabha instead of state. When they did they got annihilated and for good reason. The kind of organizational strength needed to fight across the country won’t grow overnight and people will not trust you overnight. The only reason congress has held on till now was that they did have that structure in place and voters didn’t believe someone could replace it so easily.

  14. The thing is that India is like an elephant. Modi govt. would go because of its own workings and also the changes (rather speed of) it may not be able to bring because India and it’s population is so. Everything that goes up has to come down. We, afterall, in the long run, as they say, just die.

  15. hahaha. so simplistic. indian democracy and its reach and depth are too complex and what a solution. typical arm chair.

  16. For all this to happen the BJP government has to fail miserably in delivering welfare to actual voters out of voler list or become corrupt. But with development, the needs of people will change and their expectation and thinking will change and then they may need a new person. Another way of getting different leader is when voter just stop finding any novelty. But BJP can also provide a new leader. may be NM swill start grooming a new leader. But that time is still far away. And Namo will not falter easily in delivering welfare to voters and inventing hew nationalist agenda.

  17. That not a reason.that any party share his seat s. But party leader is not so capable and also congrssies do not want to proceed furthermore with this experience. Every buddy wants leader like bhodu and slitting there ranks in cabinate and looting that country like doing scames and make tham foot power fool in party but leading roll offers to Gandhi’s family. If any buddy will ruined by familiarity it’s Gandhi’s. All the down stream cabinate is very corrupted. And selfish too .that cause the votes are diverted to sincerity to natiinalism..and patriotism. And it’s dominant to that’s party

  18. Good argument. Not just a personality that can mesmerise with a new vision, but a life long learner with immense adaptive capacity. This is what Kejriwal lacks. As far as Rahul Gandhi is concerned, he is a prisoner of his own destiny. Expect no one to complain if he packs his bags, settles abroad to lead a nice life. His heart is there. As far as finding a replacement for Modi is concerned, if Modi keeps performing and brings the people at the bottom of the pyramid to a certain level of economic prosperity expected in an aspiring superpower, then why is a replacement needed? If he cannot deliver it, the temple of democracy will certainly produce an alternative to him.

  19. Even if this thesis is true, very difficult to create – in a vacuum, or a test tube in a laboratory – a rival to Alexander who is at the peak of his powers. Prime Minister himself matured, gained governance experience, a growing national profile, over a period of thirteen years as CM of a prosperous state, winning the confidence of many industrialists. It worked for him, did not work for Shri Sharad Pawar. 2. Whether the Congress will die, as it seemed to be moving towards in the Vajpayee years, although the media was not so judgmental in those days, one cannot say. Whether Shri Rahul Gandhi has it within him, assisted by his charismatic sister by his side, to pull the party out of what is looking at the moment like the Mariana Trench, is something the family should discuss – quite often – over the dinner table. All one can say as an older person than the columnist is that things are never so good or so hopeless as they seem at extreme moments.

      • Didn’t you note that her charisma produced such positive result in Amethi? Jokes apart, seriously it seems from his comments- with glowing adjectives for dynasts – that our friend prefers fast food to nutritious, substantive food.

      • Her Daadi’s nose. 😂😂😂
        Other than that she is as much dumb as her bro.
        What charisma do these Congressmen and their darbari media sees in her is only they know.

Comments are closed.