The Congress party faced a crushing defeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections at the hands of Narendra Modi-led BJP. The ‘grand old party’ was in power for 55 of the 72 years of independent India, and has now won only 52 seats .
ThePrint asks: Does Congress have a future in India after 2019 Lok Sabha election results?
India needs Congress to fight BJP’s overreach because smaller parties would wilt under pressure
Sol Goldman Professor of Political Science, Brown University
“The Congress must die,” thus spoke Yogendra Yadav, one of India’s finest political thinkers. Yadav cannot be accused of endorsing Amit Shah’s fond wish that India be Congress-mukt. Any similarities are entirely unintended.
But Yogendra Yadav is wrong. First, a party that in its two worst political moments, 2014 and 2019, still got nearly a fifth of the national vote and is far ahead of any other party, except the BJP, has clearly represented the wishes of a significant minority of India’s electorate.
Second, creating a new national party, though not impossible, is more an exercise in fond hope than political realism. Some parties have tried, but failed miserably. Recall the attempt of Aam Aadmi Party to put up candidates virtually all over India in 2014 elections.
Third, and most significant, India needs the Congress at this point to fight against the BJP’s overreach on India’s freedoms: of speech, association and religious practice. Smaller opposition parties would wilt under pressure, or shrink to their regional bastions. Civil society and the press are under attack, or have caved, and the judiciary’s independence remains in question. An opposition party, which has ten per cent of parliamentary seats, can at least try to protect citizens, who disagree with the ruling party.
The real question is how the Congress should re-engineer itself, not its demise. Leadership change is the standard way political parties have historically reinvigorated themselves in most democracies.
Congress can still have a future, but there are many ‘ifs’
Chief Editor, Studies in Indian Politics and retd professor of Political Science
At a time when Congresspersons are themselves engulfed in self-doubt, it is not easy for an outsider to argue that the Congress can still have a future.
There are two reasons why, even in this darkest hour of its history, the Congress can think of a future. One, the abject failure of most state parties has indicated the need for a broader, all-India narrative and political counter for oppositional politics to survive. Non-BJP politics would require an anchor beyond state-level constraints of regional politics. Second, and more importantly, at this moment of its resounding victory, the BJP has unambiguously indicated plans to pursue Hindu nationalism.
This automatically makes room for a politics of protecting India’s natural inclusive character. The elbow room for such politics is not entirely absent even within the Hindu society. That can and must be tapped. Of course, any projection of the Congress’ revival is predicated on many ‘ifs’. A brutal replacement of its traditional elite leadership, an immediate reaffirmation of its ideological position, 24×7 politics of reorganisation of the party, building non-party networks in cultural and social domains, intensive training of party workers, efforts at accommodating non-BJP forces into the party—including its one-time faction— are some of these ‘ifs’ for the party to have a future. After all, revival often calls for renewal and redefinition.
Only Congress can fight and defeat Hindutva
Professor and author
The election results have been a setback for the Congress, but it does not mean that the Congress has no future. Losing elections is part of democratic politics. Let’s not forget that in 1984, a party as well organised as the BJP won only two seats and even Atal Bihari Vajpayee lost to Madhavrao Scindia in Gwalior.
The Congress needs to start reasserting the inclusive idea of India and reclaim the narrative of nationalism. The problem with Congress is that while it does talk of seemingly nice things like NYAY, it has failed to weave a narrative at the national level.
I don’t buy the argument that Congress is responsible for soft Hindutva. There is nothing called soft Hindutva, there is only one Hindutva and it is the politics of Hindu identity. Religiosity, whether of Hinduism or Islam, is certainly not communal.
A certain perception of the Congress being an anti-Hindu party has been created. If a party loses the confidence of the majority community, they cannot do any good for minority communities. It is not the political parties or the administration that protect minorities – it is the goodwill of citizens which does. On ground, it is the idea of shared culture that prevents communal flare-ups and riots. For the Congress, it had become important to underline that ‘yes we are with the minority communities, but we are not indifferent to Hindu religiosity’.
All the great warriors of secularism and social identity politics have been reduced to zilch in Parliament. Only the Congress can fight and defeat Hindutva.
Congress’ undoing has been its ‘sab chalta hai’ ideology under Sonia & Rahul Gandhi
The Congress faces an uncertain future. Prospects of a split, revolt, mutiny or disquiet are real and not without reason. Mandate 2019 has shaken the Congress’ self-belief and faith in ideology.
The Congress’ defining factor this election season has been its near absence of ideological clarity. From Jagjivan Ram’s description, “Modern man is the inheritor of all that is noble and good in human thought. And thus our democratic socialism is a synthesis of all that is best in the thinking of the East and the West and provides an ideology superior to other sectarian ideologies which are communalistic or communitarian,” the Congress’ socio-economic thinking has been reduced to a near-farcical “sab chalta hai” in Sonia-Rahul era.
Rahul Gandhi has failed to inspire or lead from the front. Resignation is not a ready solution as the Congress is hopelessly dependent upon the Nehru-Gandhi family and vice versa. The possibility of Priyanka Gandhi replacing Rahul may delay the party’s disintegration, but it is caught in ‘who will bell the cat’ syndrome.
The Gandhis alone can clear the mess with substantial sacrifices. Giving a clarion call to various breakaway groups of the party – NCP, YSR Congress, Telangana Rashtriya Samithi and even Trinamool Congress to unite can be the first step and a way forward.
There are more serious questions to answer than think of the future of Congress
The Grand Old Party with a past, alas, has no future. Narendra Modi and Amit Shah-led BJP has annihilated the Congress. Rahul Gandhi may console himself with the lollipop from Kerala, but how long will the high command wait for the Phoenix to rise from its ashes? No mythical bird can spread its wings to soar after a whirlwind has scattered its ashes all over the land.
The electorate has resoundingly rejected the ‘charismatic’ Nehru-Gandhis and the ‘Idea of India’ the Congress claims to represent. Modi may indeed be the ruthlessly divisive megalomaniac that his opponents allege him to be, but the silent majority is with him.
We may be disgusted by the stunning verdict and keep quoting Brecht or raise IPTA slogans to keep the morale high, but for the moment, the Kamandal has trumped the Mandal. The BJP has the approval of the majority who don’t seem to mind majoritarianism.
There are more serious questions to ponder than the future of the Indian National Congress.
Congress can reinvent & find a new social base among Dalits, OBCs, tribals & minorities
The Congress has seen it all. Every time the doomsayers predicted that the Congress would die – they did after the death of Nehru and after Indira and Rajiv Gandhi’s assassinations – the party has bounced back.
This time, the crisis is deeper and more acute because the Congress is facing the incredible might of the religious Right.
The BJP’s rise alone is not responsible for the cracks we see in the Congress today. The party structure could not hold onto its building blocks — the social and economic elites of Indian society. They formed the core of the Congress since its inception, but have now shifted to the BJP. As a result, the Congress today is a pale shadow of its glorious past.
The main question is – Is there a road ahead for the Congress? Yes, but it will depend on whether it is able to bring the big corporates and the Hindu upper caste elites back to its fold.
The second option is to reinvent the party and find a new social base among Dalits, OBCs, tribals and minorities. Indira Gandhi had reinvented the Congress in the early 1970s through socialist policies. Will the party be able to do it again? That’s for the Congress to decide.
By Fatima Khan, journalist at ThePrint.